A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Stave 1 - Marley's GhostEdited for public reading by Theresa Race Hoffman. This version Copyright © 2006 by Theresa Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.
MARLEY was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
This must be understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a squeezing, grasping, scraping old sinner! The cold within him froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue. And he didn’t thaw one degree at Christmas.
Once upon a time, on a dark Christmas Eve, old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was biting weather, and the fog poured in at every chink and keyhole.
The door was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire. But the clerk’s poor fire looked like one little coal.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was Scrooge’s nephew, come into the room.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”
This nephew’s breath smoked in the cold.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” he said. “You don’t mean that?”
“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”
The nephew answered, “Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us to-morrow.”
“But why?” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “Why cannot we be friends? Merry Christmas, uncle!”
“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.
“And a Happy New Year!”
“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.
His nephew even stopped at the outer door to wish season’s greetings on the clerk. “There’s another fellow,” muttered Scrooge; who overheard him: “my clerk, fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. Humbug!” Scrooge’s nephew had let two other people in. They bowed to him.
“Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list.
“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died seven years ago, this very night.”
“Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “a few of us are endeavouring to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. They can go to debtors’ prisons.”
“Many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
Seeing that it was useless, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge went back to his work. Meanwhile the fog and darkness and biting cold thickened. One cold young boy stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of “God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!”
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog.
At length the hour of shutting up arrived. Scrooge nodded to the clerk, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat.
“You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.
The clerk observed that it was only once a year.
“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge. “Be here all the earlier next morning.”
The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed, and the clerk ran home as hard as he could.
Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and studied his banker’s-book, went home to his gloomy house. The yard was dark and the fog and frost hung about the house.
Now, the knocker on the door was very large. Scrooge had seen it every night and morning. But tonight Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, not a knocker, but Marley’s face.
Marley’s face. The eyes were wide open, and its grayish colour made it horrible.
As Scrooge looked, it became a knocker. But he did look cautiously before he shut the door. There was nothing behind the door, so he said
“Pooh, pooh!” and closed it with a bang.
He walked through his rooms to see that all was right. Sitting-room, bedroom, all as they should be. Nobody under the table, or under the sofa. Nobody under the bed or in the closet. He closed his door and double-locked himself in. He put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire. It was a very low fire. And each smooth tile on the fireplace had an image of old Marley’s head - on every one! “Humbug!” said Scrooge.
He glanced upon a disused bell, that hung in the room. As he looked, this bell began to swing, softly at first; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.
It seemed an hour. The bells ceased, and he heard a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain.
The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise coming up the stairs; then straight towards his door.
“Humbug!” said Scrooge.
It came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes.
The same face: the very same. Marley. The chain Marley pulled was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
“What do you want with me?” said Scrooge. “Who are you?”
“In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.” The ghost sat down inside the fireplace, as if he were quite used to it.
“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“Humbug, I tell you! humbug!”
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain. Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.
Asked the Ghost, “Do you believe in me or not?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to witness what it might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; and of my own free will I wore it.”
Scrooge trembled more and more.
“Would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “that the chain you bear yourself was full as heavy as this, seven Christmas Eves ago? You have made it longer, since.”
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, but he could see nothing.
“Tell me more,” he said, imploringly. “Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied.
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, and benevolence were all my business!”
“I am here to-night to warn you,” pursued the Ghost, “that you have yet a hope of escaping my fate, Ebenezer. You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”
“I—I think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.
“Expect the first to-morrow,” said the Ghost, “when the bell tolls One.”
“Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate.”
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost. They and their spirit voices faded away.
Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable. And he went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.
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