4: The Last of the Spirits
The Phantom slowly, gravely,
silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent
down upon his knee; for in the very air through
which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter
gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded
in a deep black garment, which concealed its
head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it
visible save one outstretched hand. But for this
it would have been difficult to detach its figure
from the night, and separate it from the darkness
by which it was surrounded.
He felt that it
was tall and stately when it came beside him, and
that its mysterious presence filled him with a
solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit
neither spoke nor moved.
"I am in
the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To
Come?" said Scrooge.
answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.
about to show me shadows of the things that have
not happened, but will happen in the time before
us," Scrooge pursued. "Is that so,
portion of the garment was contracted for an
instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had
inclined its head. That was the only answer he
used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge
feared the silent shape so much that his legs
trembled beneath him, and he found that he could
hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The
Spirit paused a moment, observing his condition,
and giving him time to recover.
But Scrooge was
all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a
vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the
dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently
fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his
own to the utmost, could see nothing but a
spectral hand and one great heap of black.
the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you
more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know
your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to
live to be another man from what I was, I am
prepared to bear you company, and do it with a
thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"
It gave him no
reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
on," said Scrooge. "Lead on. The night
is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I
know. Lead on, Spirit."
moved away as it had come towards him. Scrooge
followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore
him up, he thought, and carried him along.
seemed to enter the city; for the city rather
seemed to spring up about them, and encompass
them of its own act. But there they were, in the
heart of it; on Change, amongst the merchants;
who hurried up and down, and chinked the money in
their pockets, and conversed in groups, and
looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully
with their great gold seals; and so forth, as
Scrooge had seen them often.
stopped beside one little knot of business men.
Observing that the hand was pointed to them,
Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.
said a great fat man with a monstrous chin,"
I don't know much about it, either way. I only
know he's dead."
he die?" inquired another.
night, I believe."
was the matter with him?" asked a third,
taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very
large snuff-box. "I thought he'd never
knows," said the first, with a yawn.
he done with his money?" asked a red-faced
gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end
of his nose, that shook like the gills of a
heard," said the man with the large chin,
yawning again. "Left it to his company,
perhaps. He hasn't left it to me. That's all I
was received with a general laugh.
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?"
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."
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."
listeners strolled away, and mixed with other
groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards
the Spirit for an explanation.
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.
you?" said one.
you?" returned the other.
said the first. "Old Scratch has got his own
at last, hey."
"So I am
told," returned the second. "Cold,
for Christmas time. You're not a skater, I
Something else to think of. Good morning."
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 offenses
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 frowsy 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.
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!"
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 parlour."
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
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
then. What odds, Mrs Dilber." said the
woman. "Every person has a right to take
care of themselves. He always did."
true, indeed," said the laundress. "No
man more so."
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?"
indeed," said Mrs Dilber and the man
together. "We should hope not."
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
indeed," said Mrs Dilber, laughing.
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
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 bundle, Joe."
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.
your account," said Joe, "and I
wouldn't give another sixpence, if I was to be
boiled for not doing it. Who's next?"
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.
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
undo my bundle, Joe," said the first woman.
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
you call this?" said Joe.
returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward
on her crossed arms. "Bed-curtains."
mean to say you took them down, rings and all,
with him lying there?" said Joe.
do," replied the woman. "Why not?"
born to make your fortune," said Joe,"
and you'll certainly do it."
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."
blankets?" asked Joe.
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.
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."
you call wasting of it?" asked old Joe.
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 that one."
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, had they been demons,
marketing the corpse itself.