Thursday, December 8th, 2016

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Stave One)

4

STAVE ONE (Staves 2-5 will follow each night at 5:00 PM – JW)

MARLEY’S GHOST

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the
undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name
was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old
Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there
is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined,
myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in
the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my
unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You
will, therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as
dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise?
Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge
was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his
sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even
Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was
an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and
solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started
from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly
understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to
relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died
before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his
taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts,
than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning
out after dark in a breezy spot–say St. Paul’s Church-yard, for
instance–literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years
afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was
known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called
Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It
was all the same to him.

Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a
squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old
sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out
generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose,
shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin
lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime
was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his
own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the
dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could
warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than
he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain
less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The
heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet could boast of the
advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down”
handsomely and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My
dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars
implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was
o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to
such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to
know him; and, when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into
doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they
said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his
way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep
its distance, was what the knowing ones call “nuts” to Scrooge.

Once upon a time–of all the good days in the year, on Christmas
Eve–old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak,
biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court
outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts,
and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The City
clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already–it had
not been light all day–and candles were flaring in the windows of the
neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The
fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense
without, that, although the court was of the narrowest, the houses
opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down,
obscuring everything, one might have thought that nature lived hard by
and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open, that he might keep his
eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank,
was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire
was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t
replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so
surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that
it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his
white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which
effort, not being a man of 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 he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this
nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and
handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean
that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry?
What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be
dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said,
“Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug!”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world
of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s
Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time
for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for
balancing your books, and having every item in ’em through a round dozen
of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said
Scrooge indignantly, “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!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way,
and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you!
Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I
have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew; “Christmas among
the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it
has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and
origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good
time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know
of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one
consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people
below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and
not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore,
uncle, 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. Becoming immediately
sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the
last frail spark for ever.

“Let me hear another sound from _you_,” said Scrooge, “and you’ll keep
your Christmas by losing your situation! You’re quite a powerful
speaker, sir,” he added, turning to his nephew. “I wonder you don’t go
into Parliament.”

“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us to-morrow.”

Scrooge said that he would see him—-Yes, indeed he did. He went the
whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that
extremity first.

“But why?” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “Why?”

“Why did you get married?” said Scrooge.

“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!”

“Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give
it as a reason for not coming now?”

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be
friends?”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never
had any quarrel to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial
in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last.
So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“And A Happy New Year!”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He
stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the
clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned
them cordially.

“There’s another fellow,” muttered Scrooge, who overheard him: “my
clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking
about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.”

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge’s nephew out, had let two other people
in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with
their hats off, in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their
hands, and bowed to him.

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring
to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr.
Marley?”

“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died
seven years ago, this very night.”

“We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving
partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous
word “liberality” Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the
credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, 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, who suffer greatly at
the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries;
hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in
operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were
not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had
occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I am very
glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind
or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are
endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and
means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all
others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I
put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish,
gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas,
and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the
establishments I have mentioned–they cost enough; and those who are
badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and
decrease the surplus population. Besides–excuse me–I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to
understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.
Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the
gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion
of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with
flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in
carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church,
whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a
Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and
quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards, as if its
teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became
intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers
were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier,
round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their
hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug
being left in solitude, its overflowings suddenly congealed, and turned
to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops, where holly sprigs and
berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy
as they passed. Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke:
a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that
such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord
Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his
fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household
should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on
the previous Monday for being drunk and blood-thirsty in the streets,
stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and
the baby sallied out to buy the beef.

Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good
St. Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such
weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he
would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose,
gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs,
stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol;
but, at the first sound of

“God bless you, merry gentleman,
May nothing you dismay!”

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer
fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog, and even more congenial
frost.

At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an
ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the
fact to the expectant clerk in the tank, who instantly snuffed his
candle out, and put on his hat.

“You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to
stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think _me_ ill used when I pay a
day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of
December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I
suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next
morning.”

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl.
The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends
of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no
great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of
boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas-eve, and then ran
home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman’s
buff.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and
having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening
with his banker’s book, went home to bed. He lived in chambers which had
once belonged to his deceased partner. They were a gloomy suite of
rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little
business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run
there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other
houses, and have forgotten the way out again. It was old enough now, and
dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being
all let out as offices. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who
knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and
frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed
as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the
threshold.

Now, it is a fact that there was nothing at all particular about the
knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact
that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence
in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy
about him as any man in the City of London, even including–which is a
bold word–the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne
in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley since his
last mention of his seven-years’-dead partner that afternoon. And then
let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge,
having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its
undergoing any intermediate process of change–not a knocker, but
Marley’s face.

Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow, as the other objects
in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in
a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as
Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly
forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath of hot air;
and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.
That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to
be in spite of the face, and beyond its control, rather than a part of
its own expression.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of
a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would
be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned
it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.

He _did_ pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door;
and he _did_ look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to
be terrified with the sight of Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the
hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws
and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said, “Pooh, pooh!” and closed
it with a bang.

The sound resounded through the house like thunder. Every room above,
and every cask in the wine merchant’s cellars below, appeared to have a
separate peal of echoes of its own. Scrooge was not a man to be
frightened by echoes. He fastened the door, and walked across the hall,
and up the stairs: slowly, too: trimming his candle as he went.

