For this special Christmas ‘Literature Out Loud’, we’re reading an abridged version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
This is part three, read by Dionne McCulloch, check back next week for the final part!
Scrooge awoke in his own bedroom. But the walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove.
Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, juicy oranges, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round.
“Come in,- come in! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Have never walked with my elder brothers?”
“I don’t think I have. Have you many brothers, Spirit?”
“More than eighteen hundred.”
“Spirit, conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Touch my robe!”
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast. The room and its contents all vanished instantly, and they stood in the city streets upon a snowy Christmas morning.
Scrooge and the Ghost passed on, invisible, straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinklings of his torch.
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife and laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and, basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he 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. Cratchit.
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 Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit.
“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“Not coming!” said Bob.
Martha 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 Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit. “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.”
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool beside the fire. Master Peter and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, 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. Cratchit 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 Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone,- too nervous to bear witnesses,- to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
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 pastry-cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered,- flushed but smiling proudly,- with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
O, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly, too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.
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 shovelful of chestnuts on the fire.
Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, and at Bob Cratchit’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 crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed:-
“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”
“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
“Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”
“The Founder of the Feast, indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening. “The odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”
“My dear,” was Bob’s mild answer, “Christmas day.”
Scrooge 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 Scrooge the Baleful being done with. The chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by and by they had a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed.
They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, as this scene vanished, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognize 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.
“He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “He believed it too!”
“More shame for him, Fred!” said Scrooge’s niece.
“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “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.”
After tea they had some music. Then they set to a game called Yes and No, where Scrooge’s nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only answering to their questions yes or no. The fire of questioning elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, rather a disagreeable animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and was not a horse, or a cow, or a cat, or a bear. At last the plump sister cried out, –
” I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is! It’s your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!”
Suddenly, as they stood together in an open place, the bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it no more. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him.