A Christmas Cavil

(With apologies to Charles Dickens)

“Why, it’s old Fezziwig!” said Ebenezer Scrooge to the Ghost of Christmas Past. “What a pain he was to work for.”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands, laughed all over himself and called out, in a rich, fat, jovial voice: “Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”

The young Scrooge came in, accompanied by his fellow apprentice, Dick.

“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. What a pain he was too. Always laughing at his own dreadful jokes.”

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work tonight. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up.” 

“Oh no, I remember this,” said Scrooge to the Ghost.

“But you have to see it,” said the Ghost.

“Really? Not the awful Christmas party?”

“Yes, you have to.”

“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”

The floor was swept, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ballroom as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night. In came a fiddler with a music-book and made an orchestra… In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke… 

In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, any how and every how. 

“What a miserable bunch!” said Scrooge. “All pretending that they actually want to be here for this enforced jollity – when they would all much rather be in their own place, enjoying their home entertainment with some seasonal food supplied by Signor Domino and a few cheap bottles of wine from Mr Sainsbury’s grocery shop.”

Away they all went, dancing round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping, assisted greatly by the partaking of plentiful alcoholic beverages… There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer…

But the young Scrooge was not among those falling in with the exhortations to make merry. He was sitting at the side of the room in conversation with a fair young girl.

“So, you do not want to dance with me?” Scrooge was asking.

“Dance with you? When I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one,” she was saying.

“But I am not changed towards you.”

“You are changed.”

“In what, then?”

“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him. “I don’t want to dance with you and I don’t want to be with you any more.”

He was about to speak; but, with her head turned from him, she resumed.

“You may have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke.”

And she left him sitting alone…

“Sanctimonious cow!” young Scrooge was thinking, as he made his way towards the drinks table…

Several beers later and when he saw her dancing with Dick Wilkins, he really had had enough of the office Christmas party. He hadn’t meant to hit anyone, but it just sort of happened…

When the clock struck eleven, the party finally broke up. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side the door, and, shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. 

During the whole of this time the old Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Gratitude!” echoed Scrooge.

“Were you not grateful?”

“Grateful it didn’t go on any longer!” said Scrooge. “Old Fezziwig had the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. He had the power to force us to attend his damn Christmas party – and if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t get a pay rise or a promotion. And on top of that you risked the humiliation of being dumped by a woman for whom you had a deep and long-standing fancy… and being arrested for being drunk and disorderly.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?”

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Scrooge, “no. I should just like to say thank God that, now we’re all working from home, it means we don’t have to go through something like that this year. That’s all.”

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at www.nigel-summerley.blogspot.com.

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