Scrooge,"said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more thanusually desirable that we should make some slightprovision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffergreatly at the present time. Many thousands are inwant of common necessaries; hundreds of thousandsare in want of common comforts, sir." "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge. "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying downthe pen again. "And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?" "They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wishI could say they were not." "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour,then?" said Scrooge. "Both very busy, sir." "Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first,that something had occurred to stop them in theiruseful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad tohear it." "Under the impression that they scarcely furnishChristian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,"returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouringto raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, becauseit is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you downfor?" "Nothing!" Scrooge replied. "You wish to be anonymous?" "I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since youask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can'tafford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they costenough; and those who are badly off must go there." "Many can't go there; and many would rather die." "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they hadbetter do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that." "But you might know it," observed the gentleman. "It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It'senough for a man to understand his own business, andnot to interfere with other people's. Mine occupiesme constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!" Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursuetheir point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usualwith him. Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, thatpeople ran about with flaring links, proffering theirservices to go before horses in carriages, and conductthem on their way. The ancient tower of a church,whose gruff old bell was always peeping slyly downat Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, becameinvisible, and struck the hours and quarters in theclouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as ifits teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street at thecorner of the court, some labourers were repairingthe gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier,round which a party of ragged men and boys weregathered: warming their hands and winking theireyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plugbeing left in solitude, its overflowing sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berriescrackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made palefaces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers'trades became a splendid joke; a glorious pageant,with which it was next to impossible to believe thatsuch dull principles as bargain and sale had anythingto do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of themighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooksand butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor'shousehold should; and even the little tailor, whom hehad fined five shillings on the previous Monday forbeing drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred upto-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his leanwife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef. Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nippedthe Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weatheras that, instead of using his familiar weapons, thenindeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. Theowner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbledby the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs,stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him witha Christmas carol: but at the first sound of --Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action,that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole tothe fog and even more congenial frost. At length the hour of shutting up the countinghouse arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismountedfrom his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to theexpectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffedhis candle out, and put on his hat. "You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" saidScrooge. "If quite convenient, sir." "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's notfair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd thinkyourself ill-used, I'll be bound?" The clerk smiled faintly. "And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used,when I pay a day's wages for no work." The clerk observed that it was only once a year. "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket everytwenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoninghis great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you musthave the whole day. Be here all the earlier nextmorning." The clerk promised that he would; and Scroogewalked out with a growl. The office was closed in atwinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of hiswhite comforter dangling below his waist (for heboasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, inhonour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran hometo Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to playat blindman's-buff. Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usualmelancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, andbeguiled the rest of the evening with hisbanker's-book, went home to bed. He lived inchambers which had once belonged to his deceasedpartner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in alowering pile of building up a yard, where it had solittle business to be, that one could scarcely helpfancying it must have run there when it was a younghouse, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses,and forgotten the way out again. It was old enoughnow, and dreary enough, for nobody lived in it butScrooge, the other rooms being all let out as offices. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knewits every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius ofthe Weather sat in mournful meditation on thethreshold. Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that itwas very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge hadseen it, night and morning, during his whole residencein that place; also that Scrooge had as little of whatis called fancy about him as any man in the city ofLondon, even including -- which is a bold word -- thecorporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also beborne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed onethought on Marley, since his last mention of hisseven years' dead partner that afternoon. And thenlet any man explain to me, if he can, how it happenedthat Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door,saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediateprocess of change -- not a knocker, but Marley's face. Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadowas the other objects in the yard were, but had adismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a darkcellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but lookedat Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostlyspectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. Thehair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air;and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectlymotionless. That, and its livid colour, madeit horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of theface and beyond its control, rather than a part orits own expression. As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, itwas a knocker again. To say that he was not startled, or that his bloodwas not conscious of a terrible sensation to which ithad been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished,turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle. He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, beforehe shut the door; and he did look cautiously behindit first, as if he half-expected to be terrified with thesight of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall.


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