Scrooge's Errands

I have a story for you.

Actually, the story's about ten years old; it's called Scrooge's Errands, and I wrote it because I was curious about how it would come out. How did Scrooge's next Christmas go? I decided to find out.

This year, I decided to come back to it, giving it a polish, sprucing it up here and there. In addition, I've recorded an audio version of this story, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy it, whether you read or listen. Happy Holidays!

 

 

Scrooge’s Errands

 

by Pete Milan

Being a Continuation of A Christmas Carol by Mr. Charles Dickens

 

Stave One

The Unpleasant Errand

 

The shop sat below a penthouse roof, snow piling across its top like white hair on the brows of an old man. If the establishment had a name, it could not be seen from outside, and its windows were greasy and opaque. Ebenezer Scrooge stood across the street a full five minutes, watching the place. No one went in, and no one came out, despite the bustle of the day; even in this low part of London, things were busy on the 24th of December.

Scrooge rubbed his chin. His skin felt old beneath his fingers, old and papery, and he once again wondered if this was the wisest course of action. He could still turn away, could he not? There was no real reason to go in there. Surely he could put aside his curiosity, today of all days.

But it was on the list.

“Ah, well,” he said. “As soon as begun, as soon as done.”

Checking for carriages, he walked across the street, took out his handkerchief, wrapped it around the doorknob, and stepped inside.

 

*

 

Within, the place was more like the home of a slovenly man than any sort of proper shop. Everywhere there was debris, from the piles of iron to the lumps of clothes to the hills of old bones. Scrooge raised his handkerchief to his nose to blot out the smell, but he took it away again when he saw the stain the doorknob had left there.

“Zat you, Mrs. Dilber?” called a voice from the room beyond. “You’re late. I expected you full half an hour ago.”

“No,” Scrooge said, keeping the waver out of his voice. “I am not Mrs. Dilber.”

Silence. Then, an old head poked out from the inner door, grey-haired and pale-skinned, his eyes behind a tiny pair of spectacles. He blinked at Scrooge.

“No,” he said. “I can see that you are not.” He stepped fully out into his place of business and walked up to Scrooge, who now wore an expression of some dismay. “Something wrong?”

“I had hoped you would be younger,” Scrooge said. “Much younger.”

“Ay?”

“Nothing,” Scrooge said, regaining his composure. “Nothing. You are as you are.”

“Well…yes. What, then, can I do for you, sir? Are you in need of iron?”

“No,” Scrooge said.

”Cloth? Plenty of good cloth, sir, just got in a fine batch of—“

“No.”

”Bones? Fat? I only keep the best, sir, makes the finest—“

“I am not interested in buying anything from you, Old Joe,” Scrooge said. He smiled, trying to seem cool and in control of the situation.

“Then…” Old Joe squinted at him. “Do I know you?”

“You do not,” Scrooge said. “But I know you. I was very nearly one of your suppliers.”

“Ay?”

“Which one is Mrs. Dilber? I admit I don’t recognize the name, but I believe she must be the charwoman. What sort of goods is she meant to be transporting to you now?”

Old Joe’s expression transformed from one of confusion to that of indignance. “What is this? Who are you?”

“Who? The who is nothing to you. It’s the why that should be your concern. Why am I here?”

Old Joe drew himself up with an air of defiance. “All right, then, why are you here?”

“I am here because I have a list of errands to complete,” Scrooge said. “And as this was the least pleasant, I’ve decided to get to it first.”

“Then get to it and be on your way,” Old Joe said. “This is a respectable—”

Scrooge suddenly leaned forward on his walking stick, causing the elder to stagger back a step. “Do you know the definition of a ghoul?”

Old Joe looked at Scrooge a long moment. “If you’re not here for business—“

“A ghoul is a word for someone who steals from the dead,” Scrooge continued. “Well, specifically, it’s a word for one who robs graves and feeds from corpses, but the word suits you well enough.”

