Ever since I was a child, I have loved Charles Dickens’ story – A Christmas Carol. The passing of years has done nothing to diminish my love of this story. It was with that story in mind that I wrote this one; a tale that ensues alongside the original. I call it Christmas: A Carol Betwixt. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did, writing it.
A Christmas Carol Betwixt
Scrooge could never be anything other than cold
of heart, burning his coal one piece at a time
Exiting the counting-house, two gentlemen walked dejectedly away from it. “Mr Fosdyke,” the first gentleman, a plump, grey-haired individual, said, “I am deeply saddened that anyone could be so cold of heart, especially so at this time of the year.”
The second gentleman, sporting thinning, red hair and a ruddy-faced complexion, replied, “Indeed, Mr Hartwell. Imagine, wanting to put the poor and destitute into prisons, to punish them, so, just because of their bad luck. Mr Scrooge must surely be the coldest person in England, this Christmas.”
“His clerk was suffering mightily, so cold that it was in his office,” Mr Hartwell said to his colleague. “Did you see the moribund fire they had set in the grate?”
Nodding, Mr Fosdyke replied, “I did. Mr Scrooge could never be anything other than cold of heart, burning his coal one piece at a time.”
“Come; we have others to call upon before this day has finished with us,” Mr Hartwell said to his colleague.
“Yes,” Mr Fosdyke replied. “I am sure they will – all of them – offer us a better welcome than Mr Scrooge.” As the gentlemen made their way along the narrow, cobbled street, the sound of their footsteps echoed in the cold, shadowy doorways and arches bordering it.
Rounding a bend in the street, Mr Hartwell gasped; shocked to see someone lying face down upon it. “Look,” he said, pointing to the unfortunate person, “someone is in need of our help.”
Approaching the person (it was a male) they tried to ascertain who it might be. “Who is it?” Mr Fosdyke asked his colleague
“I don’t know,” he replied. “He is mightily thin, though.”
“And small,” said Mr Fosdyke.
“Help me to roll him over, so we can take a look at his face,” Mr Hartwell said to his colleague. They rolled him over, onto his back. “My God,” Mr Hartwell gasped, “he is no more than a child!”
“Yes,” Mr Fosdyke concurred. “No more than ten or eleven years of age, I’d hazard a guess.”
“He’s wet to the bone,” Mr Hartwell said, desperately concerned for the child.
“And as cold as the grave,” Mr Fosdyke added. “Come; we must get him indoors, before a warm fire, lest he expires from exposure this very night.”
Later, at the gentlemen’s base in Threadneedle Street, the boy, seated in a chesterfield chair in front of a roaring log fire, offered his hands to the flames, warming them. “Begging your pardon, sirs,” he said, speaking timidly, shyly to his rescuers, “but how did I get here, wherever it is?”
Offering him a mug of piping hot cocoa, Mr Fosdyke said, “You are safe, here; it’s our base. We found you lying unconscious in the street.”
“And on so cold a night,” Mr Hartwell added. “We feared for your life, so we did.”
Accepting the drink, the boy said, “Thank you, sirs, for helping me.”
Sitting on a chair adjacent the boy, “Mr Fosdyke said, “Pray tell us your name, lad.”
“And why you were lying unconscious in the street at so late of the hour?” Mr Hartwell implored. “Your parents must be sick with worry.”
However, staring blankly into his mug, the boy offered no explanation as to why this was so.
“Has the cat got your tongue,” Mr Fosdyke asked, jesting, trying to lighten the child’s mood.
Running a finger around the rim of his mug, the boy whispered, “My name is Tommy, Tommy Tilbert, sirs.”
“And?” Mr Hartwell asked, urging him to say more.
“And…I had been playing.” he told them, uncomfortably recalling the details.
“Playing outside, at past four of the o’clock – in the month of December?” Mr Hartwell enquired, thinking he heard incorrectly.
“Yes, sir,” Tommy replied. “It’s true!”
“It’s alright,” said Mr Fosdyke,” we believe you, don’t we Mr Hartwell?”
“Humph, yes,” he answered. “Of course! You must have had good reason to be there, on so cold an evening.”
“I did, I did!” Tommy insisted. Running his finger ever faster around the rim of his mug, he said, “You see, sirs…I am homeless – and I was set upon.”
“Set upon?” Mr Hartwell gasped, shocked by this news.
“Yes, sir”” he answered.
