Chapter 4: The Ghost of Christmas Future
At last, the third phantom(1) came, slowly, gravely(2), silently. It was covered in a deep black cloak(3). Scrooge felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Future?” said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us. Is that so, Spirit?”
The Ghost nodded. Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs shook beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it.
“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any ghost I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to go with you. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The Phantom moved away as it had come towards him. Scrooge followed in the shadow of its cloak, which lifted him up and carried him along. They entered the city.
The Spirit stopped beside one little group of business men. Scrooge advanced(4) to listen to their talk.
“No,” said a great fat man, “I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s dead.”
“When did he die?” inquired another.
“Last night, I believe.”
“What has he done with his money?”
“I haven’t heard. Left it to his company, perhaps. He hasn’t left it to me. That’s all I know. It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral, for I don’t know of anybody to go to it.“
Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation. It said nothing. So, he began to think for himself. They could not have been talking about the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past. Nor could he think of anyone he knew who would probably pass away soon. Then suddenly, a strange thought struck him.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, shaking from head to foot. “I see, I see. Can it be my own death?”
Suddenly, the scene changed, and now he almost touched a bed. On it, there lay the body of a man. In the dark empty house, there was not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me. A cat was tearing at the door, and there was a sound of gnawing rats beneath the fireside.
“Spirit!” he said, “this is a fearful place. Let us go. If there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death,” said Scrooge quite agonised(5), “show that person to me, Spirit, I beg you!”
The Phantom spread its dark cloak before him for a moment, like a wing; and withdrawing(6) it, revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and her children were.
There was a knock at the door. She opened it and met her husband; a man whose face was careworn and sad, though he was young. He sat down to dinner by the fire; and when she asked him what news, he appeared embarrassed how to answer.
“Is it good?” she said, “or bad?”
“Bad,” he answered.
“We are quite ruined?”
“No. There is hope yet, Caroline. He is dead.”
The woman almost cried alound with joy. After a while, she became solemn(7) again.
“To whom will our debt be transferred(8)?”
“I don’t know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline!”
Yes, their hearts were lighter. It was a happier house for this man’s death! The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, was one of pleasure.
“Let me see some tenderness(9) connected with that death!” cried Scrooge.
The Ghost led him to poor Bob Cratchit’s house; and found the mother and the children seated round the fire.
Quiet. Very quiet. The mother was sewing quietly.
“The colour hurts my eyes,” she said.
The colour? Ah, no, she was crying.
“They’re better now again,” said Cratchit’s wife. “It makes them weak by candle-light. When will your father come?”
“I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother.”
They were very quiet again. At last she said, and in a steady, cheerful voice:
“I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder, very fast indeed.”
“And so have I,” exclaimed Peter. So had all.
“But he was very light to carry,” she continued, “and his father loved him so, that it was no trouble. And there is your father at the door!”
She hurried out to meet him. His tea was ready for him.
Bob was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the family. But then, when they asked him where he had been, he replied:
“I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see it often. I promised him that I would walk there on Sundays. My little, little child!” cried Bob. “My little child!”
He broke down all at once. He couldn’t help it. But after some minutes, he tried to be calm, and again talked pleasantly to everyone. Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, who, meeting him in the street that day, and seeing that he looked a little down, inquired what had happened to distress(10) him. Bob told him about his little son’s death. ‘I am so sorry for it, Mr. Cratchit,’ he said, ‘and so sorry for your good wife. If I can be of service to you in any way,’ he said, giving me his card, ‘that’s where I live. Pray come to me.’
“I’m sure he’s a good soul!” said Mrs. Cratchit.
After some time, Bob went on:
“I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim, shall we?”
“Never, father!”they cried.
They hugged each other and cried, and remembered about poor little Tim.
There, the scene disappeared, and suddenly Scrooge found himself standing outside his office, or what had used to be his office. It was an office still, but not his anymore. The furniture was not the same, and the person in the chair was not himself. The Phantom pointed somewhere ahead. Scoorge looked and saw –
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. Scrooge advanced towards it trembling(11).
“Before I come nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave.
“Is there any hope left? What if I change my way of living, right when I come back?”
The Spirit was as silent as ever, and gave no answer. Scrooge had no choice but to go near the grave and read the name upon it. There, he saw the words : Ebenezer Scrooge.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, clutching at its cloak, “hear me! I am not the man I was!”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he continued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Do pity me! Assure(12) me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by a changed life!”
The kind hand trembled.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall live within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may erase the writing on this stone!”
Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed(13), he saw a change in the Phantom’s cloak. It collapsed(14) and shrunk down into a bedpost.
1/phantom(n): a ghost, a spirit
2/gravely(adv): adverb of grave(adj):serious, quiet, somber
3/cloak(n): a loose outer garment
4/advance(v): come forward
6/withdraw(v): take back, move away
7/solemn(adj): grave, somber, quiet, serious
8/transfer(v): convey from one place (person) to another
11/tremble(v): shake from fear
12/assure(v): give confidence, to console, to make someone feel sure
13/reverse(v): turn back
14/collapse(v): fall down