Appeared in the North Shore News – December 20, 2013
No sooner had Ebenezer Scrooge’s amazing revelation and conversion occurred than he discovered the belief that no good deed goes unpunished.
Scrooge’s widely reported initial conjecture that the apparition of his dead partner Jacob Marley was attributable to “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato” had damaged the meat, mustard, cheese and potato businesses, or so each claimed.
His transformation from hard skinflint to generous employer alarmed fellow businessmen, fearing their clerks would be emboldened to demand raises like Bob Cratchit’s. He was shunned and his business boycotted.
And Scrooge’s philanthropy in paying for Tiny Tim’s leg operation touched off an explosion of charitable requests, from the Home for Aged Oxcart Drivers to the Alliance for Support to Distressed Gentlefolk. Begging letters flooded through the mail slot at his office, and there was so little regular business that Bob Cratchit’s labours were largely spent answering them.
A further affliction was an inquiry into Scrooge’s controversial experience by the London Society for Psychical Research. He testified and was crossexamined by skeptical scientists (who looked almost as grim and transparent as Marley had) about the veracity of his account. They then huddled, discussed, bickered, and after several years issued a report. Their decision: “Inconclusive!” Scrooge thus lost his fortune – ironically, he received charitable aid from the two gentlemen soliciting alms for the destitute whom he had spurned on the very day before he was visited by the Three Ghosts. He retained only his home, which he converted to a boarding house, whose rents he strived to keep affordably low, and was frequently cheated by his tenants.
Sadly, grateful Bob and his wife died early. Tim Cratchit, restored to robust health through Scrooge’s benefaction, decided to seek his fortune in one of the equatorial colonies. He could barely afford the passage. But on the morning he sailed Scrooge appeared at the dock. He insisted on pressing a five-pound note into Tim’s protesting hand.
One Christmas Eve, Scrooge crept to his cold bed after a supper of the cheapest cut of beef, the last lick of mustard from the jar, a sliver of cheese, and a diseased potato the stove could barely heat. He fell asleep. He had a dream in which a handsome, richly dressed and confidence-oozing Man appeared.
“Ebenezer, my friend, I am leaving my card here on the night table. Come and see me in the morning and I will guarantee you a partnership that will make you wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. To be sure, we will have to cut corners here and there.”
Scrooge looked searchingly at the Man and slowly shook his head. The Man shrugged and vanished.
Instantly there appeared in his stead a Woman in scarlet robes, of indescribable beauty, so dazzling that Scrooge shaded his eyes. She spread herself voluptuously on the bedspread. “Ebenezer,” she breathed, slowly rubbing his cheek, “come with me and you will experience every sensual pleasure earth has to offer, and then some. And you will have youth, eternal youth, to enjoy them.”
Scrooge shook his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them the Woman had gone. Instead there stood a Child, in the distance and so wreathed in fog-like clouds that his features were hardly distinguishable. Scrooge squinted and stared hard but could see no clearer. He took a step toward the Child and woke up. He said nothing about his dream.
Meanwhile Tim had arrived at his destination. He went into a store near the docks to buy proper clothes for the heat. A man behind the counter stood with his head in his hands.
Tim quietly coughed and the man looked up abruptly. He apologized.
“I had the money in the till to pay the rent,” he explained. “One of my employees stole it, and the landlord says he will turn me out if I can’t pay it.”
Tim thought a moment. He took out his five-pound note. “I will give you the money if in return you give me a job here,” he said.
The man gladly agreed.
The business flourished. Soon the landlord was bought out. The store became known for its quality goods and fairness. There was money to expand. Tim Cratchit prospered. Years passed. He married and had a child. But he felt a yearning to return home.
When he and his little family arrived he immediately sought out Scrooge’s home. He explained to his child that they were going to where a very great man lived, who had helped him when he was young. The child smiled. And, to Tim’s surprise, as they approached Scrooge’s house the child ran ahead and up the steps, as if he knew it.
Scrooge was in bed. He was very old and weak. But he half-lifted himself when Tim and the child came into the room. Scrooge smiled happily. “Mr. Scrooge, I owe so much to you. You are like a grandfather to me. And here is my son.”
The child let go of his father’s hand and ran forward. He looked steadfastly into Scrooge’s eyes. He took the old man’s hand. And in that instant Ebenezer Scrooge had his second great revelation.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013