- Somebody Else's Problem
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- Joined in 2008
- Location: Wherever you want me to be, baby
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Adenezer had no occasion to be told that the bell was upon the stroke of two. He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the special purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through KJGarly’s intervention. But, finding that he turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which of his curtains this new spectre would draw back, he put them every one aside with his own hands, and lying down again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For, he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and made nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects. Without venturing for Adenezer quite as hardily as this, I don't mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck two, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed, the very core and centre of a blaze of ruddy light, which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to make out what it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive that he might be at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous combustion, without having the consolation of knowing it. At last, however, he began to think -- as you or I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too -- at last, I say, he began to think that the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.
The moment Adenezer's hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Adenezer's time, or Garly's, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see:, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Adenezer, as he came peeping round the door.
"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in, and know me better, man."
Adenezer entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Adenezer he had been; and though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
"I am the Ghost of Somebody Else’s Presents," said the Spirit. "Look upon me."
Adenezer reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.
"You have never seen the like of me before!" exclaimed the Spirit.
"Never," Adenezer made answer to it.
"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.
"I don't think I have," said Adenezer. "I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"
"More than two thousand," said the Ghost.
"A tremendous family to provide for," muttered Adenezer.
The Ghost of Somebody Else’s Presents rose.
"Spirit," said Adenezer submissively, "conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."
"Touch my robe."
Adenezer did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of cars and buses; furrows that crossed and recrossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off, and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts" content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball -- better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest -- laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express were still mostly open.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers' shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Adenezer beside him in a Gregg’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was. God love it, so it was.
"Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?" asked Adenezer.
"There is. My own."
"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?" asked Adenezer.
"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."
"Why to a poor one most?" asked Adenezer.
"Because it needs it most."
"Spirit," said Adenezer, after a moment's thought, "I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people's opportunities of innocent enjoyment."
"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all," said Adenezer. "Wouldn't you?"
"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day," said Adenezer. "And it comes to the same thing."
"I seek!" exclaimed the Spirit.
"Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family," said Adenezer.
"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."
Adenezer promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which Adenezer had observed at Gregg’s), that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Mocky’s; for there he went, and took Adenezer with him, holding to his robe; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Mocky’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that. Mocky was but a povvo himself; and yet the Ghost of Somebody Else’s Presents blessed his four-roomed house.
Then up rose Mrs Mocky, Mocky's wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for 50p; and she laid the cloth, assisted by BendyBully Mocky, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master PeterCrisp Mocky plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Mockys, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside Gregg’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Mockys danced about the table, and exalted Master PeterCrisp Mocky to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
"What has ever got your precious father then?" said Mrs Mocky. "And your brother, Tiny Timble; And Moggy weren't as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour."
(That’s right – Moggy Mocky.)
"Here's Moggy, mother," said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
"Here's Moggy, mother!" cried the two young Mockys. "Hurrah! There's such a goose, Moggy!"
"Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!" said Mrs Mocky, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal.
"We'd a deal of work to finish up last night," replied the girl, "and had to clear away this morning, mother."
"Well. Never mind so long as you are come," said Mrs Mocky. "Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye."
"No, no. There's father coming," cried the two young Mockys, who were everywhere at once. "Hide, Moggy, hide!"
So Moggy hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Timble upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Timble, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.
"Why, where's our Moggy?" cried Bob Mocky, looking round.
"Not coming," said Mrs Mocky.
"Not coming!" said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high spirits; for he had been Timble's blood horse all the way from church, and had come home rampant. "Not coming upon Christmas Day?"
Moggy didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Mockys hustled Tiny Timble, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
"And how did little Timble behave?" asked Mrs Mocky, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart's content.
"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."
Bob's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Timble was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Timble before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Bob, turning up his cuffs -- as if, poor fellow, they were capable of being made more shabby -- compounded some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master PeterCrisp, and the two ubiquitous young Mockys went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course -- and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Mocky made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master PeterCrisp mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss BendyBully sweetened up the apple-sauce; Moggy dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Timble beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Mockys set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Mocky, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Timble, excited by the two young Mockys, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Mocky said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last. Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Mocky in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows. But now, the plates being changed by Miss BendyBully, Mrs Mocky left the room alone -- too nervous to bear witnesses -- to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough? Suppose it should break in turning out? Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose -- a supposition at which the two young Mockys became livid? All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Mocky entered -- flushed, but smiling proudly -- with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and adorned with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Mocky said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Mocky since their marriage. Mrs Mocky said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Mocky would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Mocky family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Mocky called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Mocky's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us."
Which all the family echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Timble, the last of all.
He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.
"Spirit," said Adenezer, with an interest he had never felt before, "tell me if Tiny Timble will live."
"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."
"No, no," said Adenezer. "Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared."
"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Adenezer hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."
Adenezer bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.
"Mr Seven!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr Seven, the Founder of the Feast!"
"The Founder of the Feast indeed!" cried Mrs Mocky, reddening. "I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it."
"My dear," said Bob, "the children. Christmas Day."
"It should be Christmas Day, I am sure," said she, "on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr Seven. You know he is, Robert. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow."
"My dear," was Bob's mild answer, "Christmas Day."
"I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's," said Mrs Mocky, "not for his. Long life to him. A merry Christmas and a happy new year! -- he'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!"