“I—“

“You are a ghoul, Old Joe. The freshly dead are your prey, yours and your unlovely suppliers.”

“You just get out of here!” Old Joe shouted. “I’m an old man, I’ll not be treated this way!”

“’Let the charwoman alone to be the first,’” said Scrooge, unfazed by this outburst. “’Let the laundress alone to be the second, and let the undertaker’s man alone to be the third.’” Old Joe knew those words well, and gaped at Scrooge, who cast his eye upon a fresh looking pile of cloth near the fire. “Where did that come from, Joe? Bedcurtains, perhaps? Sheets taken from beneath some poor soul who breathed his last to an empty room? Are they clothes, stripped from a dead man by one of your creatures?” His voice was rising, and he fought for control over himself.

“You just get out of here,” Old Joe repeated, but quieter this time.

“I shall,” Scrooge said, “but first I will say this. Repent. It need not be too late for you... no matter my feelings on the subject, it need not be too late for you. Curtail your thievery from this day forward… and you may yet have a chance of reclamation.”

Old Joe said nothing. He merely looked at Scrooge with a mixture of fear and confused wonder. Scrooge, having said his peace, turned to depart.

Before he could leave, the door swung open, nearly hitting him, and a woman, thin and sharp as a winter wind, bustled into the shop, carrying a greasy bundle and a satisfied sneer. She dropped her bundle on the ground, not giving a look to Scrooge.

“Beat ‘em here again!” she cried. “What do I always say, Joe?”

“Let the charwoman alone to be the first,” Scrooge said. He tipped his hat to the woman. “Good morning, Mrs. Dilber.”

And with that, he was gone, hailing a cab and heading back to his counting house as fast as the horses could go. That was the last he ever saw of Old Joe and his band of opportunists. He never knew what became of any of them, and truly, he did not care to know.

 

Stave Two

 

The Christmas Ball

 

The wreath upon the door of Scrooge and Marley’s was, by no means, extravagant. It was, perhaps, a bit larger than the average. What made it extraordinary was the fact that it was the first wreath that had ever rested upon that door, in all the years in which that firm had been in residence.

Scrooge took a moment to admire it before crossing the threshold into his counting house. Inside, it was cozy and warm and bright, three adjectives which could hardly have described it three hundred and sixty-five days previous. Inside, seated at his desk, Bob Cratchit was bent over a ledger, scratching out figures at a lively pace.

“Merry—“

“Ssshhh!” Bob said, not looking up, raising the hand that was not scribbling. Scrooge waited until his clerk was finished with his computations. Bob raised his head. “Right. Now what can I… oh.” A worried look crossed his face, one that was quite familiar to Scrooge. “I do beg your pardon, Mr. Scrooge.”

“Quite all right, Bob. What’s that you’re working on?”

“Oh, just calculating the rate of return for the…” Bob checked the ledger. “The new school. We should receive seven percent come January.”

“Excellent!” In the past year, Ebenezer Scrooge had undergone a profound transformation. Before, he had been a man who shunned the company of his fellow creatures, a man who hated and feared the world in equal measure. Now, he was almost completely different, no longer angry, no longer afraid. But there was a fundamental truth about Ebenezer Scrooge; he liked making money, and he was very good at it.

The difference now was that money was no longer an end in itself. For Scrooge, money had gone from a prize to be hoarded to a tool to be used. And so he had set about changing the way he did business. No longer did he charge usurious rents for his properties, and no longer did he simply allow his income to molder within various vaults across London. Now he set his money to work, investing in businesses which held promise and would promote the common good. Anyone could give away money, but to balance profit and charity and keep yourself fed at the same time, that was philanthropy.

For his part, Bob Cratchit had acquitted himself with previously unseen monetary skills over the past year, and had been instrumental in keeping the counting house working at peak efficiency.

“Finish your shopping yet, Bob?” Scrooge said, stepping over to the stove and rubbing his hands before it.

