A Conversation for Pilgrims' Inn
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 25: Bah, humbug!
paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late Started conversation 5 Days Ago
"Ah, I see we're in Victorian London now," Ozymandius said, gazing through the front door at a street scene illuminated by gas lanterns on cast iron lamp posts. A chill was in the air; soft flakes of snow drifted lazily to the ground.
Across the street, an older man was arguing with a younger one.
"Don't be cross, uncle," said the younger man. "I've always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. And what reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough to want for nothing, and still have some to spare for the less fortunate."
"If I could work my will," said the old man, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."
"You have a gift for words, Uncle Ebenezer," the younger man said with a sigh. "This is the one time of year when men and women open their hearts freely, to think of others as if they were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race bound on other journeys. Though this line of thought has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good." With this last argument failing to persuade the old man, the nephew gave a sigh of resignation and went off down the street.
"Bah!" said the older man. The world was full of madness, he thought. Just this afternoon two men had dropped in expecting to see his partner, Jacob Marley, who had been dead seven years. They too had wished him a Merry Christmas and asked for donations to help offer the poor "meat and drink, and means of warmth" in this time of cold and hunger.
Ah, but now Ebenezer had become disoriented. Worse, the fog and darkness had thickened, and the cold was becoming more intense. Where was he? He turned toward the Inn and squinted. The place was a step up from the melancholy tavern where he usually took his usually melancholy dinner, but perhaps the man standing in that doorway could give him directions.
"Welcome, Mister Scrooge," Ozymandius greeted him cordially. "Perhaps you would not mind coming inside to warm yourself a while."
"Humbug!" Scrooge snapped. "I can handle the cold." He crossed the street to get a closer look at the Inn through the fog, but inadvertently stepped on some ice that was hidden by the snow, and fell on his back.
Jack Sprat and Ozymandius picked the unconscious man up and brought him into the Inn. They paged Florence Nightingale Foster, who was a retired nurse. (Her father had been a doctor in Gloucester). She had a room in the attic, and did odd jobs in return for room and board. She came down to see if the man had broken any bones. "Let's bring him to room seven and put him under observation for the night," Miss Foster advised. "He looks wealthy enough to afford our rates."
Scrooge came to in a pleasant room with fleecy stuffing and warm blankets. This was most alarming! The proprietor was sure to charge confiscatory rates!
A pleasantly plump middle-aged woman stuck her head in the door. "Would you fancy a bit to eat, Mr. Scrooge?" she asked.
Scrooge was hesitant. He lived with extreme frugality in the building where he and his late partner had lived. Most of the rooms had been turned nto offices. Who knew what maladies might lurk in the food in this place. Still, he could smell the aroma of roast goose and plum pudding.
The Inn's proprietor came to the door. "You slipped on our front walk, so supper is on the house," the man said.
Free food? That was more like it.
It was, indeed, a fine meal, expertly cooked. After the old man had retired to his room with a pleasantly full stomach, another knock came at the front door. It was Bob Cratchit, concerned about reports that his employer had been injured. Ozymandius invited him to bring his whole family to the Inn, free of charge, for a Christmas Eve feast. This was too good to pass up. The old man might be bothered by the sound of the Cratchit family's festivities, so the dining table was moved into an anteroom where the sound would be less likely to carry.
The Cratchits had a lame boy named Tim. Miss Foster examined him, and a look of great sadness came over her face. Ozymandius asked Jack Sprat to escort them home after they had eaten.
After they left, there was yet another group of people at the door: the family and friends of Fred, the old man's nephew. Ozymandius extended them the same hospitality as that of the others who had come that evening. The nephew was as distinguished for his merry laugh as his uncle was for his "Bah humbug!"
"Fred," said the nephew's wife with an equally hearty laugh, "this is a jolly place indeed."
They enjoyed their repast and afterwards listened to some music and played a variety of games.
"Say, is it true that this Inn is haunted?" said Topper, one of Fred's friends.
"Generally, no," Ozymandius said, "but at this time of year we would welcome ghosts and spirits as long as they behaved themselves."
Fred asked after his uncle, and was told that the man was a little bruised but otherwise unharmed, and would benefit from a good night's sleep. Some time around eleven Fred and his party left the Inn to return to their own home, thanking Ozymandius profusely for his hospitality and the good care he was taking of Uncle Ebenezer.
During the night some ghosts must have visited Scrooge, for Ozymandius could hear him talking in his sleep. One of his dreams must have been frightening, for he cried out. But when Ozymandius went to look in on Scrooge, a specter blocked his way. He was a jolly Giant, glorious to see, bearing a glowing torch. "Worry not about Ebenezer," he assured Ozymandius. "His dreams are not all pleasant, but they are all necessary. He will be a changed man in the morning, and the change will be a most salubrious one."
This was good news. Ozymandius thought he knew how this would all pan out anyway.
In the morning, Scrooge woke up from his dreams and looked out the window. The fog and mist were gone. The sun-light was golden. He opened the window and smelled sweet, fresh air. He heard merry bells.
Scrooge opened the door of his room and said to Ozymandius, "What's to-day?"
"Christmas Day," Ozymandius said. "You are just in time to join us for a special breakfast."
"That sounds delicious," Scrooge said, "but first I must send a turkey to the Cratchits' house. Then I want to get to the office before Cratchit gets there, to surprise him with a raise in salary and the day off." The old man was so full of good spirits that he hardly paid attention to what he was eating. Thanking Ozymandius profusely and paying generously not just for his own room and board, but also for the feasts that Fred and Cratchit and company had enoyed the night before, Scrooge was on his way to make amends for his sorry past.
Ozymandius drifted over to the oracle, who predicted where all of this was going. Ozymandius didn't stop him, but was hardly surprised at any of it. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future had visited him over the years, wherever he happened to be. Maybe they visited everybody sooner or later. Well, maybe they didn't call themselves *Christmas* ghosts in places where Christianity was not practiced. But generosity knew no geographic boundaries. And neither, apparently, did denizens of the spirit world.
"God bless us each and every one," Mrs. Sprat said, bringing a very large plum pudding into the dining room, along with the tea service that was reserved for special occasions. "Whoever puts these things into the dumbwaiter must have stayed up all night to make this pudding," she said, panting with the exertion of carrying it.
"Well, that's what it would take," Ozymandius commiserated. "It would have to be boiled for five hours at the very least. We have such excellent suppliers that we don't really need a cook, at least not a full-time one. Mostly we need a good housekeeper, which you are. But we love it when you make one of your specialties from time to time." He winked and cut a generous sized portion of the pudding for her. "Today, at least, you are welcome to join me at the table as a guest, Mrs. Sprat. Jack, you come and join us too."
Neither of the Sprats needed to be told twice.
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