You may talk vaguely about driving a coach and six up a good old flight
of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say
you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise,
with the splinter-bar towards the wall, and the door towards the
balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and
room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a
locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half-a-dozen
gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so
you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and
Scrooge liked it. But, before he shut his heavy door, he walked through
his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of
the face to desire to do that.

Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as they should be. Nobody under
the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and
basin ready; and the little saucepan of gruel (Scrooge had a cold in his
head) upon the hob. Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody
in his dressing-gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude
against the wall. Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guard, old shoes, two
fish baskets, washing-stand on three legs, and a poker.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double
locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against
surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slippers,
and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was
obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract
the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. The
fire-place was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and
paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the
Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh’s daughters, Queens of
Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like
feather beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in
butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that
face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod,
and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at
first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the
disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of
old Marley’s head on every one.

“Humbug!” said Scrooge; and walked across the room.

After several turns he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the
chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, 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 was with great
astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that, as he
looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the
outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and
so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an
hour. The bells ceased, as they had begun, together. They were succeeded
by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a
heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar. Scrooge then
remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as
dragging chains.

The cellar door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the
noise much louder on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then
coming straight towards his door.

“It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge. “I won’t believe it.”

His colour changed, though, when, without a pause, it came on through
the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its
coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, “I know him!
Marley’s Ghost!” and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat,
tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his
pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he
drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like
a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes,
keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His
body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking
through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had
never believed it until now.

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through
and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling
influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the
folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not
observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his
senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want
with me?”

“Much!”–Marley’s voice, no doubt about it.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I _was_.”

“Who _were_ you, then?” said Scrooge, raising his voice. “You’re
particular, for a shade.” He was going to say “_to_ a shade,” but
substituted this, as more appropriate.

“In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.”

“Can you–can you sit down?” asked Scrooge, looking doubtfully at him.

“I can.”

“Do it, then.”

Scrooge asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a ghost so
transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt
that, in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the
necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the Ghost sat down on the
opposite side of the fire-place, as if he were quite used to it.

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your own
senses?”

“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder
of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef,
a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.
There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel in
his heart by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be
smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his
terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

To sit staring at those fixed glazed eyes in silence, for a moment,
would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him. There was something
very awful, too, in the spectre’s being provided with an infernal
atmosphere of his own. Scrooge could not feel it himself, but this was
clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its
hair, and skirts, and tassels were still agitated as by the hot vapour
from an oven.

“You see this toothpick?” said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge,
for the reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a
second, to divert the vision’s stony gaze from himself.

“I do,” replied the Ghost.

“You are not looking at it,” said Scrooge.

“But I see it,” said the Ghost, “notwithstanding.”

“Well!” returned Scrooge, “I have but to swallow this, and be for the
rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own
creation. Humbug, I tell you; humbug!”

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such
a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair,
to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his
horror when the phantom, taking off the bandage round his head, as if it
were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its
breast!

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.

“Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or
not?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and
why do they come to me?”

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit
within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and
wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do
so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world–oh, woe is
me!–and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth,
and turned to happiness!”

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its
shadowy hands.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link
by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will, and of my
own free-will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to _you_?”

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the
strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this,
seven Christmas-eves ago. You have laboured on it since. It is a
ponderous chain!”

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding
himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable, but he
could see nothing.

“Jacob!” he said imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more! Speak
comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions,
Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of
men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all
permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere.
My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house–mark me;–in life my
spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole;
and weary journeys lie before me!”

It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his
hands in his breeches pockets. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he
did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed in a
business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time?”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture
of remorse.”

“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,”
said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so
hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have
been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know
that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth
must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is
all developed! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in
its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too
short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of
regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused! Yet such
was I! Oh, such was I!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge,
who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my
business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy,
forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my
trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my
business!”

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all
its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most.
Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down,
and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a
poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have
conducted _me_?”

Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this
rate, and began to quake exceedingly.

“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone.”

“I will,” said Scrooge. “But don’t be hard upon me! Don’t be flowery,
Jacob! Pray!”

“How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may
not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day.”

It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered, and wiped the
perspiration from his brow.

“That is no light part of my penance,” pursued the Ghost. “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 were always a good friend to me,” said Scrooge. “Thankee!”

“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”

Scrooge’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done.

“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?” he demanded in a
faltering voice.

“It is.”

“I–I think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.

“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the
path I tread. Expect the first to-morrow when the bell tolls One.”

“Couldn’t I take ’em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?” hinted
Scrooge.

“Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third, upon
the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate.
Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember
what has passed between us!”

When it had said these words, the spectre took its wrapper from the
table, and bound it round its head as before. Scrooge knew this by the
smart sound its teeth made when the jaws were brought together by the
bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his supernatural
visitor confronting him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over
and about its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him; and, at every step it took, the
window raised itself a little, so that, when the spectre reached it, it
was wide open. It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they
were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand,
warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped.

Not so much in obedience as in surprise and fear; for, on the raising of
the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent
sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and
self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in
the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked
out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in
restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains
like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were
linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to
Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost in
a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who
cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an
infant, whom it saw below upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was,
clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and
had lost the power for ever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he
could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the
night became as it had been when he walked home.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had
entered. It was double locked, as he had locked it with his own hands,
and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at
the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the
fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull
conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of
repose, went straight to bed without undressing, and fell asleep upon
the instant.

(Parts 2-5 will appear each of the following evenings at 5:00 PM.)

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