“Shopping, sir?”

“Christmas shopping.”

“Oh! Oh, Mrs. Cratchit’s taken care of that, sir. She’s found a fine goose, very fine. Not quite as big as the one from last year, but I reckon they don’t come that big that often!”

“Indeed they don’t!” Scrooge chuckled. “And what about presents?”

“Presents?”

Scrooge looked at Bob. The clerk looked back at his employer with an expression of honest confusion.

“You… did buy presents for the children, didn’t you, Bob?”

“I…” Bob blushed crimson. “I didn’t even think of it! We, we, we never bought presents before, Mr. Scrooge, what with money being so tight, and we always…well, you understand, when you’ve got what you’ve got, you make do with what you have, so to speak, and…” He trailed off.

Scrooge sighed. “Well, I suppose you’ve got some shopping to do, don’t you?”

“Oh, Mr. Scrooge, I couldn’t! There’s still all these figures to add up, and I’ve got to prepare for that meeting next week, and—“

“It’ll keep until the 26th, Bob,” Scrooge said. “Go on, be off with you. You’ll have a hard enough time trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve, I’ll warrant.”

“Oh! Well, thank you, Mr. Scrooge!” Cratchit was a whirl of motion, pulling on his greatcoat and comforter and moving to the door. “You’ll stop by tomorrow night, won’t you?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Scrooge said. “Merry Christmas, Bob.”

“Merry Christmas, sir!” Bob stepped out into the street, nearly bowling over a small child who had come to sing a carol. Scrooge listened patiently, applauded the boy, and gave him a shilling, but when he was alone again, he began to brood.

He still calls me sir, Scrooge thought. It had been a year, but Bob Cratchit had never been truly convinced of the change in Scrooge’s character. Oh, he had no doubts about Scrooge’s sincerity of thought and action; rather, he always seemed to think that Scrooge’s generosity was like a fever, one that might break at any moment and restore him to miserly “health.”

The Cratchits were his friends. They felt like family, one and all, especially Tiny Tim. However, Scrooge knew that they did not really trust him.

Well, it was time to put a stop to it.

Scrooge reached into his desk and produced a piece of parchment. He took up his quill and began the second task on his list.

 

*

 

The sun came down, the fog rolled in, and London was lit by torchlight. Scrooge, in good spirits, stopped into a nearby tavern, where he shared a toast with a friend from the Exchange and purchased a bottle of Scotch whisky, which he stored in his coat. Thus laden, he made fast his steps towards the warehouse.

The idea of the ball had come to him in late November. The annual dance at Fezziwig’s warehouse had always been a highlight of the year, and something that Scrooge had truly missed in the times that followed. The counting house was too small for such an event, and so Scrooge had went and found the warehouse itself, rented it for Christmas Eve, and set about making it a fit place for dancing.

When he arrived, it seemed that everyone Scrooge had ever known was there. He was received warmly by his nephew, Fred, and his wife, Nancy. The Toppers were there as well, and were also pleased to see him. Others, though, who did not know him so well, received him with more muted greetings. Scrooge knew why, and did his best to win them over. He danced, he played at blind man’s bluff, he played at How When Where, he even played at Yes or No and half expected himself to be one of the answers. He talked and joked and congratulated the Toppers on the news that there would soon be a child and flirted shamelessly with any female within reach and was glad to be there.

The Cratchits were not there, and that pained Scrooge a bit. He had invited them; he had invited half of London. The room was full of people he barely recognized. So many faces, and so few names.

It grew hot in the warehouse, and Scrooge found himself standing outside, looking up at the night sky. The cold was refreshing, and he wanted to be sharp for the rest of his duties as host. After a while, his nephew joined him.

“Uncle?”

“Hm?” Scrooge said without turning around.

“Are you all right? If you’re tired, I’ll be happy to call a cab for you.”

“No, no, wouldn’t dream of it, Fred. Just wanted a bit of fresh air.” Scrooge looked away from the sky at last. He looked at his nephew. “You look just like her.”

