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Scrooge receives a Christmas surprise

by Santari Green 10 months ago in Short Story · updated 10 months ago
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the story that Charles Dickens didn't write

Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

Scrooge receives a Shock

Marley was dead – Scrooge had made sure of that; a swift thrust with the rusty knife that they had peeled potatoes with … straight to the heart. Poor Marley had looked at him; a strange look, wondering, questioning, until he had keeled over – dead! Quite dead. Oh yes. Scrooge had made sure of that. Meticulous, as always, he had taken the precaution of wearing the old butchers apron splattered with blood and those mouldy old gloves, ready to be thrust now into some grimy hole far from prying eyes. Just to be sure that he couldn't be implicated.

Poor Marley. Jacob ‘skinflint’ Marley. He had been a capital business partner. There had not been his like when it came to counting farthings or wheedling the ha’pence from some poor widow. And that same miserly attitude was equally at home fingering the gold sovereigns that he squirrelled away under his mattress (soon to be transferred to Scrooge's own). He could always teach Scrooge a thing or two when it came to business deals … and collecting on late payments. Didn't he have a fine debt collection agency still in operation, led by that thug Bill Sykes and ably assisted by light-fingered Fagin? Ah! thick as thieves were those two. Scrooge smiled to himself; perhaps one of them would take the fall for Marley's death.

He looked at the body with its apologetic blood stain. Why had he done it? Marley had been a good friend, if friendship could describe their relationship – perhaps tolerance would be a better word to use. Yes, Marley had been a tolerable fellow; had kept himself to himself; had even been more abstemious than Scrooge, permitting himself no luxuries of heat, light, hot food, or mulled wine. Scrooge cringed at that last thought, for mulled wine was his favourite allowance. I should make myself a mulled wine directly, he thought, before I leave here to make an alibi for myself.

Just then he heard the clock bell strike the hour. What! The best part of an hour gone already, and he was still beside the body; still here! He began to fret. It was as if he couldn't move his feet or hands … hands that gripped the chair as if paralysed … knuckles, he now noticed, looking deathly white. He looked across at the unmoving form of Jacob Marley, deceased, late of this world and whose face was also deathly white.

The last chime of the noon bell faded. Scrooge lent forward, as if to bid Marley a last farewell, when... suddenly... there was a sharp rap at the door. Scrooge jumped. He felt a lump in his throat as he caught his breath. Trapped! He should have gone an hour ago, his alibi made, but now he was trapped. Doubtless this was a caller for Marley. Maybe it was Bill come a'calling with another debt payment. Damn him! Trapped I may be, thought Scrooge, but not yet caught.

Off came the gloves and apron, shoved into a heavy chest in a corner of the room. A quick glance at the knife still sticking in Marley's chest. No, I 'll leave it there, he thought, to make it seem a crime of opportunity – though the real reason hung in the air, taunting him with the accusation that his murderous hands couldn't face touching the body again.

He left the room, wildly, knocking over a chair and hitting his elbow on the door frame. His curse sounded through the still house. Again, another rap at the door. Perhaps a bit louder than before, thought Scrooge, as he thrust a few valuables into a sack. Best make it look like a robbery gone awry – and with that he fled out the back door, leaving it wide open in his haste, filling his lungs with the icy cold air of a London in mourning for the late departed Jacob Marley.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was some hours later before Scrooge gathered enough courage to return home to the gloomy tenement that he shared with Marley. He was expecting to see a crowd outside the house – the curious, the shocked, maybe a mob thirsting for justice. He wasn't sure of his reception but hoped that his sober reputation would somehow grant him immunity from the unwavering gaze of the ‘peelers’ and the gossiping tongues of the locals. Surely, he was beyond suspicion, for was he not a respectable member of the community – incapable of murder? He had built this vision of people thronging the street outside his house so strong in his mind, that, as he turned the last corner, it came as a shock to find very few souls about on this late Sunday afternoon.

He was amazed; surely someone must have entered the house and discovered the body … that persistent caller at the door … but no, it seemed that the crime was not yet public knowledge. Scrooge was both relieved and apprehensive, for now he must look upon Marley's body again and summon whatever nerve he could to alert the police.

