I only know he's dead.'
`When did he die?' inquired another.
`Last night, I believe.'
`Why, what was the matter with him?' asked a third, taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very large snuff-box. `I thought he'd never die.'
`God knows,' said the first, with a yawn.
`What has he done with his money?' asked a red-faced gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose, that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.
`I haven't heard,' said the man with the large chin, yawning again. `Left it to his company, perhaps. He hasn't left it to me. That's all I know.'
This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.
`It's likely to be a very cheap funeral,' said the same speaker; `for upon my life I don't know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?'
`I don't mind going if a lunch is provided,' observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. `But I must be fed, if I make one!'
`Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,' said the first speaker, `for I never wear black gloves, and I never eat lunch. But I'll offer to go, if anybody else will. When I come to think of it, I'm not at all sure that I wasn't his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak whenever we met. Bye, bye.'
Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation.
The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Scrooge listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here.
He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of aye business: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view.
`How are you?' said one.
`How are you?' returned the other.
`Well,' said the first. `Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?'
`So I am told,' returned the second. `Cold, isn't it?'
`Seasonable for Christmas time. You're not a skater, I suppose?'
`No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning!'
Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and this Ghost's province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.
He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured in through the Porch. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this.
Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.
They left the busy scene, and went into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, although he recognised its situation, and its bad repute. The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly.