Scrooge’s funeral occurred at half-past noon on the twenty first of November 1863, three and score years after his strange change in personality that one Christmas night. Such a change of such a publicly known miser had been a source of London gossip ever since; whispers and rumours and murmurs and burbles and babbles and tittle-tattle spread from the houses he rented to workers to the cosy holes of the middle class to his fellow money lenders in their counting houses, and the words had not followed their subject into the grave.
George Malthan, owner of a large weaving company and an old acquaintance of Scrooge, arrived to the wake clasping a card of invitation, carefully written in the hand of a long time banker. The funeral was well attended, albeit not necessarily by those Gregory expected to be there. Scrooge’s long time clerk and confident Cratchit had spoken at the front of the room at length about his deceased employer, his elderly voice cracking and too weak for Malthus to catch more that one word in three. In the first row of the pews the rest of the Cratchits sat in the seats usually reserved for family, the youngest son Timothy holding himself upright on his crutches even as he sobbed. Behind them, the man’s tenants rubbed shoulders with his fellow landlords, not a single one of them sure what facial expressions which they should wear. Afterwards, over a pleasant luncheon, Malthus and his colleagues discussed, once again, the matter of Scrooge.
George Malthan, it should be mentioned here, thought that Scrooge’s new attitude to be a fine improvement on the man, who George had first met as a young apprentice. George considered himself a reasonable, cheery sort of man, quick with a joke and a smile, a friend to all he met. He hardly ever met the workers of his mills. On a personal level, he had found the reborn (as he had called himself) Scrooge a great improvement on the old, at least until one June day Scrooge had inquired about the conditions at his factories, which George considered perfectly decent; in fact, he considered them excellent, and he told Scrooge such himself. An argument ensued, with Scrooge steadily frosting back over, until George had felt he was not standing in summer but rather some harsh localised winter, Scrooge’s sharp words and frozen eyes scoring over George’s soul and mind. They had not spoken since until Scrooge had written to George in July of this year, asking to meet him again. Scrooge explained, over a meagre meal (Ebenezer had never shook the habit of his personal misery; his home was still as carefully frugal as ever) that he was on his death bed, and would soon be dead. He said this casually while tearing a piece of bread for his soup. George asked him first if this was a joke (he was assured, it wasn’t), and then why Scrooge had called him here. Scrooge raised his spoon to his lips. “To get the measure of you.” And said no more.
A number of other factory and mine owners and landlords had had similar encounters with the man in the months leading to his death. All of them felt that the man had not been preparing for death, but rather seemed to be planning some new venture. A venture, they all agreed, had ended with his death as prophesized. George agreed with them, although there was one detail he hadn’t mentioned. Written on his invitation for the funeral, in shaky but recognisable handwriting was an additional note.
I look forward to seeing you come Christmas.
George returned home that evening feeling more confident. He had the invitation disposed of and returned to his work.
November soon ended, and the winter season once again descended over London, snow and soot mixing on the streets. December was a busy time for the looms; much demand for more cotton for winter clothing and blankets, and George was all too willing to oblige. The factories churned and the workers toiled and George carefully watched each column of incoming cotton and outgoing fabric, payments and expenses and profit, the last of which he carefully put aside some of each week for his family’s Christmas feast. In church each sunday advent was rolled out, a red carpet for a baby in a barn. In the haze of numbers (and indeed, the more literal haze of London), George forgot entirely about the strange note from a dead man. Christmas eve arrived, and with it his family. George had no children, but enjoyed playing the host to his kin, his nieces and nephews he enjoyed spoiling behind his siblings’ back. George Malthan thought Christmas an excellent time of the year indeed.
By late evening on Christmas eve George and his eldest brother were alone in the great armchairs of George’s chambers, the fire burning low. With one last enjoyable biscuit, the brother departed, and now Malthan, with a stretch and a yawn, decided to turn in for the night, the fire dying in the grate.
The clock hands ticked over past midnight, and it was now the day of Christmas itself. The fire in the grate suddenly relight, and the room was suddenly full of light and warmth. Under his thick winter covers Malthan boiled and sweated, until finally he woke. As he blinked in the firelight streaming through the curtains surrounding his bed, he realised that someone had joined in his chambers, and was sitting in his armchair in front of the fire. He rose, and, after a moment’s pause where he clumsily searched for a weapon, finding none, he peeked out into the room.