Inside the house, he hesitated awhile before going to Marley's room, loitering on the threshold, fearing to approach the body with the knife still protruding from its chest. So, it was some minutes before his eyes caught sight of a note lying close to the body. Pricked by curiosity, he shuffled over and picked up the scrap of paper. It contained just one word. Though quite familiar with penmanship, Scrooge was perplexed as to what that word might be –

inoudunim

He had never come across this word before. The writing was a scrawl: the letters irregularly formed by some illiterate hand; the paper smudged and blotted with ink; and the spacing between the letters tightly cramped, as if the writer had not known how to hold a quill. Scrooge fancied that if he checked Marley's office next door then he would find the aforementioned quill carelessly cast aside.

He read the word over and over, and then had the brilliant thought to speak each letter out loud. After much repetition, the sounds of the letters formed a phrase that gave him a chill, almost as if he had received a death threat. “I know you dun him,” he read aloud – and with that Scrooge stuffed the note in his pocket and slumped into a chair.

Scrooge has a Confrontation

When he had recovered his wits sufficiently, Scrooge called to an urchin in the street to fetch a bobby. He instructed the lad with a farthing to say that Ebenezer Scrooge wished to report a robbery of a substantial amount of money. No need to alert anyone just yet of the murder, thought Scrooge. Perhaps talk of theft will divert suspicion onto the fictitious burglar.

Some minutes later there was a knock upon the door. A stout, cheery-faced man, looked back at him. He has the face of a cherub, thought Scrooge, innocent and not yet worldly-wise.

“Mr … ah … Mr … um … Mr ah um –”

“Scrooge!” Scrooge snapped testily.

“Ah yes, Mr ah Scrooge. I believe that you wish to report a crime.”

Scrooge smiled to himself, the man was not very bright, and it was likely that he would not ask many searching questions. Best to lead with the alibi and make brief mention of the robbery, before letting the body tell the rest of the story.

He paused for a moment after closing the door behind them. A moment of rare reflection. Just what was Scrooge’s story? What had led him to this moment? It was not his fault, surely, that he had earned a miserly reputation at a time when many lived wretched lives. Wretched in the sense that they were poor, malnourished, uneducated, despised by the rich, stripped of all dignity and condemned to live lives of servitude. People starved of acts of kindness and who sought oblivion in drink lest they dwell upon unending years of penury leading to a pauper’s grave.

Small wonder, mused Scrooge, that love was a dangerous thing. Small acts of kindness were jeered at, whilst the constant threat of physical brutality kept the poor in their place. Born into such circumstances, then, it was no wonder that he, Ebenezer Scrooge, was hated and feared, like his father before him. Was he not a figurehead of a society that kept the wheels of the workhouse turning? Surely, he could no more change any part of it than he could part with his purse. Scrooge shivered. Such a thought, such a strange and unwelcome thought, that he instinctively felt in his pocket for the bag of coins that should be there.

Such was his burden of fear; such was his lack of compassion for those who wished for a better life.

Scrooge loathed fear. Did all that he could to keep it at bay. Became ever more wary of commotions in the street under his bedroom window. What if the window got broken? Who in this grimy and low-class neighbourhood could afford to pay? Perhaps he should brick up all the windows – that would give him peace – and fix more bolts on the door. A few pennies so spent would make him sleep easier. But he never slept well. He would rather brave the freezing cold at night than fall victim to a warm blanket or be tempted to coax a fire in his empty grate. The house always felt like a tomb, but Scrooge preferred it that way; like Marley, he had become accustomed to denying himself pleasure, and so had never known the difference between desire and necessity.

Until now.

He could feel a growing desire for his life to return to the cold harshness of normality. But it was striving – yes, striving – against some force that was prompting him to go in another direction. Go away, said Scrooge to himself, I’m comfortable with my lot, and nothing will shake me from it. And then the thought of what he’d done – the awful, bloody, unexplained murder – attacked his surety, and his bluster collapsed as he realised that he could not go back to who he was before.

It came upon him suddenly, the awfulness of the crime and the threat to his place in society. For, to defend his position, he must now become a liar as well as murderer.

They gathered around the body; hands clasped in front of them as if ready for prayer. They were silent at first, as if giving the body a show of respect, as if waiting for the cold lips of the corpse to start moving and relate the course of events of the past few hours. But life would no longer flow through those veins to discourse with them. Finally, the bobby broke the silence.

“So, you found him dead when you returned home. Is that right, sir?”

“Yes, yes. Dead as a doornail he was.”

“And the back door was ajar, you say?”

“Perhaps the robber entered that way, or perhaps he called at the front door with some story of not being able to pay his debt.”

“Ah. So, then this might be someone known to Mr Marley? A debtor then?”

“Quite so, quite so. Someone desperate. Desperate enough to kill and make themselves rich.”

