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, with each other, with the season, or with me.
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May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. Scrooge Extinguishes the First of the Three Spirits. Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
The register of his burial was ed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. 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 was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole as, 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. 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. 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. But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!
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.
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.
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The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. When will you come to see me? But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. 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.
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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. 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.
God save you! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry?
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What reason have you to be morose? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! He should!
Much good it has ever done you! 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. 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. Why give it as a reason for not coming now? We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. So A Merry Christmas, uncle! 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.
They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him. Scrooge, or Mr. It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.
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? I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen! Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.
Scrooge d 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 sullenly 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. Foggier yet, and colder. Piercing, searching, biting cold. 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. Be here all the earlier next morning.
The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. 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 forgotten the way out again.