Scrooge awoke again as the great bell chimed the hour of Two. Though no spirit entered his room, he heard the crackling of a fire and a great shout of laughter coming from his parlour, and knew his second unearthly visitor was upon him. He tiptoed from the bedroom and hesitated, uncertain, at the parlour door.
“Come in!” cried the Ghost. “Come in and know me better, man!”
Scrooge stared about him; some sprite had hung boughs of holly around the room; the table was garlanded with delicacies of every description and the scent of mulled wine filled the air. At the far end of the room stood a man in his middle years, rosy-cheeked and round, resplendent in a striped suit and a waistcoat with reindeer printed on it.
“Who are you, Spirit?” Scrooge asked.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Ghost. “Take my hand; we have much to see.”
Scrooge took the Ghost’s hand and in an instant they were in the street. Not the splendid avenue where Scrooge’s lodgings lay, but a narrow, dingy terrace. Yet, for all that, its aspect was cheerful and gay; men and women called out Christmas greetings to each other as they bustled each to their own dwelling, children laughed and screamed as they played in the snow and couples lingered beneath the mistletoe hung in doorways.
Scrooge saw two men proceeding rather awkwardly towards them; one rather thin and clad in an old coat, the other enormously tall and broad, singing loudly and leaning on the first, who seemed to stumble under his companion’s weight.
“Why, that’s my clerk” exclaimed Scrooge. The Ghost beckoned Scrooge to follow the unfortunate clerk Des Cratchit with him, and they slipped behind the pair as they entered a shabby dwelling.
Inside, all was uproar; Mrs Cratchit and half a dozen small Cratchits were decorating the tree and laying the table and such a noise filled the small house that it was some moments before they realised that Mr Cratchit had returned. Once he had greeted them all enthusiastically and deposited his companion in a chair by the fire (whereupon he began to snore in a great basso profondo), Mr Cratchit turned to his wife.
“What happened to Tiny Tim?” she asked him, anxiety mingling with disapproval.
“I found him in El Vinos, offering his services to passing solicitors for a bottle of whisky plus travel costs. He’s not been the same since they cut the VHCC rates.”
Mrs Scrooge’s face grew dark, but she busied herself with serving up their Christmas Eve feast. All present pronounced it the finest meal they had ever eaten, though Scrooge could not help but notice that every scrap had been consumed, as if none of those eating had feasted quite enough.
The plates being quite licked clean, Mr Cratchit proposed a toast. “A Merry Christmas to us all. God bless us!” he cried, and the family echoed him one and all.
“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, who had awoken, and belched extravagantly.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with a sudden foreboding, “tell me what will become of Tiny Tim.”
“I see an insurance company call centre, a specialism in defending whiplash cases and, left in the corner, a slowly disintegrating wig.”
“No!” cried Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Ghost! Let him be spared!”
“If these shadows remain unaltered, this will be his fate,” returned the Ghost, “What then? What matter if another fat cat must take its nose out of the trough?”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words flung back at him so, and was overcome with grief and remorse. But he raised his eyes on hearing his own name, for poor Des Cratchit’s toasting was not yet done.
“Mr Scrooge!” said he. “Here’s to Mr Scrooge, whom we have to thank for this feast!”
“Indeed!” cried Mrs Cratchit, snapping a breadstick menacingly. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind!”
“My dearest love,” said her husband. “‘It’s Christmas! And you really need to propose a workable alternative to constructive engagement if this criticism is to have any force.”
“You’ve been saying that for years, and look where it’s got us! Sharing one Turkey Twizzler between the nine of us! I’ll drink to him,” said Mrs Cratchit, “since I’ll be needing a drink in any case'”. Tiny Tim hiccupped his assent.
Scrooge’s cheeks blazed in the darkness of that small house, to hear the bitterness in her voice. But before he could turn again to the Spirit, he heard a great bell strike the hour of Three and he found himself once again in the chill air of the street outside. He looked around for the Spirit, but it had departed. Out of the gloom came towards him a tall, thin figure; a grey-haired woman, dressed in black robes and wearing a long white wig. She pointed silently at Scrooge, and then at the street ahead of them, and Scrooge began to follow her, his fear mounting with every step…