“Who attacked you?” Mr Fosdyke asked him.
His finger stopping, Tommy looked up from his mug, and said, “Street urchins.”
“Why did they attack you?” asked the gentlemen.
“Because I am homeless,” he replied.
“But they are also homeless,” said Mr Hartwell, scratching his head, perplexed by it.
“They attacked me because I am not one of them, in their gang,” Tommy explained. “I have not always been homeless, sirs.”
“Why are you homeless, then?” Mr Fosdyke curiously asked him.
His finger running around the ring of his mug once again, Tommy’s thoughts deepened, remembering how it had come about.
“Did you get lost?” Mr Hartwell enquired. “Because if you did, we shall do all that we can to reunite you with your parents.”
Bursting into tears, Tommy wailed, “Mum and dad – are dead!”
Stunned by this news, Mr Hartwell and Mr Fosdyke were at a loss as to what they might say in reply.
Continuing, Tommy sobbed, Mum and dad died last year, just before Christmas. They died of consumption, both of them – the same day.”
“I am so sorry to hear that,” Mr Hartwell said, in all honesty.
“Please accept my sincerest sympathies,” Mr Fosdyke said sympathetically to him.
“Thank you, sirs,” Tommy replied. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he said, “The landlord came to our house the day after my parents’ funeral. He told me to get out, that he had to fumigate it, after them dying from consumption, there. That’s what he said. He told me that I could return a week later, after the fumes had dispersed. But when I returned, there was a new family in our house, and they ran me, threatening me with the police if I came back, so they did.”
“Have you any brothers or sisters?” Mr Hartwell enquired.
“No, sir, not any,” Tommy answered despairingly.
“Have you any relatives?” asked Mr Fosdyke.
“Apart from an uncle and aunt, living somewhere in Pimlico, that I was unable to find, I have none at all,” Tommy glumly replied. “That’s why I was on the street.”
“And why the street urchins picked on you,” said Mr Hartwell.
“Yes,” Tommy answered. Taking off one of his shoes, he reached into it. The gentlemen supposed it was to fish out a stray stone. Withdrawing his hand, Tommy said, “But they didn’t get this.” He showed them a shiny bright sixpence. Seeing it, the gentleman laughed, so amused that they were by his antics. Perturbed by their reaction, Tommy said, “Why are you laughing at me? This is my life savings!”
“We are laughing with you,” Mr Fosdyke kindly explained, “not at you.”
“Mind your money well,” Mr Hartwell told Tommy. Seeing the funny side of it Tommy chuckled quietly to himself.
Later, after the gentlemen had shown Tommy upstairs, where the housekeeper, Mrs Mablethorpe had put him to bed, Mr Hartwell and Mr Fosdyke relaxed. Seated in front of a roaring log fire, drinking port, they discussed their find. “The child fell asleep the instant his head hit the pillow,” Mr Hartwell said to his colleague.
“Indeed,” Mr Fosdyke concurred, “he was so tired from roaming the streets for almost a year, he was unable to keep his eyes open long enough to bid her goodnight.”
“We must search for the child’s uncle and aunt, this very evening,” Mr Hartwell insisted.
“Indubitably,” Mr Fosdyke replied. “And we shall not rest until we have found them. Mrs Mablethorpe, the housekeeper, will take care of Tommy while we are gone.”
Lighting a taper from the fire, Mr Hartwell offered it to his pipe. Sucking, breathing in the sweet smoke, he relaxed, enjoying the moment. “You know something, Mr Fosdyke,” he said, blowing out smoke. “I have been thinking.”
“Thinking?” Mr Fosdyke replied. “About what?”
Chewing thoughtfully on his pipe, Mr Hartwell said, “About Christmas.”
“Yes, Christmas,” he answered. “I have been thinking about it for a while, now. Tommy has focused my thoughts. Let me explain…”
By the time Mr Hartwell had finished explaining, telling Mr Fosdyke his thoughts about Christmas, his colleague was somewhat confused. “Let me get this straight,” he said, “you want to make Christmas better by making it easier?”
“Yes, in a nutshell, that’s it,” Mr Hartwell replied.
“But how is that possible?” Mr Fosdyke asked. “There are so many poor and destitute in England, let alone the rest of the world, it would take a miracle to achieve such a noble ambition.”
Placing his glass of port onto the mantelpiece, Mr Hartwell looked him straight in the eye, and said, “A miracle is exactly what I am hoping for.”
