The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > A Christmas Carol > Stave 1 - Marley's Ghost

A Christmas Carol

Stave 1 - Marley's Ghost

Marley's Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt
whatever about that. The register of his burial was
signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker,
and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And
Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he
chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my
own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about
a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to
regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery
in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors
is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands
shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You
will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that
Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did.
How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were
partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge
was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole
assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and
sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully
cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent
man of business on the very day of the funeral,
and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.
The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to
the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley
was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or
nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going
to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that
Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there
would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a
stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts,
than there would be in any other middle-aged
gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy
spot--say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance--
literally to astonish his son's weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name.
There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse
door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as
Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the
business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley,
but he answered to both names. It was all the
same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-
stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping,
scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and
sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out
generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary
as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features,
nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek,
stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue;
and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty
rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his
wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always
about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and
didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on
Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather
chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he,
no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no
pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't
know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and
snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage
over him in only one respect. They often `came down'
handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with
gladsome looks, `My dear Scrooge, how are you?
When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored
him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him
what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all
his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of
Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to
know him; and when they saw him coming on, would
tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and
then would wag their tails as though they said, `No
eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing
he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths
of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance,
was what the knowing ones call `nuts' to Scrooge.

Once upon a time--of all the good days in the year,
on Christmas Eve--old Scrooge sat busy in his
counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy
withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside,
go wheezing up and down, beating their hands
upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the
pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had
only just gone three, but it was quite dark already--
it had not been light all day--and candles were flaring
in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like
ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog
came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was
so dense without, that although the court was of the
narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.
To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring
everything, one might have thought that Nature
lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open
that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a
dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying
letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's
fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one
coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept
the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the
clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted
that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore
the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to
warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being
a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

`A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!' cried
a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's
nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was
the first intimation he had of his approach.

`Bah!' said Scrooge, `Humbug!'

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the
fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge's, that he was
all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his
eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

`Christmas a humbug, uncle!' said Scrooge's
nephew. `You don't mean that, I am sure?'

`I do,' said Scrooge. `Merry Christmas! What
right have you to be merry? What reason have you
to be merry? You're poor enough.'

`Come, then,' returned the nephew gaily. `What
right have you to be dismal? What reason have you
to be morose? You're rich enough.'

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur
of the moment, said `Bah!' again; and followed it up
with `Humbug.'

`Don't be cross, uncle!' said the nephew.

`What else can I be,' returned the uncle, `when I
live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas!
Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas
time to you but a time for paying bills without
money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but
not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books
and having every item in 'em through a round dozen
of months presented dead against you? If I could
work my will,' said Scrooge indignantly, `every idiot
who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips,
should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried
with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!'

`Uncle!' pleaded the nephew.

`Nephew!' returned the uncle sternly, `Keep Christmas
in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.'

`Keep it!' repeated Scrooge's nephew. `But you
don't keep it.'

`Let me leave it alone, then,' said Scrooge. `Much
good may it do you! Much good it has ever done

`There are many things from which I might have
derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare
say,' returned the nephew. `Christmas among the
rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas
time, when it has come round--apart from the
veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything
belonging to it can be apart from that--as a
good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant
time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar
of the year, when men and women seem by one consent
to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think
of people below them as if they really were
fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race
of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore,
uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or
silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me
good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'

The clerk in the Tank involuntarily applauded.
Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety,
he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark
for ever.

`Let me hear another sound from you,' said
Scrooge, `and you'll keep your Christmas by losing
your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker,
sir,' he added, turning to his nephew. `I wonder you
don't go into Parliament.'

`Don't be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow.'

Scrooge said that he would see him--yes, indeed he
did. He went the whole length of the expression,
and said that he would see him in that extremity first.

`But why?' cried Scrooge's nephew. `Why?'

`Why did you get married?' said Scrooge.

`Because I fell in love.'

`Because you fell in love!' growled Scrooge, as if
that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous
than a merry Christmas. `Good afternoon!'

`Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before
that happened. Why give it as a reason for not
coming now?'

`Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.

`I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you;
why cannot we be friends?'

`Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.

