A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting
up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion
to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One. He
felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of
time, for the especial purpose of holding a conference with the
second messenger despatched to him through Jacob Marley's intervention.
But, finding that he turned uncomfortably cold when he began to
wonder which of his curtains this new spectre would draw back,
he put them every one aside with his own hands, and lying down
again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For, he
wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance,
and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and made nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on
being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to
the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for
adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss
to manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there
lies a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects. Without
venturing for Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don't mind calling
on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of
strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros
would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means
prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck
One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of
trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went
by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed, the
very core and centre of a blaze of ruddy light, which streamed
upon it when the clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only
light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless
to make out what it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive
that he might be at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous
combustion, without having the consolation of knowing it. At last,
however, he began to think -- as you or I would have thought at
first; for it is always the person not in the predicament who
knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably
have done it too -- at last, I say, he began to think that the
source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining
room, from whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine.
This idea taking full possession of his mind, 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 bade him 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
so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from
every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp
leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light,
as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such
a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification
of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or
for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor,
to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry,
brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,
mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts,
cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense
twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber
dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch,
there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see:, who bore a glowing
torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high
up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the
`Come in.' exclaimed the Ghost. `Come in. and know me better,
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit.
He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit's
eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
`I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,' said the Spirit. `Look
Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green
robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so
loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as
if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet,
observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare;
and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath,
set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls
were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye,
its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour,
and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard;
but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with
`You have never seen the like of me before.' exclaimed the Spirit.
`Never,' Scrooge made answer to it.
`Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family;
meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these
later years.' pursued the Phantom.
`I don't think I have,' said Scrooge. `I am afraid I have not.
Have you had many brothers, Spirit.'
`More than eighteen hundred,' said the Ghost.
`A tremendous family to provide for.' muttered Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
`Spirit,' said Scrooge submissively,' conduct me where you will.
I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which
is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me
profit by it.'
`Touch my robe.'
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry,
brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and
punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the
ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets
on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people
made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping
the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from
the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys
to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting
into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker,
contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs,
and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit
had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts
and waggons; furrows that crossed and recrossed each other hundreds
of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate
channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water.
The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with
a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles
descended in shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in
Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing
away to their dear hearts' content. There was nothing very cheerful
in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness
abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might
have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were
jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets,
and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball -- better-natured
missile far than many a wordy jest -- laughing heartily if it
went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers'
shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in
their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts,
shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at
the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic
opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish
Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the
girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe.
There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids;
there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence
to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water
gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and
brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the
woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves;
there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the
yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness
of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to
be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very
gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a
bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared
to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went
gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless
The Grocers'. oh the Grocers'. nearly closed, with perhaps two
shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It
was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a
merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly,
or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks,
or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful
to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare,
the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long
and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits
so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest
lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that
the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed
in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that
everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the
customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise
of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door,
crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases
upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed
hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while
the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished
hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have
been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas
daws to peck at if they chose.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel,
and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best
clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there
emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings,
innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the baker' shops.
The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit
very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway,
and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense
on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind
of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between
some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few
drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored
directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas
Day. And so it was. God love it, so it was.
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet
there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the
progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each
baker's oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were
`Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch.'
`There is. My own.'
`Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day.' asked Scrooge.
`To any kindly given. To a poor one most.'
`Why to a poor one most.' asked Scrooge.
`Because it needs it most.'
`Spirit,' said Scrooge, after a moment's thought,' I wonder you,
of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to
cramp these people's opportunities of innocent enjoyment.'
`I.' cried the Spirit.
`You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh
day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,'
said Scrooge. `Wouldn't you.'
`I.' cried the Spirit.
`You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day.' said Scrooge.
`And it comes to the same thing.'
`I seek.' exclaimed the Spirit.
`Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or
at least in that of your family,' said Scrooge.
