Christmas eve found Scrooge in his place of business, alone with his ledgers and his solitary candle. Bob Cratchit was away with a slight cold although Scrooge had a suspicion that Bob had taken time off because he was busy decorating his new house.
Scrooge sighed a curiously dissatisfied sigh. The Cratchits had moved up the social ladder since Scrooge raised Bob’s salary. Bob himself was becoming more rotund on good living, and as for that great hulking son of his, Tiny Tim –
There had been a good many changes over the last few years, Scrooge reflected, a good many changes. He sighed a deep sigh as he donned his coat in preparation for making his way home. Wearily he extinguished a single tallow candle before trudging through dark, snowy streets towards a lonely, but richly decorated home. No uncarpeted floors now.
As always on Christmas eve, Marley’s face appeared on Scrooge’s door knocker, but this time, Scrooge responded by punching the ghostly image on its ghostly nose. All he received for his pains were bruised fingers.
Later that lugubrious evening, crouched over another savoury but remarkably expensive dinner, Scrooge reflected on his years of manic generosity. All brought on by Marley’s untrustworthy ghost, Scrooge mused, and those visitations from three Christmas spirits. Thanks to their urging he was surely headed towards destitution.
“A trickle of income enough to pay Bob Cratchit his ruinous salary and keep Tiny Tim supplied with pies plus more dinner than I can eat for myself”, Scrooge muttered when a muffled step on the stair disturbed his musing. Scrooge listened intently. He had heard that sound once before
The chamber door slammed open and an unearthly voice boomed out –
“Scrooge – are you there Scrooge?”
“Of course I am. Where else would I be? I presume it is you again, Marley.” Scrooge barely troubled himself to glance around his chair to see, as expected, Marley’s spirit.
“It is I, Marley,” boomed the spirit, as if determined not to be upstaged by the chilly indifference exhibited by his erstwhile business partner.
“So where are all the chains, cash boxes and what not?” Scrooge scrutinised Marley’s spirit more closely than before. For indeed all the ponderous chain that formerly had burdened Marley’s spectre with such regretful anguish was gone. Every link, every cash box. All gone.
“All gone thanks to you Scrooge,” intoned the spirit. “Thanks to your inestimable generosity.”
“Thanks to my foolish spendthrift imbecility,” muttered Scrooge into his dinner. “My ruinous generosity,” he added bitterly.
“Once you did not believe in me,” the spirit boomed, as if anxious to change the subject.
“Oh I believe in you now,” Scrooge glared through Marley to the seat buttons at his intangible back.
“Well then,” Marley continued, “I have arranged for three spirits –“
“Oh no, oh no Marley. Not those three spirits again.”
“Three different spirits Scrooge. Three completely different spirits with an entirely different yet wholly altruistic purpose. They all appear on the stroke of one – a very good night to you Scrooge.” With that, Marley’s ghost vanished as completely as if it had an urgent appointment after a painful but necessary duty.
Reluctantly Scrooge retired for the night after a sour glance in the direction of richly expensive bed hangings which he heartily regretted purchasing in a moment of madness. He soon fell into an uneasy slumber as was his wont in those difficult days.
The church bell struck one o’clock. A deep, sonorous note, an unearthly note –
“Who is that? Who is there?” Scrooge awoke with a start, peeped cautiously through the bed hangings but all was darkness –
“Nothing.” Relieved, Scrooge lay back on absurdly expensive silk pillows when – hark! What is this? A brilliant light filtered into his by now somewhat doubting eye. Three ghostly figures stood by his bed.
“You again – and bless my soul there are three of you now. I presume you three are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future all come together. How efficient of you, if I may say so.” Wearily Scrooge peered through the bed curtains. “That is to say my past, present and future so I should be greatly obliged if you just get on with it.”
“Certainly,” replied the spirits in unison. They immediately disappeared, only to reappear after a few seconds, laboriously pulling a huge trunk across the floor. “My word this is heavy,” said Christmas past, seating himself on the great trunk while mopping an insubstantial brow with something equally insubstantial.
“Frightfully heavy,” Christmas present added. The ghost of Christmas yet to come said nothing.
