A CHRISTMAS CAROL Stave 4, THE LAST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him,
Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the air through which this
Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come? Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
“Lead on! Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them. But there they were in the heart of it; on ‘Change, amongst the merchants.
The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.
“No,” said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, “I don’t know much about it either way. I only know he he’s dead.”
“When did he die?” inquired another.
“Last night, I believe.”
“Why, what was the matter with him? I thought he’d never die.”
“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.
“What has he done with his money?” asked a red-faced gentleman.
“I haven’t heard,” said the man with the large chin. “Company, perhaps.
He hasn’t left it to me. That’s all I know. By, by!”
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversation apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that it must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. It could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and this Ghost’s province was the Future.
He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured in through the Porch. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and he thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this.
They left this busy scene, and went into an obscure part of the town, to a low shop where iron, old rags, bottles, bones, and greasy offal were bought. A gray-haired rascal, of great age, sat smoking his pipe.
Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of this man, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. But she had scarcely entered, when another woman, similarly laden, came in too; and she was closely followed by a man in faded black. After a short period of blank astonishment, in which the old man with the pipe had joined them, they all three burst into a laugh.
“Let the charwoman alone to be the first!” cried she who had entered first. “Let the laundress alone to be the second; and let the undertaker’s man alone to be the third. Look here, old Joe, here’s a chance! If we haven’t all three met here without meaning it!”
“You couldn’t have met in better place. You were made free of it long ago, you know; and the other two ain’t strangers. What have you got to sell? What have you got to sell?”
“Half a minute’s patience, Joe, and you shall see.”
“What odds then! What odds, Mrs. Dilber?” said the woman. “Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did! Who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man, I suppose.”
Mrs. Dilber, whose manner was remarkable for general propitiation, said,
“No, indeed, ma’am.”
“If he wanted to keep ’em after he was dead, a wicked old screw, 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 himself.”
“It’s the truest word that ever was spoke; it’s a judgment on him.”
“I wish it was a little heavier judgment, 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, nor afraid for them to see it.”
Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenience of opening the bundle, and dragged out a large and heavy roll of some dark stuff.
“What do you call this? Bed-curtains!”
“Ah! Bed-curtains! Don’t drop that oil upon the blankets, now.”
“Whose else’s, do you think? He isn’t likely to take cold without ’em, I dare say. 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 is the best he had, and a fine one too. They’d have wasted it by dressing him up in it, if it hadn’t been for me.”
Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror.
“Spirit! 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?”
The scene had changed, and now he almost touched a bare, uncurtained bed. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon this bed; and on it, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this plundered unknown man.
“Spirit, let me see some tenderness connected with a death, or this dark chamber, Spirit, will be forever present to me.”
The Ghost conducted him to poor Bob Cratchit’s house,â€”the dwelling he had visited before,â€”and found the mother and the children seated round the fire.
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 engaged in needlework. 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 color hurts my eyes,” she said.
The color? Ah, poor Tiny Tim!
“They’re better now again. It makes them weak by candle-light; and I wouldn’t show weak eyes to your father 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 slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother.”
“I have known him walk withâ€”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, and his father loved him so, that it was no trouble,â€”no trouble. And there is your father at the door!”
She hurried out to meet him; and little Bob in his comforterâ€”he had need of it, poor fellowâ€”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 child, a little cheek against his face, as if they 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?”
“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! My little child!”
He broke down all at once. He couldn’t help it. If he could have helped it, he and the child would have been farther apart, perhaps, than they were.
“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, with the covered face, whom we saw lying dead?”
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him to a dismal, wretched, ruinous churchyard.
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, 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. 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,â€”EBENEZER SCROOGE.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed? No, Spirit! O no, no! Spirit! 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? Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life.”
For the first time the kind hand faltered.
“I will honor 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 of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. O, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
Holding up his hands in one last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
Yes, 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!
He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard.
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist, no night; clear, bright, stirring, golden day!
“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?”
“To-day! Why, CHRISTMAS DAY.”
“It’s Christmas day! I haven’t missed it. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?”
“I should hope I did.”
“An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey,â€”the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?”
“What a delightful boy! It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now.”
“Is it? Go and buy it.”
“Walk-ER!”[*] exclaimed the boy.
[* “Walker!” or “Hookey Walker!” means “What a story!”]
“No, no, 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 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.
“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s! He sha’n’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.
It was a Turkey! He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. He would have snapped ’em short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax.
Scrooge dressed himself “all in his best,” and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and, walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humored fellows said: “Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!” and Scrooge said often afterwards, that, of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.
In the afternoon, he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.
He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it.
“Is your master at home, my dear?” said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl!
“Where is he, my love?”
“He’s in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress.”
“He knows me,” said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. “I’ll go in here, my dear.”
“Why, bless my soul!” cried Fred, “who’s that?”
“It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in,
Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!
But he was early at the office next morning. O, he was early there! If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it. The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. Bob was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.
Bob’s hat was off before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o’clock.
“Hallo!” growled Scrooge in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?”
“I am very sorry, sir. I am behind my time.”
“You are? Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”
“It’s only once a year, sir. It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend. I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” Scrooge continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again,â€””and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”
Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler.
“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy a second coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man 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 him; but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with spirits, but lived in that respect upon the total-abstinence principle ever afterward; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us every one!