When Scrooge awoke it was so dark, that, looking out of bed, he could scarcel_istinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. H_as endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chime_f a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for th_our.
To his great astonishment, the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and fro_even to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was pas_wo when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into th_orks. Twelve!
He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterou_lock. Its rapid little pulse beat twelve, and stopped.
"Why, it isn't possible," said Scrooge, "that I can have slept through a whol_ay and far into another night. It isn't possible that anything has happene_o the sun, and this is twelve at noon!"
The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way t_he window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of hi_ressing-gown before he could see anything; and could see very little then.
All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a grea_tir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off brigh_ay, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief, because
"Three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scroog_r his order," and so forth, would have become a mere United States securit_f there were no days to count by.
Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over an_ver, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed h_as; and, the more he endeavoured not to think, the more he thought.
Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved withi_imself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew bac_gain, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented th_ame problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"
Scrooge lay in this state until the chime had gone three quarters more, whe_e remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of a visitation whe_he bell tolled one. He resolved to lie awake until the hour was passed; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to Heaven, this was, perhaps, the wisest resolution in his power.
The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced he must hav_unk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At length it broke upo_is listening ear.
"A quarter past," said Scrooge, counting.
"Half past," said Scrooge.
"A quarter to it," said Scrooge.
"The hour itself," said Scrooge triumphantly, "and nothing else!"
He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and th_urtains of his bed were drawn.
The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not th_urtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which hi_ace was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face wit_he unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and _m standing in the spirit at your elbow.
It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an ol_an, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance o_aving receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions.
Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white, as if wit_ge; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was o_he skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if it_old were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; an_ound its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful.
It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand: and, in singula_ontradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summe_lowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its hea_here sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; an_hich was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a grea_xtinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, wa_not_ its strangest quality. For, as its belt sparkled and glittered, now i_ne part and now in another, and what was light one instant at another tim_as dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now _hing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of leg_ithout a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts n_utline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And, i_he very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.
"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if, instead of being s_lose beside him, it were at a distance.
"Who and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"Long Past?" inquired Scrooge; observant of its dwarfish stature.
"No. Your past."
Perhaps Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have aske_im; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged hi_o be covered.
"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passion_ade this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upo_y brow?"
Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge o_aving wilfully "bonneted" the Spirit at any period of his life. He then mad_old to inquire what business brought him there.
"Your welfare!" said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that _ight of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spiri_ust have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
"Your reclamation, then. Take heed!"
It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.
"Rise! and walk with me!"
It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hou_ere not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and th_hermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in hi_lippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at tha_ime. The grasp, though gentle as a woman's hand, was not to be resisted. H_ose: but, finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its rob_n supplication.
"I am a mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."
"Bear but a touch of my hand _there_ ," said the Spirit, laying it upon hi_eart, "and you shall be upheld in more than this!"
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an ope_ountry road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished. No_ vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished wit_t, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with the snow upon the ground.
"Good Heaven!" said Scrooge, clasping his hands together as he looked abou_im. "I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!"
The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been ligh_nd instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man's sense of feeling.
He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connecte_ith a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long forgotten!
"Your lip is trembling," said the Ghost. "And what is that upon your cheek?"
Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.
"You recollect the way?" inquired the Spirit.
"Remember it!" cried Scrooge with fervour; "I could walk it blindfold."
"Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!" observed the Ghost. "Let u_o on."
They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, an_ree, until a little market-town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies now were seen trottin_owards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in countr_igs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, an_houted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it.
"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "The_ave no consciousness of us."
The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew and named the_very one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them? Why did his col_ye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past? Why was he filled wit_ladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted a_ross-roads and by-ways for their several homes? What was merry Christmas t_crooge? Out upon merry Christmas! What good had it ever done to him?
"The school is not quite deserted," said the Ghost. "A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still."
Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.
They left the high-road by a well-remembered lane, and soon approached _ansion of dull red brick, with a little weather-cock surmounted cupola on th_oof and a bell hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broke_ortunes: for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp an_ossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked an_trutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were overrun wit_rass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state within; for, enterin_he dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they foun_hem poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an earthly savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too muc_etting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.
They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back o_he house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these _onely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he had used to be.
Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behin_he panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yar_ehind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not th_dle swinging of an empty storehouse door, no, not a clicking in the fire, bu_ell upon the heart of Scrooge with softening influence, and gave a free_assage to his tears.
The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, inten_pon his reading. Suddenly a man in foreign garments: wonderfully real an_istinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.
"Why, it's Ali Baba!" Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. "It's dear old honest Al_aba! Yes, yes, I know. One Christmas-time when yonder solitary child was lef_ere all alone, he _did_ come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy!
And Valentine," said Scrooge, "and his wild brother, Orson; there they go! An_hat's his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the gate o_amascus; don't you see him? And the Sultan's Groom turned upside down by th_enii: there he is upon his head! Serve him right! I'm glad of it. Wha_usiness had _he_ to be married to the Princess?"
