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Nik Marcel (2Language Books)

Friday, 27 September 2013

A Christmas Carol (English)

A Christmas Carol
Conte de Noël
English partly translated anew from French.
Copyright © 2013 Nik Marcel
All rights reserved.
2Language Books
(A Bilingual Dual-Language Project)

Chapter I. Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There was not a shadow of doubt whatsoever. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was as good as the Stock Exchange – for any paper on which he was inclined to affix his signature.
Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.
Mind you! I do not mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail.
I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. However, the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the country is done for.
You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I do not know how many years.
Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.
And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.
The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from.
There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot – say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance – literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley.
The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! How he held a tight-fisted hand to the grindstone,  the good man Scrooge! The old sinner was a miser who knew about seizing firmly, wrenching, twisting, squeezing, scraping, and especially, not releasing!
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.
A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and did not thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm him; no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he was; no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.
Foul weather did not know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down ‘with abundance’. Scrooge never knew the phrase.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with welcoming looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?”
No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge.
Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”
However, what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he wanted: to make a solitary path along the highways of life frequented by the crowd, using a sign to warn passers-by that they had to keep their distance; this was the real ‘cake’, as the hungry little kids used to say.
One day – the best of all the good days in the year: on Christmas Eve – old Scrooge sat busy in his counting house.
There was a bitter and piercing cold; it was foggy weather; Scrooge could hear the people coming and going outside, in the street: blowing their fingers, wheezing, beating their hands upon their chests, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.
The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already – it had not been light all day – and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.
The fog came pouring into the houses at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the street was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.
To see the dark clouds descend lower and lower, spreading an obscure darkness over everything, one might have thought that ‘nature’ had come to settle near there to operate a brewery set up on a large scale.
The door of Scrooge’s counting house was open so that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who, in a dismal little cell beyond – a sort of grim tank – was occupied with copying letters.
Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was smaller again: it looked like there was only one piece of coal.
He could not replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so whenever the unfortunate clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part.
This is why the clerk put on his white scarf, and tried to warm himself at the candle; but, as he was not a man of great imagination, his efforts remained futile.
“I wish you a merry Christmas, my uncle! May God bless you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came in so quickly, to surprise him, that the other had not noticed him.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Foolishness!”
He was so warmed up with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all aglow; his face was red like a cherry, his eyes sparkled, and his breath was still steaming.
“Christmas; nonsense, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “That is not what you meant to say, no doubt?”
“I did,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to indulge in ruinous gaieties? You are already quite poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to indulge in your morose figures? You are already quite rich enough.”
“Bah!” said Scrooge again; he, for the moment, did not have a better response at hand; and his ‘bah!’ was followed by another word: “rubbish!”
“Don’t be in a bad mood, uncle!” replied his nephew.
“And how not to be,” returned the uncle, “when one lives in a world full of fools such as this? Merry Christmas! To hell with your merry Christmases!
What is Christmas time if it is not a time when you have to pay bills, and usually without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books, and after twelve months disposed of, you realise that each of the items so mentioned has left you without the slightest profit?
If I could allow it in my imagination,” continued Scrooge with an indignant air, “every idiot running in the streets with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips would be boiled in a pot with his own pudding, and buried with a sprig of holly through his heart. It is like that!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew, trying to make himself an advocate of Christmas.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you do not keep it, uncle.”
“Then let me not have the festival,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
“There are many things, I dare say, from which I might have derived good, even though I have not profited,” returned the nephew.
“Christmas among others. But at least I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
This is why, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will continue to do me good; and I say, blessed Christmas!”
The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded; perceiving in the same moment that he had committed an impropriety, he tried to stoke the fire, only managing to extinguish the last frail spark forever.
“Let me hear the slightest sound from you again,” said Scrooge, “and you will keep your Christmas by losing your place! And as for you, sir,” he added, turning to his nephew, “you really are quite a distinguished orator. I am surprised you do not go into Parliament.”
“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Come and dine with us tomorrow.”
“Why did you get married?” said Scrooge.
“Because I fell in love with the woman who became my wife.”
“Because you fell in love!” growled Scrooge, as if that were the biggest folly in the world after a merry Christmas. “Good evening!”
“But, uncle, you never came to see me before my wedding. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?”
“Good evening,” said Scrooge.
“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?”
