Chapter 2: The Ghost of Christmas Past
When Scrooge awoke, it was very dark. Suddenly, the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour. To his great surprise the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! Scrooge could not go to bed again. Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Was it a dream or not? If it was real, then the first ghost would come in precisely an hour.
“A quarter past,” said Scrooge, counting.
“Half-past!” said Scrooge.
“A quarter to it,” said Scrooge.
“The hour itself,” said Scrooge.
He had hardly finished his sentence when the curtains of his bed were drawn.
It was a strange figure—like an old man but shrunk to a child’s proportions(1). Its hair was white, and it also wore a white nightgown. But the strangest thing about it was that from its head, there sprung a bright clear jet of light.
“Are you the first Spirit that Marley told me about?” asked Scrooge.
“I am. I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. Your past.”
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished.
“Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I was raised in this place. I was a boy here!”
He was conscious of a thousand odours(2) floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!
“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!” observed the Ghost. “Let us go on.”
They followed the country road to a small local school.
“The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “A lonely child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.”
They went inside, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a long, bare, melancholy (3) room, filled with rows of wooden desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading; and Scrooge sat down, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be. Then, he said, in pity for his former self, “Poor boy!” and cried again.
“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, “but it’s too late now.”
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should have given him something: that’s all.”
The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand.
“Let us see another Christmas!”
Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a little darker and dirtier. He was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. The door opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came running in, and putting her arms about his neck, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.”
“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!”
“Home, little Fan?” returned the boy.
A terrible voice in the hall cried, “Bring down Master Scrooge’s box, there!” and in the hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, who then led him and his sister out of the building and onto the road, where a carriage was waiting. The children bade the schoolmaster goodbye(4) right willingly.
“Always a delicate(5) creature,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart!”
“So she had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right.”
“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”
“One child,” Scrooge returned.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew!”
Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, “Yes.”
The scene again whizzed away before Scrooge’s eyes, and he suddenly found himself walking down the city streets. The snow was falling, and he knew that they had come to see another Christmas scene.The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door.
“I apprenticed here!” said Scrooge.
They went in. Scrooge could hear the distinct sound of festive music. The people at the warehouse were having a ball!
There were dances, and there was cake, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were pies, and plenty of beer. Three or four and twenty pair of partners were swirling around, among them a young, handsome Scrooge, laughing gaily(6) as they went.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic(7) ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig – the master and mistress of the warehouse, took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas.
During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his mind. He remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and even danced with the people. It was not until now, when the bright faces were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, who signed to him to listen to two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,
“Why? He has spent but a few pounds of money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to make us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or heavy; a pleasure or a burden(8). The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“My time grows short,” observed the Spirit. “Quick!”
Again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime(9) of life. His face had begun to wear the signs of care. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl, in whose eyes there were tears.
“It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one. You now want nothing more than to pursue(10) wealth. I have seen all your noble dreams fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses(11) you. Have I not?”
“What then?” he replied. “I am not changed towards you.”
She shook her head.
“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so. You are changed. When your fortune was made, you were another man. We were then one in heart, but we are not so now. Tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”
“You think not.”
“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, “Heaven knows! But if you were free, I believe that you would never choose a poor girl. Yes Scrooge, I really do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
She left him, and they parted.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Bring me home. Why do you want to torture me?”
But the cruel Ghost forced him to look at what happened next.
They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a matron(12), sitting opposite her daughter. There were more children than Scrooge could count, and they were playing, running around and laughing wildly. Suddenly, a knocking at the door was heard, and a man came in, with Christmas toys in his hand. The children instantly circled around him in search for their gifts, and it was a while before he could straighten himself up and walk to his wife and daughter. Scrooge watched as the girl leaned fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful, might have called him father, and been a springtime in the cold winter of his life, his sight grew very dim(13) indeed.
“Belle,” said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, “I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon.”
“Who was it?”
“How can I? Tut, don’t I know?” she added, laughing as he laughed. “Mr. Scrooge.”
“Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do believe.”
“Spirit!” cried Scrooge at last in a broken voice, “remove me from this place. Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
He then quickly grabbed a cap which he saw nearby and pulled it over the flickering(14) flame on the Spirit’s head. At once, the Spirit of Christmas Past disappeared, and Scrooge was left staring at his bedroom curtains.
4/bid sb goodbye (phrasal verb): say goodbye to sb
5/delicate(adj): fragile, easily broken/ crushed, not strong/tough
6/gaily(Adv)(old English): merrily
7/domestic(adj): relating to the house
8/burden(n): a tiresome obligation/thing that must be carried
10/pursue(v): follow, try to gain, attain
11/engross(v): to fully occupy
12/matron(n): a dignified married woman firmly established in society
13/dim(adj): unclear, indistinct, (eyes) blurry because of tears/emotions
14/flickering(adj): shining unsteadily