And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.
`Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!'
`He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!' cried Scrooge's nephew. `He believed it too!'
`More shame for him, Fred,' said Scrooge's niece, indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by halves. They are always in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed--as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory.
`He's a comical old fellow,' said Scrooge's nephew, `that's the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.'
`I'm sure he is very rich, Fred,' hinted Scrooge's niece. `At least you always tell me so.'
`What of that, my dear?' said Scrooge's nephew. `His wealth is of no use to him! He don't do any good with it. He don't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the satisfaction of thinking--ha, ha, ha!--that he is ever going to benefit us with it!'
`I have no patience with him,' observed Scrooge's niece. Scrooge's niece's sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.
`Oh, I have,' said Scrooge's nephew. `I am sorry for him; I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us. What's the consequence? He don't lose much of a dinner!'
`Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,' interrupted Scrooge's niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.
`Well, I'm very glad to hear it,' said Scrooge's nephew, `because I haven't great faith in these young housekeepers. What do you say, Topper?'
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge's niece's sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no right to express an opinion on the subject. Whereat Scrooge's niece's sister--the plump one with the lace tucker: not the one with the roses--blushed.
`Do go on, Fred,' said Scrooge's niece, clapping her hands. `He never finishes what he begins to say. He is such a ridiculous fellow!'
Scrooge's nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister tried hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was unanimously followed.
`I was only going to say,' said Scrooge's nephew, `that the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it--I defy him--if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you. If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that's something; and I think I shook him yesterday.'
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the bottle joyously.
After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, when they sung a Glee or Catch, I can assure you: especially Topper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face over it.