“Hmm,” the bobby scratched his chin thoughtfully, “so there must be a list of debtors. That is where I should start.”

“Of course, of course. Just so.” Scrooge exhaled sharply. He felt relief and could not suppress it. He looked quickly at the bobby’s face, but the man was already occupied in looking at the knife, never suspecting that the murderer might still be in the room.

This was going much easier than Scrooge expected. A few minutes more to this charade and then the undertaker would be called for and the body removed. And the outside world would be looking for a robber-turned-murderer.

But a voice disturbed his reverie. A familiar voice. Scrooge looked at the body; it’s lips were still frozen. Not Marley then… but if not… then who?

Pondering this, he shifted his attention to the bobby, now rifling through Marley’s pockets. The sight made him uneasy. What would he find? Was there more evidence of his guilt? Feverishly, Scrooge felt in his pocket for the scrap of paper that he had found by the body earlier... but it was not there! Scrooge was seized with fear.

Again, he heard that voice. Yes, it seemed to say, what will he find that will incriminate you? And what will you give that he doesn’t find it?

A chill spread down Scrooge’s spine. He shivered uncontrollably. Was the room getting colder? An icy cold was spreading through his body. He wanted to cry out, but he couldn’t move his tongue. He felt trapped. All he could do was to watch the bobby produce a scrap of paper from the dead man’s pocket and hold it up for closer inspection.

And now the sweat beads on his forehead, accompanying the uncomfortable gnawing in his stomach. There will be questions: some questions that he will not be able to answer, and some questions that he will not want to answer.

Then the bobby slowly turned his gaze upon Scrooge and spoke, in a low, menacing voice.

“Well, now, what do we have here?”

It’s all too much, Scrooge thinks to himself. Air, he gasps in the panic of his mind, I need air.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You’ve had a nasty shock sir,” the bobby told Scrooge when the latter regained consciousness. “A delayed shock, no doubt, from seeing your dead partner, and only to be expected.”

The bobby helped him off the floor where he had fallen in a faint and into a chair, and then the administration of a large brandy was like a splash of cold water to his face. As if the events of the past few hours had been a dream, and now he was awake.

“What did you find in his pocket?” queried Scrooge apprehensively.

“Well, sir,” replied the bobby, “It’s a most peculiar riddle, to be sure. It makes no sense to me, none at all.”

The bobby handed over what Scrooge thought was the incriminating evidence, but when Scrooge looked at it, he was greatly surprised. He read it to himself silently and then aloud.

Beware the second coming!

“Beware the second coming,” Scrooge repeated.

“What do you think that means, sir.”

“I have no idea,” said Scrooge, surprised at his own mellowness, “but I don’t like it at all. Not one bit.”

Scrooge receives a Visitation

Marley’s body was no longer in the house. The undertaker had whisked it away and the silence of the tomb had returned. Nobody had suspected his deceit. Nobody had questioned his alibi. He should have been relieved but, disturbingly, Scrooge was beset by unanswered questions.

Something had disturbed him greatly and he wasn’t sure what that was. He knew only that the sequence of events of that day seemed so unreal. He could not reconcile the thought of himself as a murderer, and therefore the murder itself was in doubt. The whole sequence of events surrounding it seemed blurred.

He tossed and turned in his bed. The ‘why’ haunted Scrooge, seemingly each hour on the hour, and, no matter how hard he sought to distance himself from the crime, he was inevitably drawn back to contemplate it from every conceivable angle – returning always to the question of ‘why’. Why did it happen? Why did Marley have to die? Where did the knife come from? Why did he have trouble in remembering the act itself? It was all a dream – surely?

It wasn’t as if anybody had cared about Marley. There was nobody to mourn him. No-one to care whether he lived or died.

He thought about it. But no, to think about the plight of others was an effort. Something drew him back. He felt a physical recoil, not really a disdain or disgust, more like a… a… an ache somewhere deep aside. Fiddlesticks, he said to himself, there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s all nonsense. But he was aware that something had changed, was still changing.

Late that night, Scrooge fancied that he heard a scratching at his bedroom door; a cruel mocking sound, he thought, from those who haunt the living. Surely, though, it was not Marley. The dead could easily pass through walls, silently, translucently – threateningly! So, Scrooge mused, trembling, as he inched his thin coverlet over his face. If only the candle didn’t flicker so wildly, sending shadows this way and that over the room.

