A Christmas Carol
The End of It
YES! and the bedpost was her own. The bed was her own, the room was her own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before her was her own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as she scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacqueline Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacqueline, on my knees!”
She was so fluttered and so glowing with her good intentions, that her broken voice would scarcely answer to her call. She had been sobbing violently in her conflict with the Spirit, and her face was wet with tears.
“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of her bed-curtains in her 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!”
Her hands were busy with her garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of herself with her stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolgirl. I am as giddy as a drunken woman. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
She 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 off again, and going round the fireplace. “There’s the door, by which the Ghost of Jacqueline Marley entered! There’s the corner where the Ghost of Christmas 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 woman who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The mother 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’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”
She was checked in her transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals she had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!
Running to the window, she opened it, and put out her head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a girl in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about her.
“EH?” returned the girl, with all her might of wonder. “What’s to-day, my fine lass?” said Scrooge. “To-day!” replied the girl. “Why, CHRISTMAS DAY.” “It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to herself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the girl.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lass.
“An intelligent girl!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable girl! 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 girl.
“What a delightful girl!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to her. Yes, my dear!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the girl.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
“Walk-ER!” exclaimed the girl.
“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 direction where to take it. Come back with the woman, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with her in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
The girl was off like a shot. She must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.
“I’ll send it to Bobbie Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge, rubbing her hands, and splitting with a laugh. “She sha’n’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tina. Josie Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bobbie’s will be!”
The hand in which she wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it she did, somehow, and went down-stairs to open the street door, ready for the coming of the poulterer’s woman. As she stood there, waiting her arrival, the knocker caught her eye.
“I shall love it, as long as I live!” cried Scrooge, patting it with her hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face! It’s a wonderful knocker!—Here’s the Turkey! Hallo! Whoop! How are you! Merry Christmas!”
It was a Turkey! She never could have stood upon her legs, that bird. She would have snapped ’em short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.
“Why, it’s impossible to carry that to Camden Town,” said Scrooge. “You must have a cab.”
The chuckle with which she said this, and the chuckle with which she paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which she paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which she recompensed the girl, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which she sat down breathless in her chair again, and chuckled till she cried.
Preparing her coiffeur was not an easy task, for her hand continued to shake very much; and an up-do requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it. But if she had mussed it up into a tangle of knots, she would have put a bonnet it, and been quite satisfied.
She dressed herself “all in her best,” and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as she had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with her hands behind her, Scrooge regarded everyone with a delighted smile. She looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured lasses said, “Good morning, ma’am! A merry Christmas to you!” And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds she had ever heard, those were the blithest in her ears.
She had not gone far, when coming on towards her she beheld the portly lady, who had walked into her counting-house the day before, and said, “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?” It sent a pang across her heart to think how this old lady would look upon her when they met; but she knew what path lay straight before her, and she took it.
“My dear madam,” said Scrooge, quickening her pace, and taking the old lady by both her hands. “How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, ma’am!”
“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness”—here Scrooge whispered in her ear.
“Lord bless me!” cried the lady, as if her breath were taken away. “My dear Ms. Scrooge, are you serious?”
“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?”
“My dear madam,” said the other, shaking hands with her. “I don’t know what to say to such munifi—”
“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”
“I will!” cried the old lady. And it was clear she meant to do it.
“Thank’ee,” said Scrooge. “I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!”
She went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield her pleasure. She had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give her so much happiness. In the afternoon she turned her steps towards her niece’s house.
She passed the door a dozen times, before she had the courage to go up and knock. But she made a dash, and did it:
“Is your mistress at home, my dear?” said Scrooge to the boy. Nice boy! Very.
“Where is she, my love?” said Scrooge.
“She’s in the dining-room, ma’am, along with master. I’ll show you up-stairs, if you please.”
“Thank’ee. She knows me,” said Scrooge, with her hand already on the dining-room lock. “I’ll go in here, my dear.”
She turned it gently, and sidled her face in, round the door. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.
“Freda!” said Scrooge.
Dear heart alive, how her nephew by marriage started! Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about his sitting in the corner with the footstool, or she wouldn’t have done it, on any account.
“Why bless my soul!” cried Freda, “who’s that?”
“It’s I. Your aunt Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Freda?”
Let her in! It is a mercy she didn’t shake her arm off. She was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. Her niece looked just the same. So did Topper when she came. So did the plump brother when he came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!
But she was early at the office next morning. Oh, she was early there. If she could only be there first, and catch Bobbie Cratchit coming late! That was the thing she had set her heart upon.
And she did it; yes, she did! The clock struck nine. No Bobbie. A quarter past. No Bobbie. She was full eighteen minutes and a half behind her time. Scrooge sat with her door wide open, that she might see her come into the Tank.
Her hat was off, before she opened the door; her comforter too. She was on her stool in a jiffy; driving away with her pen, as if she were trying to overtake nine o’clock.
“Hallo!” growled Scrooge, in her accustomed voice, as near as she could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?”
“I am very sorry, ma’am,” said Bobbie. “I am behind my time.”
“You are?” repeated Scrooge. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, madam, if you please.”
“It’s only once a year, ma’am,” pleaded Bobbie, appearing from the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, ma’am.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” she continued, leaping from her stool, and giving Bobbie such a dig in the bodice of her dress that she staggered back into the Tank again; “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”
Bobbie trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. She had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding her, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.
“A merry Christmas, Bobbie!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as she clapped her on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bobbie, my good woman, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bobbie! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bobbie Cratchit!”
Scrooge was better than her word. She did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tina, who did NOT die, she was a second mother. She became as good a friend, as good a mistress, and as good a woman, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in her, but she let them laugh, and little heeded them; for she was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, she thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. Her own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for her.
She had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of her, that she knew how to keep Christmas well, if any woman alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tina observed, God bless Us, Every One!