“Who’s that?”

“Your mother,” Scrooge said. “Dear Fan. You’re the very image. Sometimes I think that was why I spent so much time trying to stay clear of you.”

“Come now, Uncle, that’s all in the past,” Fred said. “You’re here now, and that’s what matters.”

Scrooge nodded. “She was a wonderful girl, you know. Our father…ha. I think I learned how to be a miser from him. Do not mistake me, he wasn’t cruel, not exactly, just…mean. He was mean. Wouldn’t have liked you at all.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Fred said with a smile. “I’m told I’m a very pleasant fellow to be around.”

“Yes, that’s why he wouldn’t have liked you.”

“Well, really.”

“But Fan…it was as though she awakened something in him. His humanity, I suppose. She changed him. She could do that to a person.” Scrooge smiled and wiped at his eye.

Fred was silent for a moment. “Is it like it used to be? This ball of yours?”

Scrooge took a deep breath and turned back to the party. “Oh yes. Very much.” He watched the dancers through the windows. He remembered a ball like this, decades hence, when he’d found a girl in his arms. He remembered how he’d fallen.

He saw her face.

It took him a moment to realize that this was no trick of the light, no memory rising to the surface. There was a woman in the window, chatting with a younger girl, and…

“Excuse me,” Scrooge said. “I need to speak to someone.”

He walked past his nephew in something like a trance. He did not take his eyes from that face, could not do so. He approached the pair of women and cleared his throat. One of them, a smiling girl whom he had met earlier in the evening, took his hand.

“Mr. Scrooge, I must compliment you on this most excellent party! Even Father is having a good time, and Mother usually has to drag him to such affairs! I do hope we can share a dance before the night is out.”

“That will be lovely, Miss Darcy,” Scrooge replied. “I wonder if you might introduce me to your friend.” He was probably being terribly rude. Scrooge knew very little about the rules of polite society, having shunned it for so long.

“Certainly!” Miss Darcy drew herself up in a regal manner. “Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, allow me to present Mrs. Jane Crichton.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Mrs. Crichton said, extending her hand. Scrooge took it.

“Forgive my question, but was your maiden name ‘Wilkins?’”

Jane’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “As a matter of fact, it was. But how on Earth did you know that?”

Scrooge suddenly felt very, very old.

“I believe I knew your mother,” Scrooge said. “Long ago. Mrs. Belle Wilkins.”

Jane smiled. “That is my mother, indeed, you have a very good eye for faces, Mr. Scrooge.”

For your mother’s face, certainly. Scrooge smiled, because he was the host, and that was what a host did. He smiled and laughed and made sure everybody had a good time, and all the while, his head swam.

Belle. Belle Wilkins. Belle Somerset when Scrooge had known her, been engaged to her. Lost her.

After finishing his promised dance with Miss Darcy, Scrooge took himself off the dance floor. He went to the punch bowl, filled a cup, and drained it in something of a hurry. He felt shaken, and he could not say why.

He turned around, intending to go outside again, get some more air in him.

A woman was looking at him. She was clad in a bright green gown. She was no longer young; her hair was grayed and her eyes were tired, but she was no less lovely to Scrooge’s eyes.

“Ebenezer Scrooge,” Belle murmured.

 

 

Stave Three

 

The Old Wound

 

They stared at one another for what seemed like an age.

“It’s been a long time,” Belle said.

“Very long,” Scrooge replied.

“Mother!” Jane Crichton approached and embraced Belle. “There you are, I was so hoping that you would come.”

“Oh, yes,” Belle said, smiling at her daughter. “I wanted to see this for myself.”

“And you’ve found Mr. Scrooge!”

“I certainly did.”

Scrooge wondered if, were he simply to break into a run, the women would pursue him down the street.

“So!” Jane said brightly. “You never said how you knew my mother, Mr. Scrooge.”