`There are some upon this earth of yours,' returned the Spirit,'
who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride,
ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name,
who are as strange to us and all out kith and kin, as if they
had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves,
Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible,
as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was
a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed
at the baker's), that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could
accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood
beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural
creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing
off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous,
hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him
straight to Scrooge's clerk's; for there he went, and took Scrooge
with him, holding to his robe; and on the threshold of the door
the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit's dwelling
with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that. Bob had but fifteen
bob a-week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies
of his Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present
blessed his four-roomed house.
Then up rose Mrs Cratchit, Cratchit's wife, dressed out but poorly
in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap
and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted
by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons;
while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of
potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar
(Bob's private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour
of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly
attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks.
And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in,
screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the e the baker's
they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking
in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits
danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the
skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked
him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked
loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
`What has ever got your precious father then.' said Mrs Cratchit.
`And your brother, Tiny Tim. And Martha warn't as late last Christmas
Day by half-an-hour.'
`Here's Martha, mother.' said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
`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, and taking off her shawl
and bonnet for her with officious zeal.
`We'd a deal of work to finish up last night,' replied the girl,'
and had to clear away this morning, mother.'
`Well. Never mind so long as you are come,' said Mrs Cratchit.
`Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless
`No, no. There's father coming,' cried the two young Cratchits,
who were everywhere at once. `Hide, Martha, hide.'
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with
at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hanging
down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed,
to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny
Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an
`Why, where's our Martha.' cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.
`Not coming,' said Mrs Cratchit.
`Not coming.' said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high
spirits; for he had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church,
and had come home rampant. `Not coming upon Christmas Day.'
Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in
joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door,
and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny
Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear
the pudding singing in the copper.
`And how did little Tim behave. asked Mrs Cratchit, when she
had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter
to his heart's content.
`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 made lame
beggars walk, and blind men see.'
Bob's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled
more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came
Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother
and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Bob, turning
up his cuffs -- as if, poor fellow, they were capable of being
made more shabby -- compounded some hot mixture in a jug with
gin and lemons, and stirred it round and round and put it on the
hob to simmer; Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits
went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the
rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black
swan was a matter of course -- and in truth it was something very
like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand
in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes
with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce;
Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in
a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs
for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon
their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should
shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last
the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by
a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along
the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when
she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth,
one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny
Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, 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 flavour, size
and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out
by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner
for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great
delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they
hadn't ate it all at last. Yet every one had had enough, and the
youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion
to the eyebrows. But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda,
Mrs Cratchit left the room alone -- too nervous to bear witnesses
-- to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough. Suppose it should break
in turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall
of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the
goose -- a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became
livid. All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo. A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper.
A smell like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an
eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with
a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding. In half
a minute Mrs Cratchit entered -- flushed, but smiling proudly
-- with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and
firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and
bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding. Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that
he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit
since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was
off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the
quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but
nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large
family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit
would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth
swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted,
and considered perfect, 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, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle,
meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family
display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden
goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks,
while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily.
Then Bob proposed:
`A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.'
Which all the family re-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 loved the child,
and 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,' replied the Ghost, `in the poor chimney-corner,
and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows
remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.'
`No, no,' said Scrooge. `Oh, no, kind Spirit. say he will be
`If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other
of my race,' returned the Ghost, `will find him here. What then.
If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit,
and was overcome with penitence and grief `Man,' said the Ghost,
`if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant
until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is.
Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die. It may
be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less
fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God.
to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life
among his hungry brothers in the dust.'
Scrooge bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling cast his
eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing
his own name.
`Mr Scrooge.' said Bob; `I'll give you 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, `the children. Christmas Day.'
`It should 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,' said Mrs
Cratchit, `not for his. Long life to him. A merry Christmas and
a happy new year. He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their
proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank it last of
all, but he didn't care twopence for it. Scrooge was the Ogre
of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the
party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before,
from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done with. Bob
Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master
Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full five-and-sixpence
weekly. The two young Cratchits laughed tremendously at the idea
of Peter's being a man of business; and Peter himself looked thoughtfully
at the fire from between his collars, as if he were deliberating
what particular investments he should favour when he came into
the receipt of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a poor
apprentice at a milliner's, then 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 abed to-morrow morning for a good long rest;
to-morrow being a holiday she passed at home. Also how she had
seen a countess and a lord some days before, and how the lord
was much about as tall as Peter;' at which Peter pulled up his
collars so high that you couldn't have seen his head if you had
been there. All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round
and round; and by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child
travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little
voice, and sang it very well indeed.
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome
family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from
being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might
have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker's.
But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and
contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier
yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit's torch at parting,
Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily;
and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness
of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms,
was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations
for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through
before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut
out cold and darkness. 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 a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted,
and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near neighbour's
house; where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter -- artful
witches, well they knew it -- in a glow.
But, 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 exulted. How it bared its
breadth of breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated
on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless
mirth on everything within its reach. The very lamplighter, who
ran on before, dotting the dusky street with specks of light,
and who was dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out
loudly as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter
that he had any company but Christmas.
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood
upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone
were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants;
and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done
so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew
but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the
setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon
the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning
lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest
`What place is this.' asked Scrooge.
`A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,'
returned the Spirit. `But they know me. See.'
Alight shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced
towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found
a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old
man and woman, with their children and their children's children,
and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their
holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above
the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them
a Christmas song -- it had been a very old song when he was a
boy -- and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So
surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe
and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.
The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe,
and passing on above the moor, sped -- whither. Not to sea. To
sea. To Scrooge's horror, looking back, he saw the last of the
land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were
deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared,
and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely
tried to undermine the earth.
Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from
shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through,
there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung
to its base, and storm-birds -- born of the wind one might suppose,
as sea-weed of the water -- rose and fell about it, like the waves
But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire,
that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray
of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over
the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry
Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too,
with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the
figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that
was like a Gale in itself.
Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea -- on,
on -- until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore,
they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the
wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch;
dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man
among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought,
or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas
Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. 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 those he cared for
at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning
of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on
through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths
were secrets as profound as Death: it was a great surprise to
Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a
much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew's
and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the
Spirit 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
blest in a laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all I can say is, I should
like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I'll cultivate
It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while
there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in
the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.
When Scrooge's nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides,
rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant
contortions: Scrooge's niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily
as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand,
roared out lustily.
`Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha.'
`He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live.' cried Scrooge's
nephew. `He believed it too.'
`More shame for him, Fred.' said Scrooge's niece, indignantly.
Bless those women; they never do anything by halves. They are
always in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking,
capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed
-- as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her
chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest
pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head. Altogether
she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory,
`He's a comical old fellow,' said Scrooge's nephew,' that's the
truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offences
carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against
`I'm sure he is very rich, Fred,' hinted Scrooge's niece. `At
least you always tell me so.'
`What of that, my dear.' said Scrooge's nephew. `His wealth is
of no use to him. He don't do any good with it. He don'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 it.'
`I have no patience with him,' observed Scrooge's niece. Scrooge's
niece's sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same
`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 ill whims. Himself,
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 don't
lose much of a dinner.'
`Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,' interrupted Scrooge's
niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed
to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner;
and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the
fire, by lamplight.
`Well. I'm very glad to hear it,' said Scrooge's nephew, `because
I haven't great faith in these young housekeepers. What do you
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge's niece's
sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast,
who had no right to express an opinion on the subject. Whereat
Scrooge's niece's sister -- the plump one with the lace tucker:
not the one with the roses -- blushed.
`Do go on, Fred,' said Scrooge's niece, clapping her hands. `He
never finishes what he begins to say. He is such a ridiculous
Scrooge's nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was impossible
to keep the infection off; though the plump sister tried hard
to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was unanimously followed.
`I was only going to say,' said Scrooge's nephew,' that the consequence
of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is,
as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do
him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he
can find in his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office,
or his dusty chambers. I mean to give him the same chance every
year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail
at Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of
it -- I defy him -- if he finds me going there, in good temper,
year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you. If it
only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds,
that's something; and I think I shook him yesterday.'
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking Scrooge.
But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring what they
laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged them
in their merriment, and passed the bottle joyously.
After tea. they had some music. For they were a musical family,
and knew what they were about, when they sung a Glee or Catch,
I can assure you: especially Topper, who could growl away in the
bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead,
or get red in the face over it. Scrooge's niece played well upon
the harp; and played among other tunes a simple little air (a
mere nothing: you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which
had been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the boarding-school,
as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past. When this
strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown him,
came upon his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that
if he could have listened to it often, years ago, he might have
cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his
own hands, without resorting to the sexton's spade that buried
But they didn't devote the whole evening to music. After a while
they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes,
and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was
a child himself. Stop. There was first a game at blind-man's buff.
Of course there was. And I no more believe Topper was really blind
than I believe he had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it
was a done thing between him and Scrooge's nephew; and that the
Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after that
plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the credulity
of human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the
chairs, bumping against the piano, smothering himself among the
curtains, wherever she went, there went he. He always knew where
the plump sister was. He wouldn't catch anybody else. If you had
fallen up against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would
have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would have
been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly have
sidled off in the direction of the plump sister. She often cried
out that it wasn't fair; and it really was not. But when at last,
he caught her; when, in spite of all her silken rustlings, and
her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a corner whence
there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable.
For his pretending not to know her; his pretending that it was
necessary to touch her head-dress, and further to assure himself
of her identity by pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and
a certain chain about her neck; was vile, monstrous. No doubt
she told him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being
in office, they were so very confidential together, behind the
Scrooge's niece was not one of the blind-man's buff party, but
was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool, in a
snug corner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close behind her.
But she joined in the forfeits, and loved her love to admiration
with all the letters of the alphabet. Likewise at the game of
How, When, and Where, she was very great, and to the secret joy
of Scrooge's nephew, beat her sisters hollow: though they were
sharp girls too, as could have told you. There might have been
twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so
did Scrooge, for, wholly forgetting the interest he had in what
was going on, that his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes
came out with his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite
right, too; for the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted
not to cut in the eye, was not sharper than Scrooge; blunt as
he took it in his head to be.
The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood, and looked
upon him with such favour, that he begged like a boy to be allowed
to stay until the guests departed. But this the Spirit said could
not be done.
`Here is a new game,' said Scrooge. `One half hour, Spirit, only
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, elicited from him that
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, and wasn't made a show of, and wasn't led by anybody,
and 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;
and was so inexpressibly tickled, that he was obliged to get up
off the sofa and stamp. At last the plump sister, falling into
a similar state, cried out:
`I have found it out. I know what it is, Fred. I know what it
`What is it.' cried Fred.
`It's your Uncle Scrooge.'
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal sentiment,
though some objected that the reply to `Is it a bear.' ought to
have been `Yes;' inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient
to have diverted their thoughts from Mr Scrooge, supposing they
had ever had any tendency that way.
`He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,' said Fred,'
and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a
glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say,
`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 pledged the unconscious company in return,
and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given
him time. But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the
last word spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again
upon their travels.
Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited,
but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds,
and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close
at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater
hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and
jail, in misery's every refuge, where vain man in his little brief
authority had not made fast the door and barred the Spirit out,
he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.
It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had
his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to
be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was
strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered 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 Spirit 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 to-night.'
`To-night.' cried Scrooge.
`To-night at midnight. Hark. The time is drawing near.'
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that
`Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,' said Scrooge,
looking intently at the Spirit's robe,' but I see something strange,
and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is
it a foot or a claw.'
`It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,' was the
Spirit's sorrowful reply. `Look here.'
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched,
abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its
feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
`Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,
wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful
youth should have filled their features out, and touched them
with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that
of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds.
Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared
out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity,
in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation,
has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this
way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked
themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
`Spirit. are they yours.' Scrooge could say no more.
`They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. `And
they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance.
This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree,
but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written
which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the
Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. `Slander those
who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make
it worse. And abide the end.'
`Have they no refuge or resource.' cried Scrooge.
`Are there no prisons.' said the Spirit, turning on him for the
last time with his own words. `Are there no workhouses.' The bell
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
Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits