Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits, cont.
Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.
The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for a moment, like a wing; and withdrawing it, revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and her children were.
She was expecting some one, and with anxious eagerness; for she walked up and down the room; started at every sound; looked out from the window; glanced at the clock; tried, but in vain, to work with her needle; 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 serious delight of which he felt ashamed, and which he struggled to repress.
He sat down to the dinner that had been boarding for him by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after a long silence), he appeared embarrassed how to answer.
'Is it good?' she said, 'or bad?'--to help him.
'Bad,' he answered.
'We are quite ruined!'
'No. There is hope yet, Caroline.'
'If he relents,' she said, amazed, 'there is. Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened!'
'He is past relenting,' said her husband. 'He is dead.'
She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart.
'What the half-drunken woman whom I told you of last night, said to me, when I tried to see him and obtain a week's delay; and what I thought was a mere excuse to avoid me; turns out to have been quite true. He was not only very ill, but dying, then.'
'To whom will our debt be transferred?'
'I don't know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money; and even though we were not, it would be a bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline.'
Yes. Soften it as they would, their hearts were lighter. The children's faces, hushed and clustered round to hear what they so little understood, were brighter; and it was a happier house for this man's death. The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, was one of pleasure.
'Let me see some tenderness connected with a death,' said Scrooge, 'or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever present to me.'
The Ghost conducted him through several streets familiar to his feet; 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; the dwelling he had visited before; 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. But surely they were very quiet.
'And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them.'
Where had Scrooge heard those words? He had not dreamed them. The boy must have read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed the threshold. Why did he not go on?
The mother laid her work upon the table, and put her hand up to her face. 'The colour hurts my eyes,' she said.
The colour! Ah, poor Tiny Tim.
'They're better now again,' said Cratchit's wife. 'It makes them weak by candle-light; and I wouldn't show weak eyes to your father when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time.'
'Past it rather,' Peter answered, shutting up his book. 'But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother.'
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. So had all.
'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 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?' 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. My little, little child.' cried Bob. 'My little child.'
He broke down all at once. He couldn't help it. If he could have helped it, he and his child would have been farther apart perhaps than they were.
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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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