A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook'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, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then 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.'
`No, no,' said Scrooge. `Oh, no, kind Spirit. say he will be spared!'
`If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,' returned the Ghost, `will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief. `Man,' said the Ghost, `if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God, to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.'
Scrooge bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling 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. `I wish I had him here! I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it!'
`My dear,' said Bob, `the children! Christmas Day!'
`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! You know he is, Robert. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow.'
`My dear,' was Bob's mild answer, `Christmas Day!'
`I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's,' said Mrs Cratchit, `not for his. Long life to him. A merry Christmas and a happy new year. He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!'
The children drank the toast after her.