Thinking his colleague had drank one port too many, Mr Fosdyke reached up to the mantelpiece and pushed his glass gently away from him. Laughing good naturedly, Mr Hartwell said, “That was my first glass of port, and well you know it.” Reclaiming his glass, he sipped the delicious liquid. “I can see that you are confused, old chap,” he said, “so I will put it another way.” Returning his glass to the mantelpiece, he continued, “Can you recall what Mr Scrooge said about Christmas?”
“He said many things about Christmas,” Mr Fosdyke answered, “and all of them unfavourable.”
“He most certainly did,” Mr Hartwell admitted. Gazing into the fire, he watched some sparks escaping the logs. When they had disappeared from sight up the chimney, he said, “He also told us that his partner, Mr Marley, died seven years ago, this very night.”
“He did,” Mr Fosdyke answered. “I thought it most peculiar that such a terrible thing happening – and so close to Christmas – had not softened his temperament, not even a bit.”
Inspecting his pipe, Mr Hartwell noticed that it had gone out. Tapping it against the fireplace, he emptied it of spent tobacco. Refilling his pipe, he said, “If I was Mr Marley, alive and well, not dead as a doornail in a cold and damp grave, I would use my money to make this Christmas, indeed every Christmas, better than the one before it.”
“I am sorry, old chap,” said Mr Fosdyke, “but I cannot see how talking about Mr Marley can make Christmas any better or easier.”
“After we have visited his grave, you will,” Mr Hartwell whispered in reply. “After we have visited his grave…”
Here lies the body of Jacob Marley
Later that evening, on their way to Pimlico, trying to find Timmy’s uncle and aunt, the gentlemen digressed temporarily from their route. Stepping into the graveyard where Marley lay buried, Mr Fosdyke and Mr Hartwell searched for his grave.
“I say,” Mr Fosdyke whispered, “Is this really necessary, visiting such a dreary place – and on so cold an evening?”
Pointing the way forward, to the low corner of the graveyard, Mr Hartwell said, “I’ll wager you a shilling that Mr Marley is buried, there, in the paupers’ lot. Come; let us inspect it.”
Stepping into the low corner of the graveyard, avoiding a newly excavated grave alongside it entrance, Mr Fosdyke swathed his collar around his face, covering his nose. “This is an abysmal place,” he bemoaned. “It is so rank with the stench of death, I wonder if the corpses lying here are covered at all.”
Pointing to one of the headstones, Mr Hartwell said, “There; that is Marley’s grave.”
“That one,” Mr Fosdyke incredulously replied, “the grave with the smallest headstone of them all? Surely Mr Scrooge would not bury him in so miserly a manner.”
Approaching the grave, the gentlemen inspected its diminutive headstone. It read: Here lies the body of Jacob Marley. Born 1785 Died 1836.
“Oh, that he was alive again,” Mr Hartwell said, patting the cold stone. “I am sure he would see things, namely money, in a new light.”
“You told me that when we got here, to this wretched man’s grave, I would understand how to make Christmas both better and easier,” Mr Fosdyke grumbled, “but I am none the wiser. I am as perplexed as before we set off from our base.”
Coming clean, Mr Hartwell admitted, “I am sorry, it was a smokescreen, a ruse to get you here. You see, I had a hunch, a gut feeling, the instant Mr Scrooge told us his partner was dead, that we had come here.”
Removing his hat, Mr Fosdyke scratched his head thoughtfully through his thinning, red hair. Donning his hat, he said, “If I had just met you, I would have thought you a candidate ripe for Bedlam, saying such a queer thing. But since I know you – and for a considerable time at that – I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Pray tell me some more.”
Coughing awkwardly, Mr Hartwell said, “That’s about it, old chap. Whatever it is, be it intuition, sixth sense or an insight into a realm of creation I know precious little about, I was driven to come here, this evening. I thought it would become clear once we arrived.”
“All that I know,” Mr Fosdyke grumbled, while nervously looking about, “is that we are sitting ducks, ripe for the picking, secreted at the back of this graveyard. Vagabonds pay no heed to goodwill at Christmas, you know.”
Suddenly, there was a sound, like someone stepping on dried leaves. Pointing to the nearest tree, Mr Hartwell whispered, “Hush!”
What the gentlemen saw next was scarier by far than mere vagabonds…