“Good evening,” said Scrooge.
“I am pained – indeed sincerely sorry – to find you so resolute. We have never held anything against each other, at least not from my side. Well, I have made this attempt to honour Christmas, and I will maintain my good Christmas spirit until the end. Thus, a Merry Christmas, uncle!”
“Good evening!” said Scrooge.
“And I also wish you a Happy New Year!”
“Good evening!” repeated Scrooge.
His nephew left the room without uttering a single word of discontent.
He stopped at the entrance door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who, although quite frozen, was nevertheless much warmer than Scrooge, for he returned them cordially.
“There is another fool,” muttered Scrooge, who overheard him from his place: “my clerk, with fifteen euro a week, and a wife and children, talking about a merry Christmas. What else to do but retire to Bedlam.”
This inveterate fool, in conducting Scrooge’s nephew back out, had let two other people in. They were the two gentlemen – of good enough appearance; not bad to look at – now standing, hat in hand, in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and they saluted to him.
“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Scrooge, or Mr Marley?”
“Mr Marley has been dead for seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died seven years ago, this very night.”
“We have no doubt his generosity is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the stranger, presenting his credentials to prove his legitimacy.
It certainly was, for both associates were as alike as two drops of water. At the unfortunate word ‘generosity’, Scrooge frowned; he then nodded his head, and handed the visitor his certificates back.
“At this festive time of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the latter, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly in the season we find ourselves. Many thousands are in want of basic necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of basic comforts.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Oh, a very great number,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the refuge shelters?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Please excuse me, sir,” responded the other; “I wish to God they were not!”
“The Mill of Discipline and the Poor Law are still in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Still; and they are both very busy.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that some unforeseen circumstances had occurred to hinder the progress of these useful institutions. I am really glad to learn to the contrary,” said Scrooge.
“Convinced that they hardly furnish Christian appreciation of the body and the soul to the multitude, a few of us are endeavouring to raise a little sum to buy the poor some meat and beer, and some coal for heating…
We choose this time, because it is, in all the year, the time where the ‘needs’ are most keenly felt, and when abundance is most pleasurable. How much shall I put you down for?”
“For nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to remain anonymous?”
“I wish to be left in peace. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I myself do not make merry at Christmas, and I cannot provide lazy people with the means to celebrate. I help to support the establishments I mentioned earlier – they cost quite a lot; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many cannot go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they would do well to act on the idea and diminish the surplus population. As to the rest, excuse me, but I do not know about everything.”
“But it would be very easy for you to know,” observed the stranger.
“It is not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It is enough for a man to conduct his own affairs, without meddling in those of others. Mine takes up all my time. Good evening, gentlemen!”
Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their request, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious mood than was usual with him.
Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened such that one could see people running here and there in the streets with lit torches, offering their services to the coach drivers: to go before the horses and guide them on their way.
The ancient tower of a church, whose sullen old bell was always peeping down curiously at Scrooge in his office – out of a Gothic window in the wall – became invisible, and struck the hours, halves, and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous and prolonged vibrations, as if its teeth smacked away in its frozen head up there.
The cold became intense even in the streets. In the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lit an enormous brazier, around which thronged a party of ragged men and children: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze, in rapturous delight.
The faucet of the fountain had been neglected, with its pent up waters congealing around it, forming a scene of misanthropic ice – it was a horror to see.
The bright lights of the shops, where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the heat from the gas lamps behind the windows, threw a reddish glow on the pale faces of passers-by.
The shops of poultry and grocery traders became a splendid setting – a glorious spectacle –which did not permit one to believe that such vulgar principles as negotiation and trade had anything to do with this rare luxury.
The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and fifty butlers to celebrate Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should;
and even the little tailor, whom he had condemned and fined two euro the previous Monday – for letting himself get arrested in the streets for being completely drunk and making an infernal racket – prepared tomorrow’s pudding in his garret, while his meagre better-half, with a skinny infant in her arms, went out to the butcher to buy a piece of indispensable beef.
However, the fog redoubled; the cold redoubled! It was a bitter, harsh, penetrating cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed the Devil would not have failed to howl.
The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and gnashed by the hungry cold, as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol; but at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing trouble your heart!’ Scrooge seized the ruler with such an energetic gesture, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and frost, which seemed to rush towards Scrooge out of sympathy.
Finally, the hour to close the office arrived. Scrooge dismounted from his stool gruffly, appearing to give a tacit signal of departure to the expectant clerk in the tank, who, after snuffing out his candle, put his hat on his head.
“You will want to have all day off tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.
“If it was convenient to you, sir.”
“It is not at all convenient, and it is not fair. If I was to retain half a crown for the day, you would think yourself aggrieved, I am sure.”
The clerk smiled faintly.
“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you do not think me wronged, when I pay you a day’s wages for doing nothing.”
The clerk observed that it only happened once a year.


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