Scrooge looked about feverishly for some comfort or means of assistance that might keep away any dark thoughts from reaching him. Marley would so enjoy his current discomfiture. But hark! Was that a knock? Was there a heavy breathing outside the door? No, no, no! He was dead – he must still be in the morgue, still tied to his body somehow.

But the slow turning of the door knob was more than Scrooge could bear. Fear and courage mixed as one. With no deadlier a weapon than the candle he rushed across the room, seized the door knob, flung the door open … and then wished he hadn’t.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was usual to see his breath as clouds of vapour at this time of year. But the cold that he felt on the landing was unlike anything he had ever experienced: piercing, biting, clawing its way into his lungs; setting his teeth a’chattering. Surely, he thought, no place could be colder. Perhaps, this was hell! And then he caught sight of the white, ghostly figure at the top of the stairs.

“M… M… M... Marley… is that you?” he stammered.

“Aye, it is,” the figure replied, and then it moved an arm to show a long length of chain that clinked and clanked and thudded against the wooden floor.

“Upon my soul,” exclaimed Scrooge, “you’re dead, you’re dead, I already killed you.”

“Indeed, you did … and I am returned.”

Scrooge felt his legs give way. This was a haunting. He had heard of such a thing but had dismissed such tales with a pompous ‘humbug’. Gawd. So, it was true after all... that the living could be visited by the dead.

“Ooh,” moaned Scrooge, and hid his head in his hands. After a minute he raised his head to see the spectre of Jacob Marley still there.

“Why do you bind yourself with those chains?” asked Marley.

“Chains, chains?” repeated Scrooge, confused and baffled. “It is you that are so bound. Listen to how those links clank together. Have you not the wit to see that?”

“Fool, thrice fool,” thundered Marley, “dash the sleep from your eyes. You don’t realise the danger you are in. Your chains are invisible, but that makes them all the more dangerous. You think you see what’s in front of you but truly you understand nothing of what wraps itself around you even now.”

Scrooge was dismayed, partly by Marley’s ferocity but partly by the realisation that he might be right. Marley would rarely disclose his thoughts or feelings to anyone and had not uttered a civil word to him in all the years he had known him. But perhaps the other side of the veil held promise of redemption. Perhaps he had cared, in some manner, about Scrooge after all.

“Why are you here, Jacob?” he asked, noticing a strange intimacy in his voice and speech.

“I have not been a good man and have never done a good deed in my life. But I have seen the error of my ways and, henceforth, I will endeavour to follow a path of redemption. Redemption, I say, that shall release me from the chains with which I have bound myself.”

Scrooge could feel the weight of those chains and fancied that he knew every link of his own life sentence, as if his own chain were a necklace that hung heavy around his neck. Every link carrying a pang of regret at what had been and what might have been – the loss of his mother in childbirth, the unrelenting harshness of his father, his failures at courtship, and realising that every relationship that he had forged had been devoid of kindness, love and affection.

“It’s too much; it’s too much to bear,” he cried. “What can I do to release my chains?”

“You must forgo your life of want, for what you deny yourself is what you most need. Spend some of your hoarded coin to see what pleasure it might bring you. And when you do so then think of those around you who might also benefit from your bounty. When you reduce the burdens of others then, in turn, you will see that your own burdens will lighten. Now return to your bed to think on these words and arise a better man in the morning.”

It is to Scrooge’s credit that he took this advice and resolved to see what the new day might bring.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At that moment, in a seedy house nearby, two men were drinking heavily and talking over the events of that day.

“Do yer think he suspects?”

“Nah, the old fool don’t have a clue of what’s happening.”

“So how much did yer give ‘im then?”

“Just a smatter of opium in his cordial to make him ferget ‘imself, that’s all. Reckon he saw a lot of things today that he didn’t want to see.”

The two conspirators jeered.

“Serves ‘im right. Wish I could be there to see ‘im take fright. And how did yer get Marley to play dead then?”

“Why, I slipped ‘im thrice the dose, didn’t I. Laid ‘im out cold it did. ‘Sides, got Joe to dress up in uniform and pretend he was the law. And the silly old bugger fell for that too. Gave ‘im quite a shock when he’d thought he’d done Marley in, Joe said. Thought he’d be thrown in gaol, he did.”

“He don’t know the half of what we has to go through. Happen’ this’ll teach him a lesson he won’t ferget.”

Scrooge receives an Explanation

Scrooge awoke with a feeling of lightness in his heart. The sun came streaming into the small bedroom, having to fight through the dirt and grime that mostly covered the window pane.