“We... knew each other when we were young. We were friends.”

Belle gazed at Scrooge, as though she could take the measure of his soul by sight alone. “Oh, we were more than friends. Much more.”

Jane looked from her mother to Scrooge and back. “Why don’t we all sit down?”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Scrooge said quickly, desperate to be anywhere than in the presence of Belle Wilkins. “I should check up on the other guests, make sure everything is running smoothly…“ It sounded like nonsense to his own ears; he could only imagine how they heard it.

“Oh, surely not,” Belle said. “Things seem to be running quite smoothly enough without your interference, and you and I have so much to catch up on, don’t we?”

Jane Crichton was a very intelligent woman, and so knew when the getting was good. “Well,“ she said. “I should return to my friends. I think young Mr. Knightley has designs towards Lydia and—”

“Yes, dear,” Belle said, not taking her eyes off Scrooge. “Enjoy yourself.”

Jane was gone very quickly, leaving Scrooge squirming under the gaze of his former fiancée. It occurred to him that he had nothing to be ashamed of; after all, Belle had broken off the engagement, not him… but still, when she looked at him, he felt like a prisoner in the dock, under the eye of a stern judge.

They stepped over to a pair of empty chairs, and sat, and watched one another warily.

“Your daughter is quite charming,” Scrooge said, before the silence could drive him mad.

“She loves to dance.” Belle looked around. “This used to be Fezziwig’s, was it not? Have you absorbed it as well?”

“No. Just… just renting it for the evening.”

“Oh, of course,” Belle said bitingly. “Thrift is your greatest virtue.”

Scrooge drew himself up, the natural stiffness of an Englishman serving as a defense mechanism.

“If my company is so unpleasant to you, Mrs. Wilkins, I will be happy to leave you be.”

“You haven’t asked about Dick,” Belle said, her voice now very cool indeed.

Scrooge sighed. “How is Dick?”

“Dead.”

Scrooge’s mouth gaped open. “When?”

“When? He asks me when. It will be three years this March, Ebenezer, that’s when.”

Scrooge was stunned. He leaned back in his chair, the shock of it assaulting him. “But… I never heard of… I would have…”

”Would have what? Come to the funeral?”

“Of course!”

Belle’s eyes narrowed. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

“Remember what?”

“I sent a messenger,” Belle said, her voice never wavering. “To let you know that your oldest friend had been struck with death. The boy returned from your counting house an hour after being sent. He said before he could even give you the message, you started ranting about how you would not be giving a tip to any young man who trailed mud into your establishment. When the messenger tried to explain the urgency of his task, you threw a ruler at him.”

Scrooge became one gigantic wince. He placed a hand over his face, the incident coming back to him with startling clarity. He had hurled the ruler with great accuracy, raising a fine welt on the boy’s cheek.

“I remember…” And here Belle’s voice grew thick and choked, and she took a moment to compose herself. “I remember thinking how unfair it was. How monstrously unfair, that Dick, who was the kindest man in the world, never did a wrong turn to anybody, should be taken so young, and you…a villain like you…”

“I should go,” Scrooge murmured.

“…who takes and takes and brings nothing but pain to everyone around him—“ Belle stopped, putting a hand to her eyes. “It astonishes me that I ever loved you. It sickens me.”

“I should go,” Scrooge repeated.

“Oh, but I hear a great deal of you now,” Belle continued, rising out of her chair. “Old Scrooge is a changed man, I hear much of that. Old Scrooge is the best friend a man could have! As good a master and as good a man as good old London ever knew, that’s what they say about old Scrooge!” She stood over him, glaring at him, her eyes alight with rage. “Do you know what I think?”

“I have to go,” Scrooge moaned.

“I think you’ve realized that the end is near,” Belle hissed. “I think you know that your precious gold will avail you naught in the life to come! Do you think you can buy your way out of the devil’s grasp, Ebenezer? Do you truly think that?”

