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Christmas Carol: Part Two

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Read Parts 1 and 2 here.


PART 3: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS

Scrooge's snoring woke him. He immediately looked round the bed --- he didn't want to be taken by surprise. And he wondered: What curtain would this new ghost draw back?

But when the bell struck One and no ghost appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling.

Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. Except this: The whole time, a blaze of light streamed upon the bed --- and because it was only light and he couldn't figure out what it meant, it was more frightening than a dozen ghosts.

He got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.

The moment Scrooge's hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and ordered him to enter. He obeyed.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were green --- it looked like a forest. Bright gleaming berries glistened from every leaf. There was holly, mistletoe and ivy. And a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney.

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, poultry, suckling pigs, long wreaths of sausages, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense cakes and bowls of punch.

And then were was a jolly Giant, holding a glowing torch, which he held high, the better to shed its light on Scrooge.

"Come in!'' exclaimed the Ghost.

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Ghost. The Ghost's eyes were clear and kind, but Scrooge did not want to look into them.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,'' said the Ghost. "Look upon me!''

Scrooge did. The Ghost wore a simple green robe, bordered with white fur. Its feet were bare. On its head it wore a holly wreath. Its hair was curly. Its eyes sparkled. It seemed... joyful.

"You have never seen anything like me before!'' exclaimed the Ghost.

"Never,'' Scrooge said. "Spirit, take me where you will. I went forth last night because I was forced to, and I learned a lesson that is working now. Tonight, if you have something to teach me, let me learn from it.''

"Touch my robe!''

Scrooge did as he was told.

Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit and punch --- all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the hour of night.

Now Scrooge and the Ghost stood on a city street on Christmas morning. They could see nothing very cheerful through the gloomy, dingy mist, and yet was there cheerfulness in the air. The people who were shoveling snow from their steps were happy to be doing so. Now and then a snowball would fly, and someone would shout with delight if it hit its target. The customers in the food shops were all so hurried they tumbled against each other at the door, crashing their baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, all in the best spirit. And then it was time for church, and they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes and with their most pleasant faces.

For the Ghost, this was the signal to led Scrooge to his clerk's house. There he found Mrs. Cratchit, Bob Cratchit's wife, in a faded dress. Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, was setting the table, while young Peter Cratchit plunged a forkful of potatoes into his mouth. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the goose and just knew it was theirs.

"What has ever got your precious father?'' said Mrs. Cratchit. "And your brother, Tiny Tim? And Martha wasn't as late last Christmas Day."

"Here's Martha, mother!'' cried the two young Cratchits. "Hurrah! There's such a goose, Martha!''

"Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!'' said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times.

"We had a lot of work to finish up last night,'' the girl replied, "and had to clear away this morning, mother!''

"Well! Never mind so long as you are here,'' said Mrs. Cratchit. "Sit down before the fire, my dear."

"No, no! Father's coming,'' cried the two young Cratchits. "Hde, Martha, hide!''

So Martha hid herself, and in came Bob, with Tiny Tim on his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he carried a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.

"Where's our Martha?'' cried Bob, looking round.

"Not coming,'' said Mrs. Cratchit.

"Not coming!'' said Bob. "Not coming on Christmas Day?''

Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, even if it was only in joke; so she came out from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim off to see the pudding as it cooked.

"And how did little Tim behave?'' asked Mrs. Cratchit.

"As good as gold,'' said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who it was that made lame beggars walk and blind men see.''

Bob's voice trembled when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.

The children went out to fetch the goose, while Mrs. Cratchit heated the gravy. Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible speed. Belinda sweetened up the applesauce. Martha put out the plates. And the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves.

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, then Mrs. Cratchit plunged the carving knife into the goose. A murmur of delight arose all round the table, and even Tiny Tim beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried, "Hurrah!"

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Served with applesauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family

And then, as Belinda changed the plates, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone to bring in the pudding. But what if it should not be done enough! What if it broke as it was being served? What if somebody got over the wall of the backyard and stole it while they were merry with the goose? All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Mrs. Cratchit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly. The pudding was like a cannonball, so hard and firm. "Oh, a wonderful pudding!" Bob Cratchit said, proclaiming it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was a small pudding for a large family.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. Apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, and Bob proposed: "A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!''