“As if hoping for a tip,” thought Scrooge. “What is in it to make it so heavy?” he asked.
“Your riches, all of your gold accumulated over all those years. Until you squandered it of course. You never did remember the lesson old Fezziwig should have taught you.”
“What lesson – ” Instantly Scrooge was transported to exactly the location of his previous ghostly visit, the workplace and abode of old Fezziwig.
Scrooge and the three spirits were just in time to catch old Fezziwig taking a break from the Christmas festivities while his employees danced on. Old Fezziwig winked at his wife and whispered quietly, “only cost a few shillings Mrs Fezziwig, only a few shillings.”
“Was old Fezziwig such a cynic?” Scrooge asked the spirits.
“No – merely a realist,” replied the ghost of Christmas past. “Nobody would suggest that he should endanger his business to celebrate Christmas. Others would suffer too were he to allow that to happen.”
“As I suffer now,” Scrooge was heard to mutter as the spirits whisked him away. “That didn’t last long,” Scrooge grumbled as the spirits unceremoniously deposited him back to his bed chamber.
“You cannot afford a longer tour, as you probably realise by now” replied the spirits. “Goodbye.” With that, the ghost of Christmas past vanished and the Christmas present stepped forward to Scrooge’s bedside.
“You, as I already know, are the ghost of Christmas present,” Scrooge gasped, still somewhat breathless after such a rapid return from such a brief spell with the Fezziwigs and his own past.
“I am the ghost of Christmas present,” replied the spectre, “and we may as well get on with it because we don’t have much time. We’ll begin where my compatriot left off.”
“But – ”
Scrooge attempted to protest at what he deemed to be undue haste, but before he could add voice to his protest he found himself in a vaguely familiar street. The ghost of Christmas present stood before him. The ghost of Christmas yet to be lurked behind.
“I already know what they are.” Scrooge pointed a trembling finger in the direction of two bulges under the spectre’s coat. A young boy and girl peeped out, but not as before, not by any means. These children were distinctly overweight for one thing.
“Spirit! are they yours? But I asked that the last time.” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the spirit again. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
“Well their requirements are substantially unchanged from last time,” observed Scrooge, “although bodily nourishment does not appear to be wanting.”
“You are probably right, times change.” The spirit shrugged insubstantial shoulders and in a moment, both spirit and children vanished. Scrooge found himself in a familiar, sombre location, a dark and gloomy street apparently bereft of all life save Scrooge himself and the ghost of Christmas yet to be.
“Hello ghost of Christmas yet to come – we met on a previous occasion,” said Scrooge, almost cheerful as his ordeal seems to be nearing its end.
The spirit said nothing but merely pointed towards the great chest which the three spirits had transported to Scrooge’s chamber, the symbol of lost wealth.
“What am I to do with that?” asked Scrooge.
The spirit shrugged, vanished and the pure light of a snowy Christmas morning filtered through Scrooge’s bed curtains as he awoke. He leaped out of bed and rushed to his chamber window, just in time to see a boy strolling through the snow below his window, almost the same boy Scrooge had paid to deliver that huge turkey to Bob Cratchit a few short years ago.
“Hello there, little boy,” shouted Scrooge through the opened window.
“Watcha,” said the boy.
“What a delightful boy – excellent boy and probably cheap enough for what I have in mind. Hey little boy, do you know where Bob Cratchit lives?” Scrooge shouted.
“Do I know that big new ‘ouse? I should say so, old ‘un,” the boy replied.
Delighted with the boy’s response Scrooge scribbled a hasty note requiring Cratchit to attend the office for the whole of Christmas day or face instant dismissal. “Take this note round to Bob Cratchit and I’ll give you a shilling,” said Scrooge, tossing the note and the shilling down to the boy.
Scrooge slammed the window and rubbed his hands. “Sixpence would have been enough, but I’ll sell those bed curtains next,” he chuckled. “The vultures may have the old ones when I’m gone – why should I care? I’ll rebuild my fortune before that – and won’t I enjoy building it?”
Scrooge rubbed his hands again. “Gruel first, then the office” he said cheerfully.