He recollected the events of the previous day. It all seemed like a dream. No! more like a nightmare that he had barely survived. And when he thought about the ghostly apparition then his new-found gaiety swiftly vanished; but he had no time to mourn the loss, for he fancied that he heard a noise downstairs coming from Marley’s chambers.

Seizing a poker from the fireplace, Scrooge inched his way towards the source of the sound, fearful of burglars or of something equally unpleasant.

When he reached the door to Marley’s office, he stopped, for he recognised a familiar voice.

“Come in. Come in. We have some talking to do, you and I.”

And so, when he had recovered his wits at seeing his partner alive and well, Scrooge dropped the poker and sat as Marley explained the reason for his supposed death, how it had been arranged and how the undertaker had been privy to the deceit.

He learned that Marley had received visitations over the past few days from ominous spirit guides – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

“They gave me a frightening glimpse into what has been and would be if I did not change my path. Moreover, they showed me that you were in even graver danger than myself and urged me to help you see the perils of the lives that we have led together. For unless we mend our ways, they say, we will suffer eternal damnation.

“Well, it so happens that I knew a few scoundrels to assist me in faking my own death, and in persuading you that you were the means of my demise. I had them drug your cordial and, when you’d lost your wits, I contrived to lay on my table, with a board concealed ‘neath my shirt and the knife wedged in it. The addition of some pig’s blood made the scene most convincing to your drugged state. No doubt your imagination supplied the unsavoury details of the killing.

“I do confess that I didn’t know if this plan would work, for I could not be sure of your reaction. But I was fixed on my own redemption as much as yours, and so could not afford to play a lesser part. I admit I was at a loss when you bolted out the back door, but, thankfully, it all came right.”

“And the note that I found beside your body?” queried Scrooge. “Was that part of your plan?”

“There was no note,” replied Marley, “but, as like as not, was a conjuration of your fearful mind.”

“Ah! Indeed so. Well, what of the paper that the bobby found in your pocket? Was that also a conjuration?”

“No. No.” Marley admitted, producing the said scrap of paper from his pocket. “This was my little joke, for I had already determined that you would witness my ‘Second Coming’ last night.”

“It was a grim humour, Marley, and I hope never to repeat such an affair again.”

“As do I. But come, you must meet my co-conspirators and hear what they have to say for themselves.”

Redemption

There were three scruffy-looking men waiting patiently in the nearby parlour. Scrooge immediately recognised the bobby from the previous day. He reluctantly shook their hands.

“No harm meant, mister,” the fake bobby said.

“Humph,” grunted Scrooge.

“We look after our own, Mister Scrooge,” said another. “We know what it is to be poor, to be out of work, to be denied chance of a good life. We want to make sure that people like yourselves get a glimpse of our world. For people like you can help those who can’t help themselves. And that’s why we did it.”

“We highlight the plight of the poor,” said the third.

“Yea, we do right by them, for nobody else will,” spoke the fake bobby. “We are their voice.”

“And a powerful voice it seems,” said Scrooge. “I am dumbfounded, but I am also relieved to think that I’m not a murderer after all.”

“So, what will you do now, Mister Scrooge?”

Scrooge thought about that for a long moment before offering a reply.

“I’ve known many unfortunates myself.” He bowed his head with remorse. “And I’m not proud of standing idly by and provoking the plight of the poor.” He looked up. His eyes moist. “Perhaps there is something that I can do after all.” Then he said, more to himself, “perhaps I can change.”

A cheer went up from those present.

“Thank you, Mister Scrooge,” said one.

“Gawd bless you, sir,” cried another.

“I’d never have believed it possible,” announced Marley. “Why, I do believe I feel a crumb of charity me’self.”

And with that everybody laughed and told themselves that it was the best possible Christmas present that any of them had ever had. And from that moment forward, Scrooge, true to his word, found it possible to be more charitable to others, and to save many a poor soul from the workhouse. He was not ‘a soft touch’ as he had feared, but a better man than his father had been, because he had discovered compassion and understanding within himself through the strangest of ways.

And so, the generosity and the spirit of optimism, first kindled in Scrooge’s early years, found a place to flourish in the world throughout the remainder of his life. And, as Scrooge would often remark, “this truly is the Second Coming.”

The End

Short Story

About the author

Santari Green

Santari is a self-published fantasy author who is currently writing his fourth book and engaged on a project to turn them all into audiobooks. He has a love for language and is working towards a BA(Hons) in English Language & Literature.

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