Which all the family echoed.

"God bless us every one!'' said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he wished to keep him by his side and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

"Spirit,'' said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, "tell me if Tiny Tim will live.''

"I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved," replied the Ghost. "If these shadows remain unchanged in the future, the child will die.''

"No, no,'' said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit! Say he will be spared.''

"If these shadows remain unchanged in the future, no one will find him here," the Ghost repeated. "What then? Didn't someone say: 'If he's likely to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'''

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Ghost, and was overcome with penitence and grief. And then he heard his own name, and looked up.

"Mr. Scrooge!'' said Bob. "A toast to Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!''

"The Founder of the Feast indeed!'' cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening. "I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it.''

"My dear,'' said Bob, "think of the children, think of Christmas Day.''

"It would be Christmas Day, I am sure,'' said she, "on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!''

"My dear,'' was Bob's mild answer. "Christmas Day.''

"I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's --- not for his,'' said Mrs. Cratchit. "Long life to him. A merry Christmas and a happy new year! He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!''

The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their festivities that had no joy. Scrooge was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for a full five minutes.

After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before, from the mere relief of Scrooge being done with. Bob Cratchit told them how he had a possible employer in his eye for Peter, and if that worked out, Peter would have quite a nice salary. The two young Cratchits laughed tremendously at the idea of Peter's being a man of business; and Peter himself looked into the fire and thought about the investments he'd make someday. Martha told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie in bed tomorrow morning for a good long rest. All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and bye and bye they had a song, about a lost child traveling in the snow, from Tiny Tim.

There was nothing fancy in any of this. They were not a handsome family, they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being waterproof. But they were happy, and grateful, and pleased with one another.

Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Ghost went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in the houses was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cozy dinner. There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again, were shadows on the window blind of guests assembling; and there was a group of handsome girls, all chattering at once, as they tripped lightly off to some neighbor's house.

If you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how the Ghost enjoyed what it saw!

But now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood in a bleak and desert field, where masses of stone were cast about as though this was the burial ground of giants. The setting sun had left a streak of fiery red and then was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.

The Ghost did not linger here, but motioned to Scrooge to follow out to the shore. There stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of seaweed clung to its base, and birds rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

The two men who watched the light had made a fire. Joining their hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas.

Again the Ghost sped on, until he and Scrooge landed on a ship. They stood beside the sailor at the wheel, the lookout in the bow, the officers who had the watch --- and every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke softly to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered the people he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while he saw all of this, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognize it as his own nephew's, and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Ghost standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability!

"Ha, ha!'' laughed Scrooge's nephew. "Ha, ha, ha!''

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blessed in a laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him too.

When Scrooge's nephew laughed in this way --- holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions --- his wife laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends roared out with them.

"He said that Christmas was a humbug!'' cried Scrooge's nephew. "He believed it too!''

"More shame for him, Fred!'' said his wife.

"He's a comical old fellow,'' said Scrooge's nephew, "that's the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. But his crimes carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.''

"I'm sure he is very rich, Fred,'' his wife said.

"What of that, my dear!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn't do any good with it. He doesn't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the satisfaction of thinking -- ha, ha, ha! -- that he is ever going to benefit us with his fortune.''

"I have no patience with him,'' she said, and her sisters and all the other ladies expressed the same opinion.

"Oh, I have!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "I am sorry for him; I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his foul mood? He does, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us. What's the consequence? He loses a very good dinner.''

Then Scrooge's nephew turned serious: "I mean to invite him to join us every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may mock Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it if I go there, in good humor, year after year, saying 'Uncle Scrooge, how are you?' If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk a little money, that's something.''

After tea, they had some music. And all the things that Ghost had shown him filled Scrooge's mind. He softened more and more, and thought that if he could have listened to music more often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness.

After a while, Scrooge's nephew and his children played games, and Scrooge saw how it is good to be young sometimes, and never better than at Christmas. There might have been twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge, who forgot that his voice made no sound in their ears and sometimes came out, and quite loudly at that, with his guess to their quizzes.

