Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the church, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.[1] Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were business partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his only administrator, his only friend, his only mourner.

Scrooge never painted out old Marley’s name, however. There it yet was, years afterwards, above the warehouse door — Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called him Scrooge, and sometimes they called him Marley. He answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, that Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! External heat and cold had little influence on him. No warmth could warm him, and no cold could cool him. No wind that blew was more bitter than he. Foul weather didn’t know what to do with him. The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet could brag of the advantage over him in only one respect — they often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with friendly looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars asked Scrooge for a few coins; no children asked him what time it was; no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place. But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked.

Stop and check

Scrooge and Marley were:

  • spouses
  • business partners
  • the same person with two names
  • brothers


Describe Scrooge in your own words.

One Christmas eve, old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.[2] It was cold, bleak, biting, foggy weather; and the city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already.

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open so that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who, in a sad little room, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one piece of coal. But the clerk couldn’t add to it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and if the clerk came in with the shovel, he feared Scrooge would simply dismiss him on the spot. That’s why the clerk put on his white scarf, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

“A merry Christmas, uncle!” It was the cheerful voice of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who came into the office so quickly that this was the first hint Scrooge had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge; “humbug!”[3]

“Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure!”

“I do. Forget merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer? If I had my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly[4] through his heart!”


“Nephew, keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it! But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then. No good may it do you! No good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived[5] good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — not only its religious part, but everything else — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow travelers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say yes to Christmas!”

The clerk in the next room involuntarily applauded.[6]

“Let me hear another sound from you,” said Scrooge, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your job! You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir,” he added, turning to his nephew.” I wonder why you don’t become a politician.”

“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow.”

Scrooge refused, and not politely.

“But why?” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “Why?”

“Why did you get married?”

“Because I fell in love.”

“Because you fell in love!” growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. “Goodbye!”

“No, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?”


“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why can’t we be friends?”


“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you like this. We have never fought before. I came, in honor of Christmas, and I will keep my Christmas spirit still. So a Merry Christmas, uncle!”


“And a Happy New Year!”


Stop and Check

Scrooge and Fred are:

  • co-workers
  • family
  • neighbors
  • enemies


Describe Fred in your own words.

The clerk, in letting Scrooge’s nephew out, had let two other people in. They were large gentlemen, and they now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years. He died seven years ago, this very night.”

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some small effort to help the poor who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessities; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons, but there are those in need who have committed no crime. A few of us are trying to raise funds to buy the poor some food and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly[7] felt, and Abundance[8] rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”


“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle[9] people merry. I help to support the prisons and the workhouses[10] — they cost enough — and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

And with that, Scrooge dismissed the two men with another short “Goodbye.”

Stop and check

What were the two men doing? What was Scrooge’s reaction?

The time came for the counting-house to close for the day. With an ill-will Scrooge, got up from his stool, and his clerk instantly snuffed his candle out and put on his hat.

“You’ll want all day off tomorrow, I suppose?”

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It is not convenient, and it’s not fair. If I was to stop even half your pay for it, you’d think yourself mightily ill-used, I imagine?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And yet you don’t think me ill-used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

“It’s only once a year, sir.”

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December! But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.”

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl.

Scrooge took his melancholy[11] dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and spent the rest of the evening with his banker’s book, went home to bed. He lived in an apartment which had once belonged to his dead partner. They were a gloomy[12] suite of rooms in a building that was old enough now, and dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all rented as offices.

Now it is a fact that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door of this house, except that it was very large; also, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, every day; also, that Scrooge did not believe in anything too fancy. And yet Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, suddenly saw in the knocker Marley’s face.

Marley’s face, with a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious,[13] but it looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look — with ghostly glasses turned up upon its ghostly forehead.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. He said, “Pooh, Pooh!” and closed the door with a bang. The sound echoed through the house like thunder. He was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door, and walked across the hall and up the stairs slowly.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for its being very dark. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. Sitting-room, bedroom, all as they should be. Nobody under the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and bowl ready; and the little saucepan of gruel.[14] Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he put on his dressing-gown and slippers and his nightcap, and sat down before the very low fire to eat his gruel.

As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell — an unused bell that hung in the room, and communicated, for some purpose now forgotten, with a room in the highest

floor of the building. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that, as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. Soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This was succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant’s cellar.

Then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

It came on through the heavy door, and a spectre[15] passed into the room before his eyes.

The same face, the very same — Marley. His body was transparent;[16] so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his vest, could see the two buttons on his coat behind. Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no guts, but he had never believed it until now.

Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him — though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes, and noticed the very texture of the folded handkerchief bound around its head and chin — he still could not believe what he saw.

“How now!” said Scrooge, mean and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“Much!” — it was Marley’s voice, no doubt about it.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I was.”

“Who were you then?”

“In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.” Receiving no reaction, the ghost continued: “You don’t believe in me.”

“I don’t.”

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are! Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”

“It is required of every person,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within them should walk abroad among other people, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

“You are fettered,”[17] said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I made in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard of my own free will. Is its pattern strange to you?”

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or do you know,” continued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong chains you have yourself? They are as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous[18] chain!”

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor with the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty miles of iron cable, but he could see nothing.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “That comes from other places, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is given by other messengers to other kinds of people. Nor can I tell you what I would like to say. A very little more is all that is permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house in life; my spirit never traveled beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” said Scrooge. He thought the same of himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind ought to have been my business. The common welfare should have been my business; charity, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness were all to have been my business. The dealings of our company were but a drop of water in the larger ocean of my business!”

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unending grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again. Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to tremble exceedingly.

“Hear me! My time is nearly gone. I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope that I have made possible for you, Ebenezer.”

“You were always a good friend to me. Thank you!”

“You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”

“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob? I — I think I’d rather not.”

“Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow night, when the bell tolls One. Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third, upon the next night, when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!”

It walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that, when the apparition reached it, it was wide open.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering here and there in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; a few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Scrooge knew many personally. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried mournfully at being unable to assist a poor woman with an infant whom it saw below upon a door-step. The misery with all the spirits was, clearly, that they sought to intervene for good — to help in human matters — but had lost the power forever.

Whether these creatures faded into a mist or the mist hid them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.

Scrooge closed the window and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. Scrooge tried to say, “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable. He went straight to bed without undressing, and fell asleep on the instant.

Stop and Check

Which words are synonyms?

  • ghost
  • partner
  • spirit
  • mourner
  • apparition
  • nephew
  • spectre
  • phantom
  • neighbor
  • clerk


What happened to Marley? What is his message to Scrooge?


  1. someone who is at a funeral, especially a relative or close friend of the dead person
  2. the office of an accountant, someone who handles money for others
  3. false talk or actions
  4. a bush that stays green in winter; often used as a holiday decoration
  5. obtained from someone or something else
  6. clapped hands
  7. strongly
  8. a very large or sufficient amount of something; enough for all your needs
  9. not active, not working
  10. a place where poor people were offered work and a place to sleep
  11. a feeling of sadness and despair; without hope
  12. dark, sad, unhappy
  13. violent and able to cause serious damage or injury
  14. a food made with crushed grain and water, often eaten by poor people in the past
  15. ghost or spirit
  16. clear; able to see through
  17. limited or controlled, not allowed to do what one wishes; tied up
  18. big and heavy, and therefore slow


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A Christmas Carol Copyright © 2019 by Timothy Krause is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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