`My dear sir,' said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. `How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir.'
`Yes,' said Scrooge. `That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness'--here Scrooge whispered in his ear.
`Lord bless me!' cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. `My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious?'
`If you please,' said Scrooge. `Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?'
`My dear sir,' said the other, shaking hands with him. `I don't know what to say to such munificence.'
`Don't say anything, please,' retorted Scrooge. `Come and see me. Will you come and see me?'
`I will!' cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.
`Thank you,' said Scrooge. `I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!'
He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk--that anything--could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew's house.
He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:
`Is your master at home, my dear?' said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl. Very.
`Where is he, my love?' said Scrooge.
`He's in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress. I'll show you up-stairs, if you please.'
`Thank you. He knows me,' said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. `I'll go in here, my dear.'
He turned it gently, and sidled his face in, round the door. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.
`Fred,' said Scrooge.
Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started. Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with the footstool, or he wouldn't have done it, on any account.
`Why bless my soul!' cried Fred, `Who's that?'
`It's I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?'
Let him in! It is a mercy he didn't shake his arm off! He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, wonderful happiness.
But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late. That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it; yes, he did. The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.
His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock.
`Hallo!' growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. `What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?'
`I am very sorry, sir,' said Bob. `I am behind my time.'
`You are,' repeated Scrooge. `Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.'
`It's only once a year, sir,' pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. `It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.'
`Now, I'll tell you what, my friend,' said Scrooge, `I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,' he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; `and therefore I am about to raise your salary.'
Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler.