THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that, looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber, until suddenly the church clock tolled a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE.
Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn aside by a strange figure, — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having 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 with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?”
“Who and what are you?”
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”
“No. Your past. The things that you will see with me are shadows of the things that have been; they will have no consciousness of us.”
Scrooge then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
“Your welfare. Rise, and walk with me!”
It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman’s hand, was not to be resisted. He rose; but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its robe in supplication.
“I am a mortal, and liable to fall.”
“Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood in the busy thoroughfares of a city. It was made plain enough by the dressing of the shops that here, too, it was Christmas time.
The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.
“Know it! Was I apprenticed here!”
They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk that, if he had been two inches taller, he must have knocked his head 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 to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: “Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”
A living and moving picture of Scrooge’s former self, a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-prentice.
“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “My old fellow-prentice, bless me, yes. There he 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, before a man can say Jack Robinson! Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here!”
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have 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 forevermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug and warm and dry and bright 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 made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend the milkman. In they all came one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the 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 result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter especially provided for that purpose.
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many, — four times, — old Fezziwig would have been a match for them and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would become of ‘em next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance, — advance and retire, turn your partner, bow and courtesy, corkscrew, thread the needle, and back again to your place, — Fezziwig “cut,” — cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs.
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 hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two ‘prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds which were under a counter in the back shop.
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude. He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money, — three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter self, — “it isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; 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 a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“What is the matter?”
“Something, I think?”
“No, no. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
“My time grows short,” observed the Spirit. “Quick!”
This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom he could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again he saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a black dress, in whose eyes there were tears.
“It matters little,” she said softly to Scrooge’s former self. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?”
“A golden one. You fear the world too much. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you Have I not?”
“What then? Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you. Have I ever sought release from our engagement?”
“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. If you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl; or, choosing her, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.”
“Spirit! 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! Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bed-room. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.
Continues next week with Part 4