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in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas
by Charles Dickens
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Dickens has been called 'The Man Who Invented Christmas' as this story's huge popularity played a significant role in redefining the spirit of the holiday during a time when old traditions were declining. "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease," said the poet Thomas Hood.
Based on Dickens' own abridgement, made for his public readings.
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves or with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly. - C.D.
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. There was no doubt whatever about that.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge never painted out old Marley's name, however. There it yet stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door, - Scrooge and Marley.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle.
Once upon a time upon a Christmas eve old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting, foggy weather; and the city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already.
The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open, that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, in a dismal little cell beyond. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.
"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation Scrooge had of his approach.
"Bah!" said Scrooge; "humbug! If I had my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart! He should!"
"Uncle! I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, apart from the veneration due to its sacred origin, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded.
"Let me hear another sound from you " said Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation!
"Don't be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us, to-morrow."
"Why did you get married?"
"Because I fell in love."
"Because you fell in love!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. "Good afternoon!"
His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. The clerk, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two portly gentlemen in.
"Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?" said one of the gentlemen, referring to a list.
"Mr. Marley died seven years ago, this very night."
"At this festive season, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, sir. What shall I put you down for?"
"Nothing! I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the prisons and the workhouses, - they cost enough, - and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many would rather die."
"If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived.
"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?"
"It's only once a year, sir."
"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December! Be here all the earlier next morning."
Scrooge took his melancholy dinner and went home to bed. He lived in a gloomy suite of rooms which had once belonged to his deceased partner.
Now it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door of this house, except that it was very large; also, that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London. And yet Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, not a knocker, but Marley's face. As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. He said, "Pooh, pooh!" and closed the door with a sound like thunder.
Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he sat down before the very low fire to take some gruel.
As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated, for some purpose now forgotten, with a chamber in the highest story of the building. It begin to swing. Soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house. This was succeeded by a clanking noise as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar below.
Through the heavy door a spectre passed into the room before his eyes. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
"How now!" said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. "What do you want with me?"
Marley's Ghost. From the 1843 Edition
"In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley."
"Can you - can you sit down?"
"I can. Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
"Hear me! My time is nearly gone. I am here to-night to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer. You will be haunted by Three Spirits."
"Jacob? I - I think I'd rather not."
"Expect the first to-morrow night, when the bell tolls One."
It walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that, when the apparition reached it, it was wide open.
Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, and the bolts were undisturbed. Scrooge tried to say, "Humbug!" but stopped at the first syllable, and fell asleep on the instant.
When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, and the church clock tolled a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE.
Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn aside by a strange figure,- like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man. Its hair was white, yet the face had not a wrinkle in it. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; yet had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible
"Who and what are you?"
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. Rise, and walk!"
It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes.
"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, "and you shall be upheld!"
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood in the busy thoroughfares of a city. It was made plain enough by the dressing of the shops that here, too, it was Christmas time. The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.
"Know it! Was I apprenticed here!"
They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, Scrooge cried in great excitement: "Why, it's old Fezziwig, alive again!"
Old Fezziwig rubbed his hands and called out in a jovial voice, "Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!"
"Dick Wilkins, to be sure!" said Scrooge to the Ghost. "My old fellow-'prentice, bless me, yes!"
"Yo ho!" said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night. Christmas eve, Dick, Ebenezer! Clear away, my lads!"
Every movable was packed off, the floor was swept, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire. In came a fiddler with a music-book. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business, the housemaid. In came the baker, the cook and the milkman.
From the 1843 Edition
There were dances, and there were forfeits, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer.
When the clock struck eleven this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side the door, and, shaking hands with every person wished him or her a Merry Christmas.
"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude. He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money."
Scrooge felt the Spirit's glance.
"My time grows short," observed the Spirit. "Quick!"
Again he saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. He was sat by the side of a fair young girl in a black dress, in whose eyes there were tears.
"Spirit! remove me from this place."
"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
"Remove me!" Scrooge exclaimed. "I cannot bear it!"
As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being exhausted. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.
Scrooge awoke in his own bedroom. But the walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove. Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, juicy oranges, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round.
"Come in,- come in! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Have never walked with my elder brothers?"
"I don't think I have. Have you many brothers, Spirit?"
"More than eighteen hundred."
"Spirit, conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion. 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. The room and its contents all vanished instantly, and they stood in the city streets upon a snowy Christmas morning.
Scrooge and the Ghost passed on, invisible, straight to Scrooge's clerk's; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit's dwelling with the sprinklings of his torch.
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit's wife and laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside 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 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 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 iron frame!
"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Cratchit.
"Not coming," said Mrs. Cratchit.
"Not coming!" said Bob.
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. "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."
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 beside the fire. Master Peter and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
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. 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.
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 pastry-cook'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.
O, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly, too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.
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 shovelful of chestnuts on the fire.
Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, 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 crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed:-
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
"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. "The odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!"
"My dear," was Bob's mild answer, "Christmas day."
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. The chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by and by 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.
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.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, as this scene vanished, 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 Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew.
"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.
"He's a comical old fellow," said Scrooge's nephew, "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."
After tea they had some music. Then they set to 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. The fire of questioning elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, rather a disagreeable animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and was not a horse, or a cow, or a cat, or a bear. At last the plump sister cried out, -
" I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is! It's your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!"
Suddenly, as they stood together in an open place, the bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it no more. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him.
The Phantom was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head.
"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. Will you not speak to me?"
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
"I know. Lead on, Spirit!"
The city seemed to spring up about them as the Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.
"No," said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, "I don't know much. I only know he he's dead."
"What has he done with his money?" asked a red-faced gentleman.
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversation apparently so trivial; 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.
A woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop.
"What do you call this? Bed-curtains!"
"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. The Ghost conducted him to 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 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.
The mother laid her work upon the table, and put her hand up to her face.
"The colour hurts my eyes," she said. "I wouldn't show weak eyes to your father when he comes home. 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 with - - I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder, very fast indeed."
"And so have I," cried Peter. "Often."
"But he was very light to carry, 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 little Bob in his comforter - he had need of it, poor fellow - 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.
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, 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."
Scrooge, trembling as he went, followed the finger, and read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, - EBENEZER SCROOGE.
No, Spirit! O no, no! Spirit! hear me! I am not the man I was. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Holding up his hands, 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. "What's to-day?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy.
"To-day! Why, CHRISTMAS DAY."
"It's Christmas day! I haven't missed it. 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? Go and buy it, and tell 'em to bring it here, 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.
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.
"Is your master at home, my dear?" said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl! Very.
"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, Fred?"
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. 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! And he did it. Bob was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time.
"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. Step this way, if you please."
From the 1843 Edition
"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 I am about to raise your salary! "A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "We will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a bowl of smoking bishop!
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 had no further intercourse with spirits, 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!
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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