The Ghost was pleased to find Scrooge in this mood, and was delighted when Scrooge begged like a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But the Ghost said this could not be done.

"They're starting a new game,'' said Scrooge. "One half hour, Spirit, only one!''

It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge's nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what. He only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, produced these responses: He was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets, be it didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter.

At last his sister cried out: "I have it! I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is!''

"What is it?'' cried Fred.

"It's your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!''

Which it certainly was.

"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,'' said Fred, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health." He reached for a glass of mulled wine. "To Uncle Scrooge!''

"Well! Uncle Scrooge!'' they cried.

"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "He wouldn't take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge!''

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have toasted his nephew's family in return, if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene passed with the last word spoken by his nephew, and Scrooge and the Ghost were again upon their travels.

Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Ghost stood by sick beds, and they were cheerful. He showed Scrooge foreign lands, and they seemed close at home. He visited struggling men, and they seemed patient in their greater hope. He went to the poor, and they were rich. In hospitals and jails, in misery's every refuge, the Ghost left his blessing and taught Scrooge new lessons.

It was a long night, and a strange one, for while Scrooge remained unchanged in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children's Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Ghost as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

"Are spirits' lives so short?'' asked Scrooge.

"My life upon this globe is very brief,'' replied the Ghost. "It ends tonight.''

"Tonight!'' cried Scrooge.

"Tonight at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near.''

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.

"Forgive me," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Ghost's robe, `"but I see something strange, protruding from your robe.

From his robe, two children appeared. They were wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

"Look, look, down here!'' exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, ragged, scowling, wolfish --- but also humble.

Scrooge was appalled. He tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves.

"Spirit! Are they yours?'' was all Scrooge could say.

"They are Man's,'' said the Ghost, looking down upon them. "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Need. Beware them both.''

"Have they no home or help?'' cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?'' said the Ghost, turning on Scrooge for the last time with his own words. Are there no workhouses?''

The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

CHAPTER 4 - THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS

The Phantom approached. Slowly. Silently. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form. It seemed to scatter gloom with every step.

Scrooge, bent down on one knee, could only see an outstretched hand. He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread.

"You are the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?'' said Scrooge.

The Phantom did not answer, but pointed onward with its hand.

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us?'' Scrooge pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?''

The upper portion of the garment moved. That was the only answer he received.

Although he was becoming used to ghostly company, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and when he prepared to follow the Spirit, he could hardly stand.

"Ghost of the Future!'' he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any 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 go where you lead, and do it with a thankful heart. But please... won't you speak to me?''

The Phantom made no reply. It just pointed its hand straight ahead.

"Alright, then,'' said Scrooge. "Lead on!''

Scrooge followed, and then the Phantom's robe circled around him, lifting him up and carrying him along.

Suddenly there were in the heart of the city. Merchants hurried up and down. The Phantom stopped beside a group of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge leaned in to listen to their talk.

"No,'' said a very fat man with a monstrous chin, "I don't know much about it, either way. I only know he's dead.''

"When did he die?'' inquired another.

"Last night, I believe.''

"I thought he'd never die --- what was the matter with him?'' asked a third.

"God knows,'' said the first.

"What has he done with his money?'' asked a red-faced gentleman.

"I haven't heard,'' said the man with the large chin. "Left it to his Company, perhaps. He hasn't left it to me. That's all I know.''

"It's likely to be a very cheap funeral,'' another man said. "I mean, I don't know of anybody to go to it. But I don't mind going if a lunch is provided.''

They all laughed, and walked on.

They went next into a part of the town where the streets were dirty, the shops and houses needed paint, and the people were badly dressed and ugly. The neighborhood reeked of poverty and misery.

They came to a shop where iron, old rags and bottles were bought. The floor was covered with piles of rusty keys, nails, chains, hinges, files, scales, weights and scraps of iron. Sitting in the center was a gray-haired rascal, nearly seventy years old.

Just then a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. She was followed by another woman and a man in faded black. They all seem surprised to be meeting one another there.

The first woman threw her bundle on the floor, looking with bold defiance at the other two.

"Every person has a right to take care of themselves," she said. "He always did!''

"Very true," the other woman said. "Who's the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man, I suppose.''

"If he wanted to keep 'em after he was dead, why wasn't he nicer when he was alive?" the first woman said. "If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck by Death, instead of lying gasping out his last hours, alone by himself.''

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

"I wish it was a little heavier judgment,'' replied the woman. She turned to the shopkeeper. "Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it."

The others had the same idea, and soon there was a new pile: a pencil-case, a battered watch, sheets and towels, two old-fashioned silver teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, a few boots --- even a blanket.

"His blankets?'' asked Joe.

"Whose else's do you think?'' replied the woman. "He isn't likely to take cold for lack of them.''

Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror.

"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 saw a bare bed. Under a ragged sheet, there lay something covered up. Then a pale light fell upon the bed; and on it, unwatched and uncared for, was the body of a man.

The slightest raising of the cover would have revealed the face. Scrooge thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it --- but he just could not bring himself to do it.

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

The Phantom pointed to the head.

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

The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for a moment, like a wing; when he opened it, it seemed to be daylight, and Scrooge was a room with a mother and her children.

She was expecting someone, and she seemed quite anxious eagerness, for she walked up and down the room, jerked at every sound, looked out the window, glanced at the clock, and could hardly bear the voices of the 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 delight of which he felt ashamed.

"Is it good.'' she said, "or bad?''

"Bad,'' he answered.

"We are quite ruined?''

"No. There is hope yet, Caroline.''

"If he changes his mind,'' she said, amazed, "Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.''

"He is past changing his mind,'' said her husband. "He is dead.''

She was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. In the next moment, she said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness, but the first was the emotion of her heart.

"To whom will our debt be transferred?''

"I don't know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money; and even if we aren't, no one would be as hard on us as he was. We may sleep tonight with light hearts, Caroline!''

Yes, their hearts were lighter --- it was a happier house for this man's death! Here, the only emotion that the Phantom could show Scrooge was one of pleasure.

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

The Phantom conducted him through several familiar streets, 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 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 sewing. How quiet they all were!

"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 Phantom 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,'' said Cratchit's wife. "It makes them weak when I sew by candlelight; and I wouldn't show weak eyes to your father when he comes home, which should be soon.''

Peter shut his book. "But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother.''

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

"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 Bob came in. His tea was ready for him, and they all tried to be the one who helped him to it. Then the two young Cratchits got upon his knees and laid a little cheek against his face, as if to say, "Don't mind it, father. Don't be sad!''

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 today, 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."'

He broke down all at once. He couldn't help it. "My little, little child!'' cried Bob. "My little child."

He left the room, and went upstairs into the room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas. Poor Bob sat down, and when he had thought a little and composed himself, he went down again.

They drew about the fire, and talked. Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr. Scrooge's nephew, whom he barely knew once. They had met in the street that day, and Bob had shared his sad news. "I'm so sorry,'' Scrooge's nephew had said. He had given Bob his card. "If I can be of service to you in any way, that's where I live.''

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

"You would be surer 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.''

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

"Get along with you!'' retorted Peter, grinning.

"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.''

"Never, father!'' they all cried.

"And I know,'' said Bob, "I know, my dears, that when we recollect how patient he was, we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.''

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

"I am very happy,'' said Bob. "I am very happy!''

Mrs. Cratchit kissed him, his daughters kissed him, the two young Cratchits kissed him, and Peter shook his hand.

"Spirit,'' 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 brought Scrooge to a gathering of businessmen.

"This is where my business is," said Scrooge, "and this is my house. Let me behold what I shall be in days to come.''

The Phantom stopped; the hand was pointed elsewhere. "The house is right there,'' Scrooge exclaimed. "Why do you point away?''

The finger didn't move.

Scrooge hastened to the window of his office, and looked in. It was still an office, but not his. The furniture was not the same, and he was not the figure in the chair.

The Phantom pointed as before.

They reached an iron gate. Scrooge paused to look round before entering.

A churchyard. The Phantom stood among the graves, and pointed down to one.

Scrooge advanced towards it, trembling.

"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 things that May be, only?''

But the Phantom just pointed downward to the grave.

"The way men live suggests how they will end," said Scrooge. "But if they change, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!''

The Phantom was immovable as ever.

Scrooge crept towards the grave. And, following the finger, he read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name: Ebenezer Scrooge.

"Am I 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. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?''

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

"Good Spirit,'' he pursued, as he fell down upon the ground before the Phantom. "Assure me that I can still change these shadows you have shown me. Tell me I can change my life!''

Now the hand trembled.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year," Scrooge cried. "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. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!''

In his agony, he caught the Phantom's hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong and held on to it.

And then the Phantom shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

PART 5: THE END OF IT

The bed was his own, the room was his own.

Best and happiest of all, the rest of his life was his own --- he had time to make things right!

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

Scrooge's face had been wet with tears. Now he was glowing with his good intentions, and his hands were busy with his clothes --- turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them.

"I don't know what to do!" he cried. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hello, there! Hello!"

He had run into the sitting room, and was now standing there, out of breath.

"There's the door, by which the Ghost of Jacob Marley entered!" he all but shouted. "There's the corner where the Ghost of Christmas Present sat! It's all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!"

He laughed and laughed --- and for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it really was a splendid laugh.

"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. Hello! Hello, there!"

Church bells were ringing, the loudest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, 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; the day was clear, bright, stirring, cold, weather for the blood to dance to. Golden sunlight, heavenly sky, sweet fresh air, merry bells --- oh, glorious! Glorious!

"What's today?" cried Scrooge, calling down to a boy in Sunday clothes.

"Today?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."

"Christmas Day --- 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."

He leaned and again and called to the boy: "Do you know the butcher in the next street?"

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

"An intelligent boy!" said Scrooge. "A remarkable 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?"

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

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

"Is it?" said Scrooge. "Go and buy it. And tell them to bring it here, so I can tell them where to take it. Come back with the man, and I'll give you a tip. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I'll double it."

The boy was off like a shot.

"I'll send it to Bob Cratchit." whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands. "But he won't know who sends it."

The hand in which he wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it he did, somehow, and went downstairs to open the door --- he was that eager to be ready for the coming of the butcher's man.

As he stood there, waiting his arrival, the knocker caught his eye.

"I shall love it, as long as I live!" cried Scrooge, patting it with his hand. "I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face. It's a wonderful knocker. Oh, here's the turkey. Hello! How are you? Merry Christmas!"

It was quite a turkey! He never could have stood upon his legs, that bird. They would have snapped off in a minute. So he added more money, and sent it on in a cab.

Scrooge dressed in his best suit and went out into the streets. The people were 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 pleasant that three or four men said, "Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the sounds he had ever heard, those were the sweetest in his ears.

He had not gone far when he saw the man who had walked into his office just the day before and said, "Scrooge and Marley's, I believe." It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.

"My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. "How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you to visit me. A merry Christmas to you, sir!"

"Mr. Scrooge?"

"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 his ear.

"Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. "My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?"

"If you please," said Scrooge. "Not a penny less. A great many back payments are included in it, I assure you."

"My dear sir," said the man, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to such generosity..."

"Don't say anything, please," replied Scrooge. "Come and see me. Will you come and see me?"

"I will!" cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.

He went to church, and walked about the streets, 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 him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk -- that anything -- could give him so much happiness.

2010-12-17-Dickens005.jpg

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.

"Who's there?" called a voice from within.

"It's Uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in?"

Let him in! So they did, and he was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful happiness!

But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, 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; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half late. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come in.

Bob's hat was off before he opened the door. He was on his stool in a jiffy, scribbling away with his pen, as if working fast and hard would turn back the clock.

"Hello!" 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," said Bob.

"Yes, you are!" Scrooge said. "Step this way, sir, if you please."

"It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob. "It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir."

"I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore," Scrooge continued, leaping from his stool, "I am about to raise your salary!"

Bob trembled.

"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 help your struggling family."

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 a good friend. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened for good at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset.

He had no more visits from Ghosts, 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!

THE END

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