To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see hi_eightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his busines_riends in the City, indeed.
"There's the Parrot!" cried Scrooge. "Green body and yellow tail, with a thin_ike a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there he is! Poor Robi_rusoe he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the island.
'Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin Crusoe?' The man thought he wa_reaming, but he wasn't. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, running for his life to the little creek! Halloa! Hoop! Halloo!"
Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual character, h_aid, in pity for his former self, "Poor boy!" and cried again.
"I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking abou_im, after drying his eyes with his cuff: "but it's too late now."
"What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.
"Nothing," said Scrooge. "Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Caro_t my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all."
The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand: saying, as it did so, "Le_s see another Christmas!"
Scrooge's former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a littl_arker and more dirty. The panels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments o_laster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead; bu_ow all this was brought about Scrooge knew no more than you do. He only kne_hat it was quite correct: that everything had happened so; that there he was, alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.
He was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. Scrooge looke_t the Ghost, and, with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced anxiousl_owards the door.
It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and, putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her
"dear, dear brother."
"I have come to bring you home, dear brother!" said the child, clapping he_iny hands, and bending down to laugh. "To bring you home, home, home!"
"Home, little Fan?" returned the boy.
"Yes!" said the child, brimful of glee. "Home for good and all. Home for eve_nd ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home's lik_eaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, tha_ was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you're to be a man!" sai_he child, opening her eyes; "and are never to come back here; but first we'r_o be together all the Christmas long, and have the merriest time in all th_orld."
"You are quite a woman, little Fan!" exclaimed the boy.
She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried to touch his head; but, being to_ittle, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace him. Then she began t_rag him, in her childish eagerness, towards the door; and he, nothing loat_o go, accompanied her.
A terrible voice in the hall cried, "Bring down Master Scrooge's box, there!"
and in the hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, who glared on Maste_crooge with a ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state o_ind by shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and his sister into th_eriest old well of a shivering best parlour that ever was seen, where th_aps upon the wall, and the celestial and terrestrial globes in the windows, were waxy with cold. Here he produced a decanter of curiously light wine, an_ block of curiously heavy cake, and administered instalments of thos_ainties to the young people: at the same time sending out a meagre servant t_ffer a glass of "something" to the postboy who answered that he thanked th_entleman, but, if it was the same tap as he had tasted before, he had rathe_ot. Master Scrooge's trunk being by this time tied on to the top of th_haise, the children bade the schoolmaster good-bye right willingly; and, getting into it, drove gaily down the garden sweep; the quick wheels dashin_he hoar frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray.
"Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered," said th_host. "But she had a large heart!"
"So she had," cried Scrooge. "You're right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. Go_orbid!"
"She died a woman," said the Ghost, "and had, as I think, children."
"One child," Scrooge returned.
"True," said the Ghost. "Your nephew!"
Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, "Yes."
Although they had but that moment left the school behind them, they were no_n the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy passengers passed an_epassed; where shadowy carts and coaches battled for the way, and all th_trife and tumult of a real city were. It was made plain enough, by th_ressing of the shops, that here, too, it was Christmas-time again; but it wa_vening, and the streets were lighted up.
The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he kne_t.
"Know it!" said Scrooge. "Was I apprenticed here?"
They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind suc_ high desk, that if he had been two inches taller, he must have knocked hi_ead against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:
"Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart, it's Fezziwig alive again!"
Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed t_he hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; an_alled out, in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:
"Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!"
Scrooge's former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied b_is fellow-'prentice.
"Dick Wilkins, to be sure!" said Scrooge to the Ghost. "Bless me, yes. Ther_e is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!"
"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night. Christmas-eve, Dick.
Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up," cried old Fezziwig with _harp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson!"
You wouldn't believe how those two fellows went at it! They charged into th_treet with the shutters—one, two, three—had 'em up in their places—four, five, six—barred 'em and pinned 'em—seven, eight, nine—and came back befor_ou could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.
"Hilli-ho!" cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk wit_onderful agility. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here!
Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!"
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn'_ave cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute.
Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life fo_vermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel wa_eaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, an_right a ball-room as you would desire to see upon a winter's night.
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and mad_n orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomachaches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming an_ovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came al_he young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, wit_er cousin the baker. In came the cook, with her brother's particular frien_he milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of no_aving board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the gir_rom next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by he_istress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, som_racefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, an_ow and every how. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half roun_nd back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round i_arious stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up i_he wrong place; new top couple starting off again as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this resul_as brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, crie_ut, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But, scorning rest upon hi_eappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, a_f the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and h_ere a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and ther_as cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, an_here was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plent_f beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his busines_etter than you or I could have told it him!) struck up "Sir Roger d_overley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. To_ouple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or fou_nd twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; peopl_ho _would_ dance, and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many—ah! four times—old Fezziwig would have bee_ match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to _her_ , she was worthy t_e his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell m_igher, and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig'_alves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't hav_redicted, at any given time, what would become of them next. And when ol_ezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsy, cork-screw, thread-the-needle, an_ack again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"—cut so deftly, that he appeared t_ink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs.
Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side the door, and, shaking hand_ith every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her _erry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two 'prentices, they di_he same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads wer_eft to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.
During the whole of this time Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits.
His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. H_orroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, an_nderwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright face_f his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered th_host, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the ligh_pon its head burnt very clear.
"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full o_ratitude."
"Small!" echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pourin_ut their hearts in praise of Fezziwig; and, when he had done so, said:
"Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three o_our, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"
"It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speakin_nconsciously like his former, not his latter self. "It isn't that, Spirit. H_as the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light o_urdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count
'em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost _ortune."
He felt the Spirit's glance, and stopped.
"What is the matter?" asked the Ghost.
"Nothing particular," said Scrooge.
"Something, I think?" the Ghost insisted.
"No," said Scrooge, "no. I should like to be able to say a word or two to m_lerk just now. That's all."
His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utterance to the wish; an_crooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.
"My time grows short," observed the Spirit. "Quick!"
This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom he could see, but i_roduced an immediate effect. For again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines o_ater years; but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There wa_n eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion tha_ad taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mournin_ress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shon_ut of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
"It matters little," she said softly. "To you, very little. Another idol ha_isplaced me; and, if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come as I woul_ave tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."
"What Idol has displaced you?" he rejoined.
"A golden one."
"This is the even-handed dealing of the world!" he said. "There is nothing o_hich it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condem_ith such severity as the pursuit of wealth!"
"You fear the world too much," she answered gently. "All your other hopes hav_erged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I hav_een your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"
"What then?" he retorted. "Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I a_ot changed towards you."
She shook her head.
"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor, and conten_o be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by ou_atient industry. You _are_ changed. When it was made you were another man."
"I was a boy," he said impatiently.
"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," she returned. "_m. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart is fraught wit_isery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this _ill not say. It is enough that I _have_ thought of it, and can releas_ou."
"Have I ever sought release?"
"In words. No. Never."
"In what, then?"
"In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth o_alue in your sight. If this had never been between us," said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him, "tell me, would you seek me ou_nd try to win me now? Ah, no!"
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition in spite of himself. Bu_e said, with a struggle, "You think not."
"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," she answered. "Heaven knows! Whe_I_ have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible i_ust be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believ_hat you would choose a dowerless girl—you who, in your very confidence wit_er, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you wer_alse enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that you_epentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With _ull heart, for the love of him you once were."
He was about to speak; but, with her head turned from him, she resumed.
"You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain i_his. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of i_ladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke.
May you be happy in the life you have chosen!"
She left him, and they parted.
"Spirit!" said Scrooge, "show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you deligh_o torture me?"
"One shadow more!" exclaimed the Ghost.
"No more!" cried Scrooge. "No more! I don't wish to see it. Show me no more!"
But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both his arms, and forced him t_bserve what happened next.
They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, bu_ull of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so lik_hat last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw _her_ , now _omely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room wa_erfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there than Scrooge in hi_gitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in th_oem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but ever_hild was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproariou_eyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother an_aughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soo_eginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands mos_uthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I neve_ould have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn't for the wealth of all the worl_ave crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and, for the precious littl_hoe, I wouldn't have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. A_o measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn'_ave done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for _unishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might hav_pened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and neve_aised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be _eepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to hav_ad the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to kno_ts value.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensue_hat she, with laughing face and plundered dress, was borne towards it in th_entre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. The_he shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on th_efenceless porter! The scaling him, with chairs for ladders, to dive into hi_ockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hu_im round the neck, pummel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressibl_ffection! The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development o_very package was received! The terrible announcement that the baby had bee_aken in the act of putting a doll's frying-pan into his mouth, and was mor_han suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a woode_latter! The immense relief of finding this a false alarm! The joy, an_ratitude, and ecstasy! They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that b_egrees, the children and their emotions got out of the parlour, and, by on_tair at a time, up to the top of the house, where they went to bed, and s_ubsided.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of th_ouse, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and he_other at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, an_een a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very di_ndeed.
"Belle," said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, "I saw an ol_riend of yours this afternoon."
"Who was it?"
"How can I? Tut, don't I know?" she added in the same breath, laughing as h_aughed. "Mr. Scrooge."
"Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeing him. His partner lie_pon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in th_orld, I do believe."
"Spirit!" said Scrooge in a broken voice, "remove me from this place."
"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost.
"That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
"Remove me!" Scrooge exclaimed. "I cannot bear it!"
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face i_hich in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had show_im, wrestled with it.
"Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!"
In the struggle—if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost, with n_isible resistance on its own part, was undisturbed by any effort of it_dversary—Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; an_imly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguishe_ap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.
The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whol_orm; but, though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could no_ide the light, which streamed from under it in an unbroken flood upon th_round.
He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistibl_rowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He gave the cap _arting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and had barely time to reel to be_efore he sank into a heavy sleep.