Sitting in his recently vacated armchair was Ebenezer Scrooge, warming his hands in front of the fire. The man was dressed in a simple dressing gown and nightcap, looking as old as Malthan had last seen him, but such details were ignore given the strange, unearthly pallor and fading appearance of the man. But what was worse was the chains. Long, terrible chains, circling around Scrooge’s body, lock boxes and safes hanging from them. Some disappeared into the shadows of the room, while others cut across the floor, vanishing under furniture.
The spectre seemed unperturbed by this. “Ah, excellent, Malthan, you are awake. Please, sit down. We have business to discuss.” He raised a hand and gestured to the other seat, sending the chains attached to the limb to rattle and shake.
Malthan staggered out from his bed, surprise carrying him from behind his curtains before he realised it.
“Don’t look so surprised. I gave you notice I was coming, did I not?” Scrooge’s tone was light, but his face was as stern as that June day.
Malthan swallowed, and pulled himself upright, trying to determine how best to respond. His fingers fumbled and touched his Bible’s leathery cover on his bedside table. “You are just a phantom. A trick. You should not be here.” He raised the bible in front of him. “You should move on. Go. Now!”
Scrooge raised an eyebrow, and muttered something about gravy, or possibly graves. “That book will not banish me, if that is what you are hoping. I am here on its writer’s behalf, in a way.” He crossed one leg over the other, the chains rattling and tugging at him. “I am now merely the lowest of a group of spirits you shall be meeting tonight. They will explain their own purposes in time. As for my part, I wish to discuss our chains.”
Malthan clenched his hands, flexing his unbound wrists. “Your chains, you mean?”
“Oh no, our chains. We share a very similar set, you and I, although I worry yours might be crueller.” The phantom rose from the chair, and stared at George eye to eye. “This chains are built by our sins and cruelties towards our fellows.”
“What sins? You were a model of a man for the last twenty years, and I am a kind and generous fellow. Ask anyone who knows me!”
“Ah yes. Anyone who knows you. Or rather, anyone you know personally. Anyone who you have deemed to be worth. Listen!” Scrooge spoke, and Malthan felt the world go silent. “You have played the game of a spider, weaving a thread to connect yourself to hundreds, thousands, who you pretend are nothing but flies! You show kindness to those you know, kindness towards those you deem worthy, a kindness built of the toil and death of your kin on this planet! You celebrate your family’s Christmas while your factory mills still toil and devour! Yours is a chain made in your looms, built of biting machinery, cotton threads and the hands of those who worked on them. It is a cruel chain indeed you wear, and that will tie you to this realm when you die, unless you change now.”
“Then what of your chains spirit, or Scrooge, or whoever you might be. What did you build your chains from?”
“Coins. Pennies ripped from a beggar’s hand. A rather popular chain among the unquiet dead above London. I built my chain over years. It only stopped extending after the meeting with the three spirits you will meet tonight. Listen to them Malthan, and you may not find yourself so tightly bound as you are now destined to be.”
Even in front of the spectre’s icy anger, Malthan scoffed, although it was more from an attempt to hide his fear than actual cocksureness. “And what good did following them do you? All of that good you did, making sure we all saw what a changed man you are, and You stand here, still bound! Perhaps I should call a priest and have you released from your drudgery on this earth, that might be a better favour. Call it a final Christmas Gift!”
Scrooge gave him a look that Malthan couldn’t place. “I was able to break some.” He held up a short chain, attached to his collar. “This was my sin towards the Cratchits. I was able to make amends for this at least. But the rest of them…” He spread his arms wide, the chains rippling and clanking so loudly Malthan had to cover his ears. “This chains I could not remove. Whether because the ones I hurt to build them chose not to let me go that easily, or because I was unable to atone for them, these remain. But, what the spirit’s lesson did do was to strength my soul. I cannot undo these chains because I cannot undo the wounds I made. But my actions since then make it easier for me to move. These chains bind me only because I chose to be bond. I took on the commission of my old partner to allow him to leave to Heaven, while I walk the Earth in search of wretches like you to be saved. Listen Malthan, and listen well!”
Scrooge stepped into the air as if mounting a stage and stared down at George. “Not matter if you heed my warning or not, let this message be clear. You shall be visited by three spirits this night! Without these visits you cannot hope for salvation, or to understand why you must change your ways! Expect the first ghost tonight, when the bell toils one!”
And with a final clatter of chains, Scrooge disappeared, and the clock continued clicking towards an inevitable meeting.