A Christmas Carol - THE SECOND of the THREE SPIRITS

THE SECOND of the THREE SPIRITS (Illustration) Famous People Ethics Nineteenth Century Life Victorian Age Fiction Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Classics - In Depth

The third ghost, to visit Scrooge, is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  John Leech created this illustration for the first edition of "A Christmas Carol."  It depicts a jolly giant who is not-so-jolly when he uses Ebenezer's words against him.  Image online, courtesy Project Gutenberg.


True to his word, Marley's ghost foretells a second visit from a "Christmas Spirit."  This time Ebenezer Scrooge meets the "Spirit of Christmas Present."

What kind of life is Scrooge living at the time of "Christmas Present?"  Is he proud of his actions?  Should he be?  Is he blind to the reality of the world around him?  Does he even see the needs of others?  Does he understand the positive impact he could make if he were less-selfish?

What about the family of his clerk, Bob Cratchit?  Does Scrooge know that Bob has a son, "Tiny Tim," who suffers from a lack of daily needs because his family cannot afford to keep him healthy?  Could Scrooge be a help to Tim? 

In this abridged version of "Stave Three," from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge meets "The Second of the Three Spirits."  You can hear a dramatization by clicking on the Narration for this chapter.

Scrooge awoke in his own bedroom.  There was no doubt about that.  But it, and his own adjoining sitting room into which he shuffled in his slippers - attracted by a great light there - had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove.  The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone.

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, brawn, great joints of meat, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and who raised it high, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost.  “Come in!  And know me better, man!”

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit.

He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though its eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit.  “Look upon me!  You have never seen the like of me before!”

“Never.  Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will.  I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”

“Touch my robe!”

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.

Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly.  So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad.

The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen.  There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves.

The Grocers’!  Oh, the Grocers’!  Nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses!  The scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint.

The figs were moist and pulpy, everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humor possible. 

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.

Scrooge and the Ghost passed on, invisible, straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch.

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes.

And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit.  “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!” said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and bonnet for her.

“We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,” replied the girl, “and had to clear away this morning!”

“Well! Never mind so long as you are come,” said Mrs. Cratchit.

“There’s father coming,” cried the two young Cratchits, who were everywhere at once. “Hide, Martha, hide!”

So Martha hid herself, and in came Bob, the father, with his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder.  Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!

“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.

“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.

“Not coming!” said Bob.  “Not coming upon Christmas Day!”

Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.

His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Tim, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Bob compounded some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, Master Peter and the two young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.

Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody.  

At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said.  It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit prepared to plunge the carving knife into the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose.  Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.  Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family.  But now Mrs. Cratchit left the room to take the pudding up, and bring it in.

A great deal of steam!  The pudding was out of the copper.  A smell like a washing-day!  That was the cloth.  A smell like an eating-house, and a pastry cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that!  That was the pudding!  In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered - flushed, but smiling proudly - with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding!  Bob Cratchit said that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.  Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, and the fire made up.  Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth and Bob proposed:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears.  God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little stool.  Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”

“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”

Scrooge cast his eyes upon the ground.  But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.
“Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob;  “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”

“The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening.  “It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, “on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge.  “I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s,” said Mrs. Cratchit, “not for his!

The mention of Scrooge’s name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes.

After it had passed away, Bob Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full five-and-sixpence weekly.  Martha, who was a poor apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch.  All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by-and-bye they had a song from Tiny Tim.

There was nothing of high mark in this.  They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s.  But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

The Spirit bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on, sped whither?  To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds - born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water - rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea.  Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas; and one of them, the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.

Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea - on, on - until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship.  They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it.  And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on through the lonely darkness, to hear a hearty laugh.  It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognize it as his own nephew’s, and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his!

“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew.  When Scrooge’s nephew laughed, Scrooge’s niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, laughed out, lustily.
“He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “He believed it too!”

“More shame for him, Fred!” said Scrooge’s niece, indignantly.

“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that’s the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be.  However, his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.   Who suffers by his ill whims?   Himself, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us. What’s the consequence?

“Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,” interrupted Scrooge’s niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.

“I was going to say,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you?  If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that’s something!”

After a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.  There was a game of blind-man’s buff.  Of course there was.  And I no more believe Topper was really blind than I believe he had eyes in his boots. Because, the way he went after that plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage.  Knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano, smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went, there went he!

Scrooge had imperceptibly become gay and light of heart.  But the scene passed off; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.

Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

“Forgive me,” said Scrooge, as they stood together in an open place, “but I see something strange, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

From the foldings of its robe, the Spirit brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.  They were a boy and girl.

Scrooge started back, appalled.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck Twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not.  As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, toward him.

This "solemn Phantom" does not speak words to Scrooge, but its actions will cause old Ebenezer to become very afraid.  No longer will his favorite phrase - "Bah, Humbug!" - trip so easily from his lips.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 23, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Nov 10, 2015

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"THE SECOND of the THREE SPIRITS" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 23, 2013. Feb 27, 2020.
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