`I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so
resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I
have been a party. But I have made the trial in
homage to Christmas, and I'll keep my Christmas
humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!'

`Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.

`And A Happy New Year!'

`Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry word,
notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to
bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who
cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned
them cordially.

`There's another fellow,' muttered Scrooge; who
overheard him: `my clerk, with fifteen shillings a
week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry
Christmas. I'll retire to Bedlam.'

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had
let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen,
pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off,
in Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in
their hands, and bowed to him.

`Scrooge and Marley's, I believe,' said one of the
gentlemen, referring to his list. `Have I the pleasure
of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?'

`Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,'
Scrooge replied. `He died seven years ago, this very

`We have no doubt his liberality is well represented
by his surviving partner,' said the gentleman, presenting
his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred
spirits. At the ominous word `liberality,' Scrooge
frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials

`At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,'
said the gentleman, taking up a pen, `it is more than
usually desirable that we should make some slight
provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer
greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in
want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands
are in want of common comforts, sir.'

`Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.

`Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down
the pen again.

`And the Union workhouses?' demanded Scrooge.
`Are they still in operation?'

`They are. Still,' returned the gentleman, `I wish
I 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 their
useful course,' said Scrooge. `I'm very glad to
hear it.'

`Under the impression that they scarcely furnish
Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,'
returned the gentleman, `a few of us are endeavouring
to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink,
and means of warmth. We choose this time, because
it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,
and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down

`Nothing!' Scrooge replied.

`You wish to be anonymous?'

`I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. `Since you
ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.
I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't
afford to make idle people merry. I help to support
the establishments I have mentioned--they cost
enough; 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 had
better 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's
enough for a man to understand his own business, and
not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies
me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!'

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue
their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge returned
his labours with an improved opinion of himself,
and in a more facetious temper than was usual
with him.

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that
people ran about with flaring links, proffering their
services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct
them on their way. The ancient tower of a church,
whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down
at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became
invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the
clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if
its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.
The cold became intense. In the main street at the
corner of the court, some labourers were repairing
the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier,
round which a party of ragged men and boys were
gathered: warming their hands and winking their
eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug
being left in solitude, its overflowing sullenly congealed,
and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness
of the shops where holly sprigs and berries
crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale
faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers'
trades became a splendid joke; a glorious pageant,
with which it was next to impossible to believe that
such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything
to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the
mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks
and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's
household should; and even the little tailor, whom he
had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for
being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up
to-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his lean
wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.

Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting
cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped
the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather
as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then
indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The
owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled
by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs,
stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with
a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of

`God bless you, merry gentlemen!
May nothing you dismay!'

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action,
that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to
the fog and even more congenial frost.

At length the hour of shutting up the counting-
house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted
from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the
expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffed
his candle out, and put on his hat.

`You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?' said

`If quite convenient, sir.'

`It's not convenient,' said Scrooge, `and it's not
fair. If I was to stop you half-a-crown for it, you'd
think yourself 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 every
twenty-fifth of December!' said Scrooge, buttoning
his great-coat to the chin. `But I suppose you must
have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge
walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a
twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his
white comforter dangling below his waist (for he
boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill,
at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in
honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home
to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play
at blindman's-buff.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual
melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and
beguiled the rest of the evening with his
banker's-book, went home to bed. He lived in
chambers which had once belonged to his deceased
partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a
lowering pile of a building up a yard, where it had so
little business to be, that one could scarcely help
fancying it must have run there when it was a young
house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses,
and forgotten the way out again. It was old enough
now, and dreary enough, for nobody lived in it but
Scrooge, the other rooms being all let out as offices.
The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew
its 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 of
the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all
particular about the knocker on the door, except that it
was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had
seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence
in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what
is called fancy about him as any man in the city of
London, even including--which is a bold word--the
corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be
borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one
thought on Marley, since his last mention of his
seven years' dead partner that afternoon. And then
let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened
that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door,
saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate
process of change--not a knocker, but Marley's face.

Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow
as the other objects in the yard were, but had a
dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark
cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked
at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly
spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The
hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air;
and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly
motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it
horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the
face and beyond its control, rather than a part of
its own expression.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it
was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood
was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it
had 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, before
he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind
it first, as if he half-expected to be terrified with the
sight of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall.
But there was nothing on the back of the door, except
the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he
said `Pooh, pooh!' and closed it with a bang.

