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A retelling of “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens, 1843 (Stave One)
Ebenezer Scrooge sat quietly in his counting house, with none but the sound of shillings rolling across his rosewood desk and the muffled patter of tiny feet outside as parents stood shivering in their doorways, watching the streets warily. Perhaps not even the amiable Christmas Spirit would be able to rattle the icicles from Scrooge’s heart; this cold was unwavering, quite impartial to the time of year. Not even the shivering of his young clerk, whom at the time was busy copying letters in the cell beyond, and who he’d often regard with disinterest and of none more than an acquaintance, moved Scrooge to offer more coal to his dying fire. Ebenezer Scrooge had proved over and over again to wield an indifference to temperature, warmth of any sort.
Some that resided on this small London street blamed it on the death of his longtime friend and business partner, Marley. One might be inclined to make such assumptions because Scrooge never bothered to paint over Marley’s name on the sign that hung above the shop door. This deed – or undid deed, I suppose – contradicted the miser’s character entirely. Besides this, none had witnessed such a generous gesture from Ebenezer Scrooge since Marley’s death.
He didn’t bother to look up at the sound of the bell on the shop door.
“Merry Christmas, uncle! What in the Lord’s name are you doing working late on Christmas Eve?”
After a second’s silence, Scrooge set his pen down and reluctantly glanced up to meet the eyes of his nephew. Fred stood there in the doorway smiling, his cheeks pink from the frost.
“Bah,” replied Scrooge, returning to his work. “Humbug. What do you have to be so merry about? You haven’t got a cent to spare, you’ve nothing to boast but fifteen shillings a week – even less, without my help! You’ve got quite a mouth on you; it’s a wonder you don’t go into Parliament.”
“Would you please come to dinner with us tomorrow, then?” Fred pleaded cautiously, knowing his uncle too well.
Scrooge merely laughed.
“Why did you get married?” Scrooge spat.
This question caught his nephew off guard. “What? What importance – well, because I fell in love, of course.”
“Love?” scoffed Scrooge. “Bah! Humbug.”
“Please, uncle! My family would be delighted to have you –“
“Good afternoon to you, sir,” he replied curtly.
“Uncle, I have never asked anything of you, I’ve never intended to start any quarrel, why are you so –“
“I said, good afternoon.”
At this, Fred kept his solemn promise to maintain his Christmas humor and retreated with a nod, and another “Merry Christmas.”
Scrooge wasn’t left to his accounting for five minutes, when there came yet another knock on the door. He almost smiled in appreciation for this someone who managed to finally have the courtesy to knock; of course, he wouldn’t bother with opening it.
“Good evening,” came a booming voice from behind him, and Scrooge’s smile faded. “Scrooge and Marley’s, I presume?”
“What gave that away, I wonder?”
The two gentlemen, businessmen (by their tweed coats and undersized waistlines), had obviously been forewarned about Scrooge, for they continued the conversation as if he had offered them a cordial greeting.
“As you may be aware, sir, it is the time of year that we usually make a slight provision for the Poor and Destitute. They are in want of common necessities, common comfort. ‘Tis the holiday season, and we’d like to extend our generosities.”
“Well there are plenty of prisons, are there not? And what about the Union workhouses? I’ve aided them a great deal already, and I’ve had enough trouble with their contractors breathing down my neck.”
The portly gentleman to the right removed his cap and wiped the moisture from his brow despite the cold before continuing. “The less-fortunate, sir, would not like to… I think they would rather remain on the streets. Our Church is doing all it can to raise a fund for them, but as we are all not affluent enough to provide materials in an abundance, we’d like to ask for your help.”
Scrooge’s expression of disapproval instantly twisted into a frown as the man removed a pen and pad from his breast pocket.
“What should I put you down for?”
“Nothing,” Scrooge replied.
“Oh, you wish to remain anonymous? How nice of –“
“No! Nothing, because you will receive nothing from me,” he growled.
“Sir, the homeless are in need of standard quartering, especially in these conditions; it’s freezing out. They’ll become ill, and we haven’t got the money to pay for any medical finances. They’ll die.”
“That is none of my business,” he stated. “Good evening.”
The businessmen left without an angry word, perhaps because they were astounded at the man’s emotional indifference. Scrooge spent the rest of the hour in the warehouse until it came time for his clerk’s dismissal. When the church bells tolled six, he hastily granted the clerk’s timid request for a higher pay (but only on condition that he sacrifice his Christmas break) and headed home.
After taking a silent dinner in his tavern, Scrooge trudged heavily up the stairs in his nightgown. No sooner had he placed his key in the lock, and out of habit glanced up at his brass knocker, did Scrooge gasp in horror.
Marley’s face sat in place of the knocker, his bulbous nose positioned in the exact spot the ring used to be. His eyes, under his spectacles, stared out into the dark hallway. It was a ghastly sight, under the flickering candlelight.
“Bah, humbug.” He dismissed it and shakily opened the door, shutting it behind him with such force that the knocker rattled violently on the other side.
He lit the few candles on his armoire; in the act of pulling the sheets back on his mattress, he paused. The sound of steady footsteps and another strange continuous sound could be heard past his bedroom door, perhaps just before the landing beneath the hallway. Scrooge froze, and before he could decide whether or not it would be rational to hide beneath his covers, his door creaked open.
Before him, stood a shrouded figure. The stranger was transparent, an unpleasant pallor over it’s horribly familiar face. Its nightgown was slightly tattered at the seams, and it held – or rather, was bound by at the arms by – a large metal chain, which bore a large round weight at the end. The cold seemed instantly attracted to the figure; a breeze followed through the door behind him and chilled Scrooge to the bone.
“As you knew me in life, yes,” the figure answered. It was Marley’s voice all right, a voice Scrooge hadn’t heard in seven long years. “I’ve come to warn you, Ebenezer. You see these long chains? I’ve condemned myself to them in life by carrying heavy burdens that I did put upon myself; I was a heavy-hearted being during my last years. I’ve never seen the light, nor the golden gates; hah, I’ve scarce been past the counting house walls.” The apparition sighed heavily.
Scrooge grabbed his bedpost to steady himself. “Well?” he demanded almost wearily. “What do you want with me? Why do you trouble me so?”
“I’ve come to warn you, friend. Surely you do not want the same fate as I?”
“I want you to leave me be, Ghost!”
The apparition nodded and slowly retreated towards the window on the west wall. It seemed to unlock and rise on it’s own accord. “You will be visited by three Ghosts at different times this night, my friend. They will be able save you, show you the true meaning of Christmas.”
“What?” At this, Scrooge forgot all about his fear of his deceased friend and ran to the window. “Three, you say? Couldn’t I take them all at once?”
“The Ghost of Christmas Past, Of Christmas Present, and Of Christmas Yet to Come. Now, have a good night Ebenezer. And Merry Christmas.”
And just as suddenly as he had arrived, the ghost of Jacob Marley climbed out the window and disappeared into the cold.