Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits, cont.
Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.
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 spared!'
'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 population.'
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 doubt!'
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 the last.
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.
[... The Spirit then takes Scrooge to see where even the miners are celebrating Christmas, the men tending a lighthouse on the shore, sailors at sea, and then all of a sudden he hears his nephew laughing and finds himself in his nephew's home, where all kinds of Christmas festivities are taking place. Scrooge is delighted just to be watching and doesn't want to leave. ...]
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Source: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. 1843. (Project Gutenberg).
MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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