The sound resounded through the house like thunder.
Every room above, and every cask in the wine-merchant's
cellars below, appeared to have a separate peal
of echoes of its own. Scrooge was not a man to
be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door, and
walked across the hall, and up the stairs; slowly too:
trimming his candle as he went.

You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six
up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad
young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you
might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken
it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall
and the door towards the balustrades: and done it
easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room
to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge
thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before
him in the gloom. Half a dozen gas-lamps out of
the street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well,
so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with
Scrooge's dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that.
Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But before
he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms
to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection
of the face to desire to do that.

Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as they
should be. Nobody under the table, nobody under
the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and basin
ready; and the little saucepan of gruel (Scrooge had
a cold in his head) upon the hob. Nobody under the
bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown,
which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude
against the wall. Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guards,
old shoes, two fish-baskets, washing-stand on three
legs, and a poker.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked
himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his
custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off
his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and
his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take
his gruel.

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a
bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and
brood over it, before he could extract the least
sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel.
The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch
merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint
Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.
There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs' daughters;
Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending
through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams,
Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats,
hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts--
and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came
like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the
whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first,
with power to shape some picture on its surface from
the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would
have been a copy of old Marley's head on every one.

`Humbug!' said Scrooge; and walked across the

After several turns, he sat down again. As he
threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened
to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the
room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten
with a chamber in the highest story of the
building. It was with great astonishment, and with
a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he
saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in
the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it
rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute,
but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had
begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking
noise, deep down below; as if some person were
dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine
merchant's cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have
heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described
as dragging chains.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound,
and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors
below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight
towards his door.

`It's humbug still!' said Scrooge. `I won't believe it.'

His colour changed though, when, without a pause,
it came on through the heavy door, and passed into
the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the
dying flame leaped up, as though it cried `I know
him; Marley's Ghost!' and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail,
usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on
the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts,
and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was
clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound
about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge
observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks,
ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.
His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him,
and looking through his waistcoat, could see
the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no
bowels, but he had never believed it until now.

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he
looked the phantom through and through, and saw
it standing before him; though he felt the chilling
influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very
texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head
and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before;
he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

`How now!' said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever.
`What do you want with me?'

`Much!'--Marley's voice, no doubt about it.

`Who are you?'

`Ask me who I was.'

`Who were you then?' said Scrooge, raising his
voice. `You're particular, for a shade.' He was going
to say `to a shade,' but substituted this, as more

`In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.'

`Can you--can you sit down?' asked Scrooge, looking
doubtfully at him.

`I can.'

`Do it, then.'

Scrooge asked the question, because he didn't know
whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in
a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event
of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity
of an embarrassing explanation. But the ghost sat
down on the opposite side of the fireplace, as if he
were quite used to it.

`You don't believe in me,' observed the Ghost.

`I don't,' said Scrooge.

`What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of
your senses?'

`I don't know,' said Scrooge.

`Why do you doubt your senses?'

`Because,' said Scrooge, `a little thing affects them.
A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may
be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of
cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of
gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking
jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means
waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be
smart, as a means of distracting his own attention,
and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice
disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

To sit, staring at those fixed glazed eyes, in silence
for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very
deuce with him. There was something very awful,
too, in the spectre's being provided with an infernal
atmosphere of its own. Scrooge could not feel it
himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the
Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts,
and tassels, were still agitated as by the hot vapour
from an oven.

`You see this toothpick?' said Scrooge, returning
quickly to the charge, for the reason just assigned;
and wishing, though it were only for a second, to
divert the vision's stony gaze from himself.

`I do,' replied the Ghost.

`You are not looking at it,' said Scrooge.

`But I see it,' said the Ghost, `notwithstanding.'

`Well!' returned Scrooge, `I have but to swallow
this, and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a
legion of goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug,
I tell you! humbug!'

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook
its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that
Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself
from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was
his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage
round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors,
its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands
before his face.

`Mercy!' he said. `Dreadful apparition, why do
you trouble me?'

