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  • STAVE II: 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.

  • He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a

  • neighbouring church struck the four quarters.

  • So he listened for the hour.

  • To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven

  • to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped.

  • Twelve!

  • It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong.

  • An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!

  • He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterous clock.

  • Its rapid little pulse beat twelve: and stopped.

  • \"Why, it isn't possible,\" said Scrooge, \"that I can have slept through a whole day

  • and far into another night.

  • It isn't possible that anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at

  • noon!\"

  • The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to

  • the window.

  • He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-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 great stir, as

  • there unquestionably would have been if

  • night had beaten off bright day, 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 Scrooge or his order,\" and so forth, would have become a mere

  • United States' security if there were no days to count by.

  • Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over and

  • over, and could make nothing of it.

  • The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavoured not to

  • think, the more he thought. Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly.

  • Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a

  • dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first

  • position, and presented the same 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, when he

  • remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the 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 have sunk into

  • a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At length it broke upon his listening ear.

  • \"Ding, dong!\"

  • \"A quarter past,\" said Scrooge, counting. \"Ding, dong!\"

  • \"Half-past!\" said Scrooge. \"Ding, dong!\"

  • \"A quarter to it,\" said Scrooge.

  • \"Ding, dong!\" \"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 the curtains of his bed were

  • drawn. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside,

  • I tell you, by a hand.

  • Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which

  • his face was addressed.

  • The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-

  • recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew

  • them: as close to it as I am now to you,

  • and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

  • It was 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.

  • The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold 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; and round 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 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.

  • Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its

  • strangest quality.

  • For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what

  • was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in

  • its distinctness: being now a thing with

  • one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head,

  • now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be

  • visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away.

  • And in the 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.

  • \"I am!\" The voice was soft and gentle.

  • Singularly low, as if instead of being so close 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 asked

  • him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to 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 passions made this cap, and force me

  • through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!\"

  • Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having

  • wilfully \"bonneted\" the Spirit at any period of his life.

  • He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

  • \"Your welfare!\" said the Ghost.

  • Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of

  • unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end.

  • The Spirit must 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 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 his robe in

  • 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 his heart, \"and

  • you shall be upheld in more than this!\"

  • As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open

  • country road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished.

  • Not a vestige of it was to be seen.

  • The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold, winter day,

  • with snow upon the ground. \"Good Heaven!\" said Scrooge, clasping his

  • hands together, as he looked about him.

  • \"I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!\"

  • The Spirit gazed upon him mildly.

  • Its gentle touch, though it had been light and 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 connected

  • with 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 us go on.\"

  • They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, and tree;

  • until a little market-town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and

  • winding river.

  • Some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs,

  • who called to other boys in country gigs and carts, driven by farmers.

  • All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted 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.

  • \"They have no consciousness of us.\"

  • The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew and named them every

  • one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to

  • see them!

  • Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past!

  • Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas,

  • as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes!

  • What was merry Christmas to Scrooge?

  • 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 a

  • mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof,

  • and a bell hanging in it.

  • It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were

  • little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their

  • gates decayed.

  • Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were over-

  • run with grass.

  • Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary

  • hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they found them poorly

  • furnished, cold, and vast.

  • There was an earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which

  • associated itself somehow with too much getting 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 of the

  • 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 a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down

  • upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

  • Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the

  • panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a

  • sigh among the leafless boughs of one

  • despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a

  • clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening

  • influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

  • The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon

  • his reading.

  • Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct 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 Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know!

  • One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here 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!

  • And what's his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of

  • Damascus; don't you see him!

  • And the Sultan's Groom turned upside down by the Genii; there he is upon his head!

  • Serve him right. I'm glad of it.

  • What business 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 his

  • heightened and excited face; would have

  • been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

  • \"There's the Parrot!\" cried Scrooge.

  • \"Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of

  • his head; there he is!

  • Poor Robin Crusoe, 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 was dreaming, 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, he said, in

  • pity for his former self, \"Poor boy!\" and cried again.

  • \"I wish,\" Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him,

  • 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 Carol at 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, \"Let us see

  • another Christmas!\"

  • Scrooge's former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a little darker

  • and more dirty.