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Timble drank it last of all, but he didn't care for it. Adenezer was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before, from the mere relief of Adenezer the Baleful being done with. Bob Mocky told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master PeterCrisp, which would bring in, if obtained, minimum wage. The two young Mocky’s laughed tremendously at the idea of PeterCrisp's being a man of business; and PeterCrisp himself looked thoughtfully at the fire from between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular investments he should favour when he came into the receipt of that bewildering income. Moggy, who was an apprentice fry cook at a McDonald's, then told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie in bed tomorrow morning for a good long rest; tomorrow being a holiday she passed at home. Also how she had seen someone out of TOWIE and a footballer some days before, and how the footballer was much about as tall as PeterCrisp; at which PeterCrisp pulled up his collars so high that you couldn't have seen his head if you had been there. All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Timble, who had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed.
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and PeterCrisp might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a Cash Converters. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit's torch at parting, Adenezer had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Timble, until the last.
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Adenezer and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness. There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again, were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near neighbour's house; where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter -- artful witches, well they knew it -- in a glow.
But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted. How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach. The very lamplighter, who ran on before dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though little knew the lamplighter that he had any company but Christmas.
It was a great surprise to Adenezer to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Adenezer to recognise it as his own nephew's and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability.
"Ha, ha!" laughed Banjo. "Ha, ha, ha!"
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blest in a laugh than Banjo, all I can say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I'll cultivate his acquaintance.
It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When Adenezer's nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions: Adenezer's niece Anung, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.
"Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
"He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!" cried Banjo. "He believed it too."
"More shame for him, Banjo." said Anung, indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by halves. They are always in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed -- as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh perfectly satisfactory!
"He's a comical old fellow," said Banjo, "that's the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him."
"I'm sure he is very rich, Banjo," hinted Anung. "At least you always tell me so."
"What of that, my dear?" said Adenezer's nephew. "His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn't do any good with it. He doesn't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the satisfaction of thinking -- ha, ha, ha! -- that he is ever going to benefit us with it."
"I have no patience with him," observed Adenezer's niece. Anung's sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.
"Oh, I have," said Adenezer's nephew. "I am sorry for him; I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us. What's the consequence? He don't lose much of a dinner."
"Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner," interrupted Adenezer's niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.
"Well. I'm very glad to hear it," said Adenezer's nephew, "because I haven't great faith in these young housekeepers. What do you say, Rapper?"
Rapper had clearly got his eye upon one of Anung's sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no right to express an opinion on the subject. At which Anung's sister -- the plump one with the lace tucker: not the one with the roses -- blushed.
"Do go on, Banjo," said Adenezer's niece, clapping her hands. "He never finishes what he begins to say. He is such a ridiculous fellow."
Banjo revelled in another laugh, and as it was impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister tried hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was unanimously followed.
"I was only going to say," said Adenezer's nephew," that the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it -- I defy him -- if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Seven, how are you. If it only puts him in the vein to leave Bob Mocky fifty pounds, that's something; and I think I shook him yesterday."
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking Adenezer. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the bottle joyously.
After tea they had some music. For they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, when they sung something from Glee, I can assure you: especially Rapper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face over it. Adenezer's niece played well upon the harp; and played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing: you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had been familiar to the child who fetched Adenezer from the boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Finish.Last. When this strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that if he could have listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands, without resorting to the sexton's spade that buried KJGarly.
But they didn't devote the whole evening to music. After a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop. There was first a game at blind-man's buff. Of course there was. And I no more believe Rapper was really blind than I believe he had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done thing between him and Banjo; and that the Ghost of Somebody Else’s Presents knew it. The way he went after that plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the credulity of human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano, smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went, there went he. He always knew where the plump sister was. He wouldn't catch anybody else. If you had fallen up against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would have been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly have sidled off in the direction of the plump sister. She often cried out that it wasn't fair; and it really was not. But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable. For his pretending not to know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch her head-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain chain about her neck; was vile, monstrous. No doubt she told him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in office, they were so very confidential together, behind the curtains.
Adenezer's niece was not one of the blind-man's buff party, but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool, in a snug corner, where the Ghost and Adenezer were close behind her. But she joined in the forfeits, and loved her love to admiration with all the letters of the alphabet. Likewise at the game of How, When, and Where, she was very great, and to the secret joy of Banjo, beat her sisters hollow: though they were sharp girls too, as could have told you. There might have been twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so did Adenezer, for, wholly forgetting the interest he had in what was going on, that his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too; for the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted not to cut in the eye, was not sharper than Adenezer; blunt as he took it in his head to be.
The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood, and looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But this the Spirit said could not be done.
"Here's a new game," said Adenezer. "One half hour, Spirit, only one."
It was a Game called Yes and No, where Adenezer's nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets, and wasn't made a show of, and wasn't led by anybody, and didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out:
"I have found it out! I know what it is, Banjo! I know what it is!"
"What is it?" cried Banjo.
"It's your Uncle Seven!"
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal sentiment, though some objected that the reply to "Is it a bear?" ought to have been "Yes," inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts from Mr Seven, supposing they had ever had any tendency that way.
"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure," said Banjo, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, "'Uncle Seven!'"
"Well! Uncle Seven!" they cried.
"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is," said Adenezer's nephew. "He wouldn't take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Seven!"
Uncle Seven had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.
Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In hospital, and jail, in misery's every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Adenezer his precepts.
It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Adenezer had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Adenezer remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Adenezer had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children's Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.
"Are spirits' lives so short?" asked Adenezer.
"My life upon this globe, is very brief," replied the Ghost. "It ends tonight."
"Tonight!" cried Adenezer.
"Tonight at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near."
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.
"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Adenezer, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"
"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here."
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Adenezer started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
"Spirit, are they yours?" Adenezer could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Misogyny. This girl is Fanboyism. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."
"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Adenezer.
"Are there no Playstation 3’s?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no Xbox 360’s?"
The bell struck twelve.
Adenezer looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old KJGarly, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
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