`Man of the worldly mind!' replied the Ghost, `do
you believe in me or not?'

`I do,' said Scrooge. `I must. But why do spirits
walk the earth, and why do they come to me?'

`It is required of every man,' the Ghost returned,
`that the spirit within him should walk abroad among
his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that
spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so
after death. It is doomed to wander through the
world--oh, woe is me!--and witness what it cannot
share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain
and wrung its shadowy hands.

`You are fettered,' said Scrooge, trembling. `Tell
me why?'

`I wear the chain I forged in life,' replied the Ghost.
`I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded
it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I
wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?'

Scrooge trembled more and more.

`Or would you know,' pursued the Ghost, `the
weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?
It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven
Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since.
It is a ponderous chain!'

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the
expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty
or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see

`Jacob,' he said, imploringly. `Old Jacob Marley,
tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!'

`I have none to give,' the Ghost replied. `It comes
from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed
by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor
can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is
all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I
cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked
beyond our counting-house--mark me!--in life my
spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our
money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before

It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became
thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets.
Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now,
but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his

`You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,'
Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though
with humility and deference.

`Slow!' the Ghost repeated.

`Seven years dead,' mused Scrooge. `And travelling
all the time!'

`The whole time,' said the Ghost. `No rest, no
peace. Incessant torture of remorse.'

`You travel fast?' said Scrooge.

`On the wings of the wind,' replied the Ghost.

`You might have got over a great quantity of
ground in seven years,' said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and
clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of
the night, that the Ward would have been justified in
indicting it for a nuisance.

`Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,' cried the
phantom, `not to know, that ages of incessant labour,
by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into
eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is
all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit
working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may
be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast
means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of
regret can make amends for one life's opportunity
misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!'

`But you were always a good man of business,
Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this
to himself.

`Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands
again. `Mankind was my business. The common
welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance,
and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings
of my trade were but a drop of water in the
comprehensive ocean of my business!'

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were
the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it
heavily upon the ground again.

`At this time of the rolling year,' the spectre said
`I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of
fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never
raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise
Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to
which its light would have conducted me!'

Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the
spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake

`Hear me!' cried the Ghost. `My time is nearly

`I will,' said Scrooge. `But don't be hard upon
me! Don't be flowery, Jacob! Pray!'

`How it is that I appear before you in a shape that
you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible
beside you many and many a day.'

It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered,
and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

`That is no light part of my penance,' pursued
the Ghost. `I am here to-night to warn you, that you
have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A
chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.'

`You were always a good friend to me,' said
Scrooge. `Thank 'ee!'

`You will be haunted,' resumed the Ghost, `by
Three Spirits.'

Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as the
Ghost's had done.

`Is that the chance and hope you mentioned,
Jacob?' he demanded, in a faltering voice.

`It is.'

`I--I think I'd rather not,' said Scrooge.

`Without their visits,' said the Ghost, `you cannot
hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow,
when the bell tolls One.'

`Couldn't I take `em all at once, and have it over,
Jacob?' hinted Scrooge.

`Expect the second on the next night at the same
hour. The third upon the next night when the last
stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see
me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you
remember what has passed between us!'

When it had said these words, the spectre took its
wrapper from the table, and bound it round its head,
as before. Scrooge knew this, by the smart sound its
teeth made, when the jaws were brought together
by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again,
and found his supernatural visitor confronting him
in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and
about its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him; and at
every step it took, the window raised itself a little,
so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open.
It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did.
When they were within two paces of each other,
Marley's Ghost held up its hand, warning him to
come no nearer. Scrooge stopped.

Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear:
for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible
of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of
lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and
self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment,
joined in the mournful dirge;and floated out upon the
bleak, dark night.

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his
curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither
and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they
went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's
Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments)
were linked together; none were free. Many had
been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He
had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white
waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to
its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist
a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below,
upon a door-step. The misery with them all was,
clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in
human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist
enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and
their spirit voices faded together; and the night became
as it had been when he walked home.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door
by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked,
as he had locked it with his own hands, and
the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say `Humbug!'
but stopped at the first syllable. And being,
from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues
of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or
the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of
the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to
bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the

Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.