This pleasantry was received with a general laugh. `It's likely to be a very
cheap funeral,' said the same speaker;' for upon my life I don't know of anybody
to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer.' `I don't mind going if a
lunch is provided,' observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. `But
I must be fed, if I make one.'
Another laugh. `Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,' said
the first speaker,' for I never wear black gloves, and I never eat lunch. But I'll
offer to go, if anybody else will. When I come to think of it, I <m not at all sure
that I wasn't his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak whenever
we met. Bye, bye.'
Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. Scrooge knew
the men, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation.
The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting.
Scrooge listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here.
He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of aye business: very wealthy,
and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem:
in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view. `How
are you.' said one. `How are you.' returned the other. `Well.' said the first. `Old
Scratch has got his own at last, hey.' `So I am told,' returned the second. `Cold,
isn't it.' `Seasonable for Christmas time. You're not a skater, I suppose.' `No.
No. Something else to think of. Good morning.'
Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance
to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have
some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could
scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner,
for that was Past, and this Ghost's province was the Future. Nor could he think
of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But
nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for
his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything
he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he
had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he
missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.
He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in
his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for
being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured in through
the Porch. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his
mind a change of life, and thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried
out in this.
Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When
he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand,
and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at
him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.
They left the busy scene, and went into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge
had never penetrated before, although he recognised its situation, and its bad repute.
The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked,
drunken, slipshod, ugly. Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged
their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the
whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.
Far in this den of infamous resort, there was a low-browed, beetling shop, below
a pent-house roof, where iron, old rags, bottles, bones, and greasy offal, were
bought. Upon the floor within, were piled up heaps of rusty keys, nails, chains,
hinges, files, scales, weights, and refuse iron of all kinds. Secrets that few would
like to scrutinise were bred and hidden in mountains of unseemly rags, masses of
corrupted fat, and sepulchres of bones. Sitting in among the wares he dealt in,
by a charcoal stove, made of old bricks, was a grey-haired rascal, nearly seventy
years of age; who had screened himself from the cold air without, by a frousy curtaining
of miscellaneous tatters, hung upon a line; and smoked his pipe in all the luxury
of calm retirement.
Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of this man, just as a woman with
a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. But she had scarcely entered, when another woman,
similarly laden, came in too; and she was closely followed by a man in faded black,
who was no less startled by the sight of them, than they had been upon the recognition
of each other. After a short period of blank astonishment, in which the old man
with the pipe had joined them, they all three burst into a laugh. `Let the charwoman
alone to be the first.' cried she who had entered first. `Let the laundress alone
to be the second; and let the undertaker's man alone to be the third. Look here,
old Joe, here's a chance. If we haven't all three met here without meaning it.'
`You couldn't have met in a better place,' said old Joe, removing his pipe from
his mouth. `Come into the parlour. You were made free of it long ago, you know;
and the other two an't strangers. Stop till I shut the door of the shop. Ah. How
it skreeks. There an't such a rusty bit of metal in the place as its own hinges,
I believe; and I'm sure there's no such old bones here, as mine. Ha, ha. We're all
suitable to our calling, we're well matched. Come into the parlour. Come into the
The parlour was the space behind the screen of rags. The old man raked the fire
together with an old stair-rod, and having trimmed his smoky lamp (for it was night),
with the stem of his pipe, put it in his mouth again.
While he did this, the woman who had already spoken threw her bundle on the floor,
and sat down in a flaunting manner on a stool; crossing her elbows on her knees,
and looking with a bold defiance at the other two. `What odds then. What odds, Mrs
Dilber.' said the woman. `Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He
always did.' `That's true, indeed.' said the laundress. `No man more so.' `Why then,
don't stand staring as if you was afraid, woman; who's the wiser. We're not going
to pick holes in each other's coats, I suppose.' `No, indeed.' said Mrs Dilber and
the man together. `We should hope not.' `Very well, then.' cried the woman. `That's
enough. Who's the worse for the loss of a few things like these. Not a dead man,
I suppose.' `No, indeed,' said Mrs Dilber, laughing. `If he wanted to keep them
after he was dead, a wicked old screw,' pursued the woman,' why wasn't he natural
in his lifetime. If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he
was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.'
`It's the truest word that ever was spoke,' said Mrs Dilber. `It's a judgment on
him.' `I wish it was a little heavier judgment,' replied the woman;' and it should
have been, you may depend upon it, if I could have laid my hands on anything else.
Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it. Speak out plain. I'm
not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them to see it. We know pretty well that
we were helping ourselves, before we met here, I believe. It's no sin. Open the
But the gallantry of her friends would not allow of this; and the man in faded
black, mounting the breach first, produced his plunder. It was not extensive. A
seal or two, a pencil-case, a pair of sleeve-buttons, and a brooch of no great value,
were all. They were severally examined and appraised by old Joe, who chalked the
sums he was disposed to give for each, upon the wall, and added them up into a total
when he found there was nothing more to come. `That's your account,' said Joe,'
and I wouldn't give another sixpence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it. Who's
Mrs Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a little wearing apparel, two old-fashioned
silver teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a few boots. Her account was stated
on the wall in the same manner. `I always give too much to ladies. It's a weakness
of mine, and that's the way I ruin myself,' said old Joe. `That's your account.
If you asked me for another penny, and made it an open question, I'd repent of being
so liberal and knock off half-a-crown.' `And now undo my bundle, Joe,' said the
Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenience of opening it, and having
unfastened a great many knots, dragged out a large and heavy roll of some dark stuff.
`What do you call this.' said Joe. `Bed-curtains.' `Ah.' returned the woman, laughing
and leaning forward on her crossed arms. `Bed-curtains.' `You don't mean to say
you took them down, rings and all, with him lying there.' said Joe. `Yes I do,'
replied the woman. `Why not.' `You were born to make your fortune,' said Joe,' and
you'll certainly do it.' `I certainly shan't hold my hand, when I can get anything
in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as he was, I promise you, Joe,'
returned the woman coolly. `Don't drop that oil upon the blankets, now.' `His blankets.'
asked Joe. `Whose else's do you think.' replied the woman. `He isn't likely to take
cold without them, I dare say.' `I hope he didn't die of any thing catching. Eh.'
said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up. `Don't you be afraid of that,'
returned the woman. `I an't so fond of his company that I'd loiter about him for
such things, if he did. Ah. you may look through that shirt till your eyes ache;
but you won't find a hole in it, nor a threadbare place. It's the best he had, and
a fine one too. They'd have wasted it, if it hadn't been for me.' `What do you call
wasting of it.' asked old Joe. `Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure,'
replied the woman with a laugh. `Somebody was fool enough to do it, but I took it
off again. If calico an't good enough for such a purpose, it isn't good enough for
anything. It's quite as becoming to the body. He can't look uglier than he did in
Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their
spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man's lamp, he viewed them with a
detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they demons,
marketing the corpse itself. `Ha, ha.' laughed the same woman, when old Joe, producing
a flannel bag with money in it, told out their several gains upon the ground. `This
is the end of it, you see. He frightened every one away from him when he was alive,
to profit us when he was dead. Ha, ha, ha.' `Spirit.' said Scrooge, shuddering from
head to foot. `I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life
tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this.'
He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a
bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a ragged sheet, there lay a something
covered up, which, though it was dumb, announced itself in awful language.
The room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge
glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of
room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed;
and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of
Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the head.
The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion
of a finger upon Scrooge's part, would have disclosed the face. He thought of it,
felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw
the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side.
Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with
such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion. But of the loved,
revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes,
or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down
when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was
open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.
Strike, Shadow, strike. And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow
the world with life immortal.
No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge's ears, and yet he heard them when
he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would
be his foremost thoughts. Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares. They have brought
him to a rich end, truly.
He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say
that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory of one kind word I will
be kind to him. A cat was tearing at the door, and there was a sound of gnawing
rats beneath the hearth-stone. What they wanted in the room of death, and why they
were so restless and disturbed, Scrooge did not dare to think. `Spirit.' he said,'
this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me.
Let us go.'
Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved finger to the head. `I understand you,'
Scrooge returned,' and I would do it, if I could. But I have not the power, Spirit.
I have not the power.'
Again it seemed to look upon him. `If there is any person in the town, who feels
emotion caused by this man's death,' said Scrooge quite agonised, `show that person
to me, Spirit, I beseech you.'
The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for a moment, like a wing; and withdrawing
it, revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and her children were.
She was expecting some one, and with anxious eagerness; for she walked up and
down the room; started at every sound; looked out from the window; glanced at the
clock; tried, but in vain, to work with her needle; and could hardly bear the voices
of the children in their play.