Scrooge rose to his feet with such speed that Belle had to take a staggering step backward.

“What do you know about it?” Scrooge said. “You talk of buying my way free of Hell, but I tell you I never bought my way out, I never even made an offer! How dare you speak to me, as though this were of my choosing! Do you think I set out to become a miser? Do you think I wanted to end my days in a cold, empty room with no comfort but the grave awaiting me, no mourners at my funeral, no one to take sorrow at my death? No!”

“What are you—“

“Dick Wilkins may have died younger than me, but by God he lived a better life, had a better life than I ever dreamed of! I had my gold, but he had family, and friends, and he had you!”

Scrooge caught his breath and looked at Belle, who was staring back, her rage replaced by confusion.

“I must go,” Scrooge said. He turned to do that, then just as suddenly turned back to the woman he had once loved, afraid that if he did not, he would never say the words.

“The day you left me, Belle…you were right. You were right about everything.”

He stalked off, found Fred by the door.

“Fred, I’m not feeling very well,” he said, not meeting his nephew’s eyes. “Please give everyone my apologies. I have to go.”

Fred opened his mouth to argue, then saw Scrooge’s face and decided against it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“Yes,” Scrooge said. It was almost a sigh. “Tomorrow. Merry Christmas.”

For the first time that night, those words felt hollow.

Ebenezer Scrooge marched out into the night.

 

Stave Four

 

A Pair of Conversations

 

Scrooge did not walk home. Not immediately, at least. His footsteps took him to a churchyard on the shabby side of London. The place was squeezed in by houses on either side, and its grounds were choked with leaves and weeds. Scrooge, his gait not quite steady, walked between the graves until he found an old, cracked stone. Taking his stained hankerchief, he brushed away the dirt and dust until the name MARLEY was clearly visible.

He took the bottle of whisky from his coat and laid it gently in front of the stone.

“Merry Christmas, Jacob,” Scrooge said. He waited. And waited. The only thing he heard was an occasional cry from one of the nearby houses.

“I tried to convince myself, you know,” he said. “I tried very hard. On Christmas morning, it’s easy to be swept up in peace on earth and goodwill toward men, but later you get the bills.” He chuckled. “If you saw how much I paid for this goose…”

The stone made no reply.

“That is your favorite, I think,” Scrooge said, regarding the bottle. “I seem to remember you ordering that more often than not.

“I tried to convince myself that it had all been a dream, Jacob. But you were, I think, a little too real not to believe in.”

Scrooge sighed. “You saved me, Jacob. I believe that with all my heart. Is there no way I can reciprocate?”

Silence.

“Will you not appear to me?”

Scrooge waited a long time, until it was clear that no, Jacob Marley would not be making an appearance this night.

“Merry Christmas, Jacob,” he said. “God save you.”

As Scrooge walked out of the graveyard, the first flakes of a Christmas snow began to fall.

 

*

 

It was late when he returned to his house. He should have gone upstairs and gone to bed, but instead he sat in his parlor, watching the fire and brooding.

Belle. If you had asked Scrooge, he would have said that he had not expended a single thought on his former fiancée since the day she walked out of his life…but he would have been lying, as all men do when asked questions of this type. He had thought about her, and thought about her, and thought about her until time and greed had scarred over his emotions.

Now, however, the wound had reopened…

Glingleglingleglingle. A bell was ringing somewhere in the house.

“Jacob?” Scrooge said out loud, before realizing that the bell was, in fact, the doorbell. He walked to the door, wondering who it could possibly at this hour, on this night.

His suspicions were confirmed when he opened the door and found Belle Wilkins standing outside, the snow swirling around her.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” he said.

“May I come in?”

“Why?”

She looked at him. “You really aren’t very good at talking to people, are you?”

“I fell out of practice.”

“For goodness’ sake, let me in so I can apologize properly, you great lout.”

Scrooge opened the door with an exaggerated bow. Belle entered, casting a look at the doorknocker as she did. It had caught her eye for no reason she could name.

He brought her into the parlor. They talked for quite some time. They talked about Dick, for to Scrooge, he was still freshly dead. They talked about Belle’s family, her daughters and sons and all her fine grandchildren. They talked about Belle’s life. They talked about this and that, and then Belle wanted to know about Scrooge.

“What did you mean back there?” she asked. “About your funeral?”

“…oh. It was nothing.”

“I do not think so,” Belle said. “You seem…not burdened, exactly, for you seem free of the hunger I once saw in you. Weary, perhaps.”

“It is very late.”

“Not that kind of weariness.”

Scrooge sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“You’ll think I’m mad,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’m mad.”

“You’re not mad,” Belle said. “Tell me your story.”

And so, for the first time, Scrooge told it. He told about Jacob Marley, and the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the things he had seen in his history that he could not un-see no matter how hard he tried, and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the way that kind spirit had touched Scrooge’s withered old heart, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who had shown Scrooge what awaited him with an accuracy that could not be doubted, and how he had changed, from Scrooge, the Miser to Scrooge, the Man.

“I don’t understand,” Belle said. “It seems to me you have received a great gift.”

“I have,” Scrooge replied. “But… I don’t know. Believe me, I am not ungrateful, nor do I regret the change that has come over me. It’s simply that…it’s hard not to look back on who I was and not be filled with regret. And the fact of the matter is, as much good as I have done and as much good as I will do, and as much as I enjoy the company of my family and my friends…when the parties are over and the dinners are finished and everyone has said their goodnights, I still come home to an empty house.” Scrooge looked at his guest with a wry smile. “I’m quite selfish, you know.”

“Ebenezer…” But Belle seemed unable to finish the thought, whatever it was.

He looked into the fire. “I hate the man I was, Belle. Is that uncharitable? Does it even make sense? I hate him, because he left me…broken, in a way. Because of him…because of his grasping and his greed and his villainy, I shall end my days alone. Oh, I may hold my nephew’s hand as I breathe my last, and I may have friends to weep for me when they lower me into the ground, but in the way which matters most…the way that you and Dick shared…I will remain alone.”

“Humbug.”

Scrooge looked back at Belle and nearly burst out laughing at the pejorative.

“Listen to yourself,” she said. “You’re mourning a life that you never had, just as you railed against that same life for years and years. Neither course of action will ever avail you anything, Mr. Scrooge. It seems to me that you have made much of this new life of yours, but now it’s time to stop brooding over the old.

“Think about it. Ebenezer Scrooge—the old Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser, the sinner—is dead. Wasn’t that what the spirit told you? He was meant to die tonight. If the shadows had gone unchanged, you would be lying dead in that bed right now, and your charwoman would be making off with practically everything you own…”

Scrooge chuckled a dark little chuckle at that. “Yes…yes, I see what you mean.”

Belle stood. “Don’t mourn the man you were, Ebenezer. Just live. Live as the man you are.”

The hour being quite late at this point, Scrooge showed Belle to the door and called her a cab. It may be that he arranged to meet her on some other day, perhaps to talk about old times, perhaps to plan new ones…but this story is not that story, and so you may make your own conclusions.

 

Stave Five

 

The Last of the Errands

 

Christmas morning came with bells and cheers and children’s laughter, all of which were nearly swallowed up by the snow. It took Scrooge some time to make his way through the snow-filled streets to the Cratchit home, especially as he was laden with several brightly colored packages. By the time he reached their front door, he was quite tired indeed, and he was glad he had convinced the Cratchits to move house as well.

He knocked once before the door was thrown open, and something small and fast had its arms wrapped around his legs.

“Uncle Scrooge!” cried Tiny Tim. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, my boy!” Scrooge replied. “Come now, be a good lad and help me get these gifts under the tree.”

Tiny Tim took one of the boxes from Scrooge and walked over to the tree. He still had a limp, the result of using a crutch since he was old enough to walk. But the boy was strong and fast and growing stronger and faster, and of this Scrooge was justly proud. He had footed the bill for a series of increasingly expensive doctors who had eventually discovered a disease in the boy’s kidneys. Tim had responded well to the treatment, and now, to Scrooge’s joy, he was a normal, healthy boy again.

“Did you go to church this morning, Uncle Scrooge?” Tiny Tim asked as he led the man into the Cratchits’ dining room.

“I did indeed,” Scrooge replied. “And did you, I hope?”

“Everyone was so surprised to see me without my crutch!” Tim said.

“I’ll bet they were,” Scrooge said, and he scooped up the child. “Are you having a merry Christmas, my boy?”

Tiny Tim nodded fervently.

“So am I,” Scrooge said. As he walked towards the dining room, he reflected that he and the boy had one thing very much in common…now, they were both living on borrowed time. Scrooge shivered to think of that vision, of the empty crutch propped up in the corner of the Cratchits’ old house, as though it was the only thing holding up the walls.

“I got you something for Christmas!” Tiny Tim said.

“Did you?” Scrooge replied. “What did you get me?”

“You have to wait ‘til after dinner,” the boy said. “It’s a surprise.”

Scrooge stepped into the dining room and set the boy down. As he greeted Bob, and Mrs. Cratchit, and Peter and Belinda and Martha and the two younger Cratchits whose names he could never get straight, he was filled with pleasure at the sight of them.

It is worth it, he thought as they said grace. If I did nothing else in my life but help these good people…it is worth it.

 

*

 

Later, when the goose had been sufficiently devoured and the presents had been opened, Scrooge excused himself, for he had to visit Fred and his family, but he begged Bob’s indulgence for a few moments, and they stepped out into the street.

“What’s the matter, Mr. Scrooge?” Bob asked as they walked towards the counting house. “Was there something wrong with my figures? There was something wrong with my figures, wasn’t there?”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong, Bob, nothing at all. There’s just a bit of business that came up late yesterday, and I need your signature is all.”

Bob accepted this, but he still looked worried as Scrooge led him through the streets. Scrooge had to smile at the poor fellow. Perhaps he’ll be less inclined to fret once he sees it.

When they reached the counting house, the sign outside was covered with snow. Scrooge grinned. He could not have wished for a more fortuitous arrangement.

“Yesterday, I had some painters by the office,” Scrooge said. “I wanted to have them do some work on the sign.”

“Oh! Are you painting out Mr. Marley’s name at last, sir?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Scrooge reached out with his walking stick and tapped away the snow from the sign. In a moment, it stood revealed, glistening in the light.

Scrooge and Cratchit.

Bob looked at it, not quite sure what it meant. He looked to his employer for some explanation.

“You have kept this place in business this past year, Bob,” Scrooge said, “and you’ve shown yourself to be a man of numbers. There is no one else I would rather have as my partner.”

“Mr. Scrooge…”

“Ebenezer,” Scrooge said.

“Eb— Mister— I can’t possibly, I…” Bob looked at his hands. “This is too much…”

“There’s a contract inside,” Scrooge said. “A legally binding contract making you an equal partner in the firm.”

Bob looked up. “Are you sure, Mr. Scr— Ebenezer?”

“Quite sure, Bob.”

Bob looked at his new partner for a long moment. Then, he reached out and shook the older man’s hand.

“Thank you, Ebenezer.”

“Don’t thank me, Bob. You earned it.”

They stepped inside and walked to Scrooge’s desk, where the contract was hidden.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Mr. Sc— I’ll never get used to that…what exactly made you…I mean, why now?”

“Why?” Scrooge smiled and thought about it for a moment. “Because the old me is dead. Because I’m someone else.” He signed the contract and gave it to Bob. “Merry Christmas, Bob.”

Bob Cratchit signed the contract with a flourish.

“Merry Christmas, Ebenezer.”