In order to enjoy the continuity, dear reader, you should read it's predessors...
This was not addressed to Cratchit, or to any one whom he could see, but it produced an immediate effect, and indeed limpness was evident. For again, through the mist shadows emerged, and Cratchit saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. Slump shouldered and non threatening in any manner. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines he was benign; oblivious to the daily utterances of others in his growing incompetence. There was dullness of wit, and although amiable, he certainly was not forceful in manner or action, just go along with the flow, and that's where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young woman in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
"It matters little," she said, softly. "To you, very little. You have displaced me; you never declared your intentions, nor do I suspect you will, I am not to seek and keep, as you are to weak to attempt to win my heart. If it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve, I will just move on and find another suitor."
"What haven't I made you happy, satisfied?" he rejoined.
"I ache and yearn for a champion, one who will ride me like I am meant to be driven ."
"This is the way of dealing of the world!" he said. "There is nothing on which it says a man has to be determined in all aspect and manner. So I am civil in our dealings and gentlemanly in my ways, it doesn't detract from who I am."
"You fear the world too much," she answered, gently. "All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being unacessed emotionally, you are withdrawn in your inability to act. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until you are less the sum of the parts. You have become so milquetoast you can't recognize it for fear of conflict to yourself, to which you'll have none."
"What then?" he retorted. "Am I to engage in conflict, do battle to show you what? It's easier to go with the current, no issues, no dramatics, and no pain. I am not changed towards you."
She shook her head.
"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both young and innocent, until, we knew each other fully well, and I mean in every possible measure, we could marry, set forth our own destiny, enjoy life and all it's riches . You are changed. When it was made, you were another man."
"I was a boy," he said impatiently.
"And you continue the same, afraid to commit, to take a stance, to declare what is yours, what is right, what you want, be a man" she returned. "I am sorry Bob. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is dysfunctional at it's core now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. I have been of restless sleep and even the hefty candle at my bedside can not suffice what I expected from you. It is enough that I have thought of it, it is wide, but I shouldn't be resigned to that for my life, so I release you."
"Have I ever sought release?"
"In words? In actions? No. Never. That's the problem, take me, ravish me, do have your way."
"In what, then?"
"In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; you haven't the drive of a flea. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight, you have missed the larger scene. If this had never been between us," said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; "tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!"
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle," You think not?"
"I would gladly think otherwise if I could," she answered, "Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like this, I have denied the reality, wanted to believe. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl -- you who, in your very confidence with her, are afraid of your own shadow or, choosing her, if for a moment you were manly enough to assert your need and take her, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? You would just as soon be happy not to spend the energy, reveal yourself, give me your ardor however which way your disposed. No, I don't think you'd satisfy me and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were."
He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.
"You may -- the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will -- have pain in this. I can see someone choosing you to feed off your earnings, to use you in the worse possible sense, with no need for comfort or satisfaction. And you'll exist at their whim, for their needs, and when you become a burden of purpose, you will be disposed, like yesterday's chamber pot. Me? I will be remembered as a wet dream, pleasurable for the moment and then forgotten, for that matter you may be glad you awoke, rather than deal with the committing task of climax. I am sorry Bob, May you be happy in the life you have chosen."
She left him, and they parted.
"Spirit!" said Cratchit, "show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me? Is it not enough that all these shadows are humiliations and regrets?"
"One shadow more!" exclaimed the Ghost.
"No more!" cried Cratchit! "No more, I don't wish to see it! Show me no more!"
But the relentless Ghost pushed his still heavy appendage into Cratchits backside, and forced him to observe what happened next.
They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but still warm and comfortable. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last shadow they left that Cratchit believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was laughter and frolic, for there were more children there, than Cratchit in his agitated state of mind could count; obviously she was prolific in birthing as she was in the creation. All were engaged in their own enjoyment but there was a collective group sound of togetherness. The mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed each other's company very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. And Cratchit reflected on the three children he had sired with the cold alewife he was taken in a ruse to marry. What would I not have given to one of them. Everything they ever wanted for fear they wouldn't like him, much less love him. As his offspring grew harboring resentment to his ineffectiveness he grew deeper withdrawn. He looked back to the scene and saw her and reflected another thought ;yet I should have dearly liked, to own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child with her or just the process, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such rush to receive that they all gathered round the entry, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting of glee and hilarity as they heaped upon the laden man enmase. They clamored over their father , hugging and wrestling for their attention. The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received. The father stopped the calamity with a stern, "No", and they all settled obediently, because he meant it. Yet the joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy were still evident. They are all indescribable alike. The father told them all it was time for bed, and again they all knew what he meant. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the parlor, and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.
And now Cratchit looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed. Because he knew that there was another man before him. But he of stronger resolve won the heart and more importantly kept it.
"Belle," said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, "I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon."
"Who was it?"
"How can I? Tut, don't I know," she added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed. "Bob Cratchit."
"Bob Cratchit it was. I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, he was hiding behind his desk, I think, I could scarcely see him. Some peddlers were at the door, his clerk was shooing them away. Him behind his desk."
"Poor Bob," Belle said shaking her head, "never change."
"Whose Bob Cratchit mommy," the oldest daughter asked.
"Exactly, dear, who is Bob Cratchit," said Belle. She looked at her husband to convey the double interpretation of what she had said and to assure him, there was no concern as any rival for her affection.
"Spirit!" said Cratchit in a broken voice, "remove me from this place."
"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
"Remove me!" Cratchit exclaimed, "I cannot bear it!"
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
"Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!"
In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle, as Cratchit never grappled with anyone or anything, much less a ghost, Cratchit observed the organ of light was dimming and that it's dimming was connected to it's influence over Cratchit. He grabbed the cornucopia and with a swift motion capped the glowing meaty member of the spirit. Cratchit forced the issue with all his strength but the light shone brightly from beneath the cap, flooding the floor.
Cratchit, exhausted, saw he was back in his bedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, the round helmet of the top, which left his hand wet and sticky. Cratchit fell into bed and off to sleep.