Scrooge speaks: To hell with writers. They’re all the same. They carry a simple formula in their empty minds; mix one small fact with a headful of dreams, and Eureka! A best seller. Give a writer a drop of truth and he’ll make a Thames, thereby providing him a monthly royalty check, good roast beef, and pudding. Not to mention a long beaver fur coat with a deep pocket for a fat wallet. And his pals say, "Hey, Charley Dickens, what a beyuuuutiful coat. Hear your book’s outselling 5-penny mulled cider!"
Nobody says, "Was it true what you wrote about old man Scrooge? Did he really treat Cratchit, the clark, like a gutter dog?"
One fact, that Dickens fella had. Only one. Yes sir, I do hate Christmas. Always have. Still do. But now I hide it under a hardy ho, ho, ho and an armload full of presents. I hated Christmas because it was only a single day. I hated it like Londoners detest May because they get three glorious days of blazing blue skies and sunshine, then 362 days of fog as gray as a shroud. I hated Christmas like a sick child hates the rare day he feels good enough to run and play with his healthy pals. It’s a painful day because it makes the other 364 so bleak. Truth be known; scratch a scowling cynic and you’ll find a glowing idealist. Shouldn’t the student of human behavior who wrote about Mr. Micawber understand that? (The literary gossips tell me that Micawber was his own papa. He did a damn sight better by him than he did by me.)
So, big deal! Christmas brought out all the aches and pains of disappointment. That’s the snippet of truth that Mr. Dickens built his case upon. He interviewed me, you know, before he did that slanderous novel. It did not go well.
He tells me he’s doing a book on "the gray cloud of poverty that darkens our fair city of London." And he wants my insights because I’m a merchant banker-one of the hoity-toity aristocrats of the financial world, he says, that stands on the shoulders of the indigent class.
I ask him to look sharply around my "aristocratic" offices and notice that they ain’t exactly furnished like Buckingham Palace. And my suit-it comes off a cart on Poorfellow’s Road, not a Savile Row emporium. He doesn’t say much to this, just keeps on jawboning about poverty-about us counting-house merchants putting folks out of work. I try to explain that bringing corn and other commodities into this island of limited arable land keeps down the prices. I mean if the tariff applied to filigree-gilded coaches imported from Vienna-well, at least only a few plutocrats would bear the burden. But to tax wheat and corn!! Every Englishman with a mouth and an appetite pays his price at the supper table. Go talk to the politicians that support the corn laws, I tell him. Then, just to lighten the air a bit, I gives him a cup of tea with a big spoonful of sugar. But he asks for cream and a cinnamon stick. I tell him that people in Hell cry for cold lemonade and I ain’t got any cinnamon or cream. That’s where he got the Miser Scrooge idea.
And he’s back to the barricades. "But your financing of corn imports is putting our farm lads on the dole."
"Could be," I respond. "But for every man on the dole-10,000 other men, women and children can afford corn pudding, corn mush, cornbread, and corn soup. And a good smoke outa a corn cob pipe after their meal."
This quiets him down for a minute. He sips his creamless tea before he looks up and says, "Most assuredly, but my mind vividly portrays those poor idle farm lads tromping the streets of London as plain to see as Big Ben, and 100,000 jaws chewing high-priced corn just doesn’t move a reader’s heart. Hard to visualize, you know."
Sure, I’m thinking. It’s just like that French fellow, Bastiat, said: The seen and the unseen. He hated those corn laws like he hated the greedy grabbing hands of the tax collector.
Then I tell my interviewer I really haven’t the time for a lengthy discussion because I expect, any minute now, three accounting gentlemen to talk about my unpaid invoices of last Christmas, payments for this Christmas, and the billing of Christmas to come. Sound familiar? You got it. Three accountants turn into three angels. What an imagination, crowed his fellow journalists. What an impudent liar, I say.
Still, he sips his tea and asks me a lot of silly questions about Jacob Marley, my old partner, you know. I innocently replied that I liked old Marley and once in a while when I signed an especially juicy deal I thought about him. He looked up at that, then dropped his eyes to his notebook and wrote something.
"Ever see him?" says ghoulish Charley.
"See him? He’s dead as the door handle on my front door."
"Quite," says Dickens. "But sometimes at midnight, when the wind is howling like a soul in perdition and the fire in the grate burns low like the coals of hell, don’t you see a luminous shape in your bedroom?"
"Absolutely not," I reply. "He’s as dead and gone as yesterday’s sunset."
Then he wants to talk about Cratchit and his boy-the one who was born a cripple. Asks me a lot of questions about Cratchit’s pay, which had always been handsome. Sure, there’s a thousand clarks in London, but none like Bob Cratchit. I’d be a fool to skimp on his wages.
He scribbles something more in his notebook. Then he’s off. Next thing I know that silly book about ghosts and angels is making the rounds. "God bless us every one." Isn’t that the phrase he put in the mouth of Cratchit’s kid? I’ll agree with that. And may we all have a Merry Christmas on happy, full stomachs-thanks to inexpensive, imported corn. The Dickens with Dickens.
Ted Roberts is a freelance writer in Huntsville, Alabama.