Thursday, 17 December 2015
A Christmas Quarrel
A loud rap at the door induced a sinking feeling in Mr Dickens’ breast. He had been struggling with his story since breakfast and now he was to be interrupted.
‘Come in,’ he called out wearily.
The door opened and he peered over his pince-nez at his wife; she seemed flustered. ‘Ah,’ he murmured, ‘Catherine, my dear.’
His wife frowned. ‘The goose, Charlie. You promised to collect it today.’
‘So I did, but I’ve been very busy.’ He stretched out his left arm to hide the sheets of paper he had spent the last two hours covering with doodles and caricatures of his mother-in-law. ‘Is there any chance the boy could go for it?’
She shook her head and her ringlets danced. ‘I’ve set him to chopping logs.’
‘She’s up to her elbows in plum puddings.’
‘Maybe the downstairs maid?’
‘Blacking the grate in the parlour.’
‘The upstairs maid?’
‘Not the way she flirts with the butcher’s boy. I won’t encourage such nonsense.’
‘Perhaps, my love… if you’re not too busy that is….’
Sparks flew from the ringlets. ‘As if I haven’t enough to do.’ Her skirt flounced. ‘It’s Christmas, Charlie. Have you forgotten?’
‘Of course not. That’s just the trouble. The publisher wants a Christmas story.’
Her brows knitted. ‘But you write stories all the time.’
‘I know, and I have the plot in my head ready. It’s about a miser who’s visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve; they teach him the meaning of Christmas.’
His wife sniffed. ‘Well, to me Christmas means having a nice roast goose to put on the table on Christmas Day, and if you know the plot, I don’t see the problem.’
‘The name… the main character’s name. It’s important, you see, to get it right. I’ve tried all sorts but the best I can come up with are Mr Meany, Mr Stingy or Mr Grouchy and I can't see any of them catching on.'
There was a moment's pause; the fire crackled. Then, ‘My mother had a neighbour called Scroggie,' his wife said thoughtfully. 'He was a Scotsman. She said he was the meanest man you could meet in a month of Sundays.’
Dickens closed his eyes. It was just the kind of tired old phrase his mother-in-law would use, but the name had possibilities. He turned it over in his mind. Scroggie, Scraggie, Scrags, Scrouge, Screwge? Not quite right yet. Then a flash of inspiration: Scrooge! That was the one. His mother-in –law had her uses after all. He stood up, reached for his hat, clapped it on his head and kissed his wife’s cheek. ‘Where would I be without you, my love? I’ll be off and fetch the goose now, shall I?’
I hope you enjoyed this little story, my Christmas gift to readers who've been so kind as to visit the blog over the year. In fact, Dickens found the tombstone of Ebeneezer Scroggie in an Edinburgh churchyard and noted the name in the book where he was in the habit of collecting names for future use. Poor Ebeneezer didn't deserve to become a byword for meanness. He was apparently a generous man and bestowed charity on his community. It was Dickens' misreading of the weathered inscription describing Scroggie as 'a meal man' for 'a mean man', that led to the injustice.
Happy Xmas Everyone!