Eb warmed his hands for a moment over the chestnut seller's fire as the man scooped the hot nuts into a paper bag for him. Accepting the bag he handed over a penny coin and a half penny bit. Then turned and indicated to the group of raggamuffins, sheltering from the light snow under the portico of the actors' church, that they should come over to him. The three boys approach warily, Eb smiled.
"Alf Bailey isn't it," he stated, looking at the smaller of the three boys.
"Er… yea Sir."
"And why may I ask are you and your," Eb paused and looked at the other two boys, wondering for a moment what their correct description should be, "associates loitering within the confines of St Paul's Covent Garden and not attending lessons at the Dame school?"
"Well Sir," the smallest of the three boys chimed in, "ain't no school today, this being Christmas Eve, Miss Ridges gone and got the train to Luton to be with 'er family."
"And you are?" Eb enquired
"Fletch sir," the youngster replied.
"That I suppose is neither your Christian nor your surname, but an adopted name granted you by your companions no doubt," Eb commented.
"It's what everyone calls me, given my name."
"Which is?" Eb enquired.
"Why Fletcher sir, Simon Fletcher."
"Master Fletcher, are you by any chance a relation of Peter Fletcher of King Street?"
"Yes," Fletch responded, "he's my grandfather."
"Then," Eb commented, "you must be Robert's son and if so may I enquire what you are doing in such company as the last I heard Robert had settled in Harringay."
"That's right mister, but dad had an accident and 'ad to give up the work, so we 'ave moved back 'ere with granddad." Eb nodded and made a mental note to check in on Peter Fletcher and his family after he had finished his business in Floral Street.
"Right, lads, I need a service. There are some boxes for me at Martin's in Ludgate," Eb looked Alf, "you know it, Master Bailey."
"Oh yes sir, I have run errands for you there in the past."
"So you have Master Bailey and done good work of it. Now there be some twenty-four boxes and I need them at my office by the close of business at four of the clock today, there be a crown in it for you if you can get it done. My clerk Bob is there waiting for them." The boys jabbered their acceptance of the assignment and assurances that it would be well done, turning to run off down to Ludgate.
"Wait," Eb commanded. The boys stopped and turned to him. He handed Alf the bag of hot chestnuts. "You'll need something to warm your innards."
"Oh thanks, sir," Alf replied
"You spoil them," a voice stated as a figure emerged from behind the portico pillar. "Now in my day, a shilling would have been a good reward for such an errand."
"In your day Dodger, you'd have had those boxes up into the rookery before they were loaded on the cart," Eb replied.
"You're right there Mr Scrooge, but I still say you're spoiling them, a crown for a shillings work!"
"Maybe Dodger but it is Christmas and, if I'm not mistaken the third boy was Mistress Alan's son and she has had a hard time since her husband passed away."
"That be true Mr Scrooge but surely a half-crown in the widow's hand would be better than a crown split three ways between the boys?"
"That's as maybe Dodger but Mistress Alan is a proud woman and not one too keen to call upon the parish aid. It be my guess though young Alf knows how things stand and will insist that Mistress Alan's son takes a larger share, he is the biggest of the three by far and will no doubt do most of the work. Anyway I do need those boxes at my office
"So Sir Jack, might I ask what brings you to the Garden this Christmas Eve?" Dodger looked at Eb questioningly. The fact that he had been knighted was not exactly a secret, nor was the fact that he now used the name, Jack, in those part of society where names were important. In fact, the not so recent events of his life had been fully documented as had many of the events of his earlier life.* Although it was not a secret, it was also not well known, though when Dodger thought about it someone like Mr Scrooge was just the type of person who would know. Knowing information was the stock in trade for those who dealt in money.
"There some interesting drains round here," Dodger responded.
"An no doubt some interesting inhabitants, do you look for anyone in particular?"
"Something French," Dodger replied.
"Then I'll leave you to the Queen's business and wish you the best of it," Eb stated.
"Well, before I do maybe you can find a use for these," Dodger stated, handing Eb a bunch of banknotes. "They were amongst a packet of papers a French gentleman will soon be finding he lost, and whilst the Queen, or at least some of her ministers, will be happy to have their papers back, I doubt they have need of such moneys whilst I am sure that there are many in the parish who have need of assistance and are no doubt known to you."
"And you have no need of such funds?"
"Nay, these days I am well catered for, anyway I have no desire to profit from the misfortune of others," Dodger stated.
"Misfortunes, surely you have done the gentleman no harm?"
"Of course not Mr Scrooge, though I fear that harm may befall him when his masters in Paris read the content of the papers he now carries with him." Eb nodded in understanding and placed the banknotes in his pocket, assuring Dodger that he would see that they got to where they were needed. He could, he thought to himself, make a short walk up to the Foundling Hospital, where there was always a need for funds, before returning to his office.
"Oh," added Dodger, "you might pay a visit to Mrs Worten, in Wild Street for I suspect she has fallen on hard times."
"Surely not Sir Jack, for her husband is a most sober man and a night watchman at the Arsenal."
"Precisely, Mr Scrooge, unfortunately, he was doing his night watching when certain French gentlemen decided to remove certain papers." A sudden understanding came upon Eb, who nodded and made a mental note to add Mrs Worten to his list of calls for this day.
First, though, he had other business to attend to, so he turned about and walked up the market in the direction of James Street, turning into that street, then left into Floral Street.
He stopped briefly at a merchant of his acquaintance and accounted to him the problems of a family of Jews who had recently arrived from Russia. The merchant, himself of the Jewish faith, assured that the community would provide assistance to the family, and sent one of his apprentices off to the address that Eb provided, with an invitation to join them that evening for Shabbat.
A light dusting of snow started to fall as Eb proceeded down Floral Street before he ducked into the ally that was Lazenby Court and then through the side door into the bar of the Lamb and Flag. A couple of Molly Boys sat on high stools at the bar, sharing a jug of gin between them, waiting, no doubt, for the day to fade before they went out to St Paul's churchyard to ply their trade. Eb glanced at them and wondered how they would manage when even the advantage of gaslight night could no longer hide the devastation of their trade upon their looks.
"Mr Scrooge, deary me," Barty, the bartender called out to him, "w'at brings you to our facilities at this time of day?"
"A half of flip if you will and a bit of your time," Eb responded.
"French or Navy?" Barty asked.
"Heat the iron boy," Barty instructed the pot boy, seated by the fire. He then turned to draw the dark ale into a pewter tankard to which he added sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and a slug of rum. Once all was prepared the pot boy brought over the heat poker, glowing with a red heat, which Barty plunged into the liquid in the tankard. Once the liquid was heated the poker was withdrawn and the pot boy took it back to the fire. Barty passed the tankard to Eb who took a deep draught of the warming drink and handed Barty payment.
"How went the Goose Club," Eb asked.
"Well, though we have geese left over," Barty replied. "You know how it is Mr Scrooge. It can be cheaper to buy a whole flock coming into town than going to the market and buying a precise number of birds." Eb nodded. He did know how it was, and Barty was right. If you wanted seventy or eighty birds for your members and could buy a flock of a hundred off the drover for what you would pay for forty from the market, then why not buy the flock. What was over could always be sold. The club members got their geese, often better birds than they would have got if they had paid market prices for them, and the excess birds could be sold on at a profit for the publican.
"So how many are over?" Eb asked.
"There be some ten fine birds and fifteen not so fine but still good geese." Eb nodded. The next five minutes were spent in negotiation, but the two men agreed on a price, which was what both had known it would be when they had started the negotiation. One has to go through the process to maintain the show. Eb paid the required amount and provided Barty with a list of families to whom the geese should be delivered. He left it to Barty to decide who got the fine geese and who the not so fine, Barty knew the area and the families just as well as he did.
Their business settled and warmed by the flip Eb departed. It was now well towards three of the clock in the afternoon and it would take some brisk walking for him to achieve the rest of his plans for this day's work. So he set off with a brisk pace, a very brisk pace for a man of his years, in the direction of Bloomsbury and the Foundling Hospital, arriving there some quarter past the hour.
Being well known as a benefactor of the establishment he was taken directly to the office of the bursar, who upon seeing the person of his visitor immediately sent for hot chocolate. Over the comforting drink, Eb explained to the bursar that some funds had been handed to him for the benefit of the Hospital, withdrawing the wad of notes from his pocket as he did so.
"Oh, Mr Scooge, how timely such donations are for we are always tight on funds at this time of year," the bursar stated drawing a ledger from the draw in his desk and opening it at the list of donations, prior to picking up his quill and dipping it the ink. "And to whose name shall I ascribe these funds."
Eb thought about that for a moment and came to the conclusion that Sir Jack Dodger would probably prefer it if there was no record of the funds ever having passed through his hands. "A Gentleman."
"And one no doubt of some means to donate such a fund. Without my recording it can you advise of his person so that we add him to our list of potential donors."
"My dear sir, I somehow think it would not be advisable to call upon this gentleman for funds, though no doubt you can be assured he will make further donations in future, as I believe he has in the past. Did I not hear of an envelope with some bearer bonds dropped through your letterbox, not a score of weeks ago?"
"Ah," announced the bursar, "it is that gentleman." He made a quick entry in his ledger and then closed the book. "As you say some things are best not noted." Eb agreed and after finishing his chocolate and catching up on the latest news of the poor and needy of the parish he left and made his way back towards Bloomsbury and from there past the British Museum and down to Drury Lane calling in on those, whom he a mind might be in need, as he passed their places of residence.
He arrived in Wild Street just as the lamplighters finished their tasks. Turning down an alley between a haberdasher's and a dressmaker's made his way through to a small court, off which was his own establishment. There he enjoyed a meal of cold cuts and fire backed potatoes before reading a bit prior to withdrawing early to his bed and welcome sleep.
He was awoken as the church bell chimed the midnight hour. Even through the heavy bed curtains, Scrooge was aware that there was a change in the room. It reminded him of all those years ago when the Spirits of Christmas had visited him, that night so long ago that had been filled with fear, emotion and joy as he had found the true spirit of Christmas. Now, he had no doubt, the Spirits were back.
"Scrooge," an eldritch voice screeched through the dank night air, "Ebenezer Scrooge." Scrooge sat up in his four-poster and threw back the curtains.
"Yes, spirit, I am here, Ebenezer Scrooge." His manner and voice being that of one who has faced the spirits of the night and triumphed over them. "Why come you to me now, do I not keep Christmas better than all other men."
"Indeed you do," wailed the ethereal voice. A sense of despair and loss filling the room as the sepulchre tones echoed where no echo should be. "Maybe you keep it too well."
"Too well spirit, and how can that be?"
"Did you not yesterday go down to the market and buy up all the geese as gifts to the poor of the parish?"
"So now there is no pressure on them to work at a pittance to get sustenance for the feast. Those who rely upon such services must pay more, which beggars them, and they must go elsewhere for their fowl at increased costs. The merchants, bakers, tradesmen and clerks, suffer increased costs for your generosity."
"It would be better if they paid a decent wage to their employees."
"As you do Bob Cratchett? A wage far more than what he deserves now that he is crippled with arthritis and can hardly work."
"A condition for which I am to blame, having made him work so many years in an office without heat and for hours beyond those reasonable," stated Scrooge in justification of his generosity, "what should I do, turn him out without means or support?"
"Aye, maybe that you should, for no man can be a generous as you. Did you not give Tiny Tim, though he is no longer so tiny these ten years past, a new suit plus five guineas for his term at Oxford?" Scrooge nodded, getting Tiny Tim educated and into that University had been one of the great redemptions of his life.
"And your nephew, have you not paid his debts and granted him an income, though he has no way to earn sufficient to pay his way and support his wife and family?"
"It is right that I do, for he is my sister's son."
"And what of the poor of the parish who feast upon your largess? Know you that all the poor of the City know of your generosity and flock to this parish, that they may partake of your bounty?" Scrooge nodded and smiled. In ten years he had done so much good work, given so much charity, he felt happy. Who was this spirit that had come to criticise him so?
"Yes, spirit, I have done all you said and much more. Only this evening I drew a cheque upon my bank to give a dress to each poor women and a jacket to each poor man. Tomorrow, on Christmas day I shall celebrate the season in all joy and with no consideration to the cost."
"Aye Scrooge that is true. In ten years you have spent lavishly in celebration of the season with not a consideration to the cost. You have set an example of Christmas extravagance that many will follow in the years ahead, giving no care or consideration to money and the preservation of prosperity. Therefore, I have come to you."
"What spirit of Christmas be you, to be so miserly about my spending?"
"No spirit of Christmas Ebenezer, for that you keep well, and they will not disturb you. I am the Spirit of Insolvency! You have spent too well without consideration Ebenezer Scrooge, the bank will not honour your cheque and the poor women will go without their dresses and the men without their jackets. Ebenezer Scrooge, you are BANKRUPT."
* For details of Dodger's earlier life see the excellent reporting of Mr Charles Dickens in 'Oliver Twist'. Concerning his more recent activities, one is referred to that most excellent work 'Dodger' by Mr Terry Prachett.
Goose Club – During the 19th century, many London pubs ran Goose Clubs during the year where the regulars paid in a small amount each week to get a goose for Christmas. The geese were walked to the London markets sometimes as far as sixty miles or more and landlords would buy up quantities of geese to supply to their Goose Club members.