Matters Arising: Ebenezer Scrooge
Updated: Jan 31
Author’s Note: The concept for this piece was to write a creative adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, in which the plot, or a part of the plot, is similar but the characters are substantially different. I had already written a piece of flash fiction themed on the novella (see A Muppet Christmas Carol: The Missing Stave) in which the three spirits were the principal focus and Scrooge played a supportive, albeit essential role. For this latest re-imagining, I elevate Scrooge to a more central role, although he remains unseen in person.
I have given over the stage, instead, to the members of the Camden Market Traders Association Committee. In the novella book (and film adaptations) many of the market and shop traders are portrayed as being in debt to Scrooge. It seemed appropriate to give them power and a voice for my short story. Note towards the end of my piece how three of the Committee members take on a role resembling that of the three spirits in the original by Dickens. Last, I make no apologies for the excessive (okay… over the top) Cockney speech of the Londoner John Mulligan. If you can understand what he is saying, then you will have done better than the Committee members, where ‘no-one quite understood the butcher’s blether or where it was taking them, but they nodded their approval all the same.’ This is an experimental, creative piece of writing, after all!
The Chairman surveyed the odd assortment of people assembled around the long table in the smoke-filled, airless Committee Room and, clearing his throat, addressed them with suitable solemnity.
‘And so, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Camden Market Traders Association Committee, we have discussed and settled all preliminary items for today’s meeting. Let us now move on to the only item in the Matters Arising section of the agenda, and the pressing case of Ebenezer Scrooge.’
Although all those present were only too aware of what was due next for their collective consideration and agreement, at mere mention of Scrooge’s name, there followed a minor maelstrom of rustling papers, shifting of bodies on chairs, and incomprehensible generalised muttering. Although several recognisable expletives escaped clenched lips.
‘As you know,’ the Chairman continued, quite unfazed by the temporary general disquiet in the room, ‘many traders have asked us… well, everyone has, in fact – to do something about the man. For the sanity and profit of all, we must bring Scrooge to task; to convince him of changing his ways, or we’ll have no choice other than to adopt more draconian and persuasive measures to secure the outcome we desire.’
There was a prolonged, pregnant pause, as each Committee Member contemplatively and creatively visualised the multitude of forms in which Scrooge might best suffer draconian and persuasive measures.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ continued the Chairman, ‘all here gathered – and every man, woman and child unfortunate enough to have ever encountered Scrooge or heard mention of his name – know him to be the most parsimonious, wrenching, squeezing, scraping, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner, with a frozen heart so hard and sharp as flint that it stands poor prospect of ever thawing.’ With a pause only to draw breath and note the emphatic nodding of the Members, the Chairman continued. ‘There are few among us here – or among those we know and love – who are not in debt to the hilt to the man and his usurious rates of interest! None have a sure prospect of ever paying back that which they owe.’
It was at this point that the Chairman fell silent for a moment. He looked pained and his eyes somewhat rheumy as he slumped forward a little in his chair, his voice strained and almost inaudible, as though conversing with himself. ‘I’ll speak plain and true… I feel haunted by the man. He fills my dreams… and nightmares. Many a night the spectre of Scrooge has plagued me — chasing me while he scribbles sums in his slim pocketbook. I awake petrified and covered in sweat, the imprint of his spectre still in my mind’s eye, with his sharp nose, shrunken cheeks, stiffened bearing, red eyes, and thin blue lips. Oh, and that discordant voice!’ A long silence ensued before a Committee Member coughed – twice – bringing the Chairman back to his senses. ‘Well, I, um, yes, indeed. So, any views?’ the Chairman said.
There appeared to be a wavering among the Committee Members, as though no-one wanted to be the first to venture an opinion or to propose a course of action. The task before them seemed to require such superhuman strength and skill. At last, someone spoke.
The Committee’s representative on spiritual matters cleared his throat. ‘You know where the name Ebenezer comes from, don’t you?’ uttered the vicar, Justus Pius, from the far end of the table. ‘It’s of biblical origin. From the book of Samuel? You know, originating from a stone used by Samuel to commemorate the divine victory over the Philistines in the neighbourhood of Mizpah, near Jerusalem?’ The vacant facial expression of the other Committee Members remained unchanged. ‘Well, anyway, Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah, and another place known as Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” I thought it might be of some interest… perhaps?’
The Chairman sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward as though seeking divine intervention – at the least an extra portion of patience – and said, ‘So, what’s the connection to this Ebenezer then?’
‘It’s on account of him being hard and sharp as flint,’ said the vicar, ‘as you alluded to moments ago. Indeed, I recall there was an Ebenezer Scroggie up in Edinburgh; a banker who did business with ol’ Prinny whenever he went up that way. Yes, Ebenezer Scroggie… no doubt related to our man, as they’re both in the same trade of fleecing the flock.’
The Chairman sighed once again and checked his timepiece.
John Mulligan, the senior butcher at a local private slaughterhouse and a true Cockney sparrow, took a long pull on the cheap tobacco in his clay pipe, then exhaled, adding to the already dense miasma in the room. He turned to face the Chairman. ‘Mark you, ol’ Jacob Marley was no better – cut from the same cloth as that pinchpenny Scrooge. So often in that rattle and clank office of theirs and at ‘is desk counting ‘is bees and honey you’d ‘ave believed ‘e was chained to it. A lot o’ good being so penny-grabbing did ‘im; now as brown bread as a brass knocker and diddly squat to show for it – took ‘is last true till death and is now grinning at the daisy roots. Can’t take it wit’ yer. Still, we wos all gay an’ hearty when ‘e breathed ‘is last; I spent all day down the rub-a-dub-dub in celebration, ‘oping that ol’ Scrooge would soon follow ‘im to the grave,’ he said with the gleeful expression of someone recalling fond memories. No-one quite understood the butcher’s blether or where it was taking them, but they nodded their approval all the same.
‘It’s Bob Cratchit and his dear family that my heart goes out to most,’ said Mary O’Rourke, the grocer’s wife, as she pressed a thumb of tobacco into her clay pipe, ‘especially Tiny Tim, poor lad. That wicked scrooge drives Bob like a slave master, keeping him at that office all the hours God sends, and paying him a pittance for the privilege, while Bob’s toil fills the skinflint’s pockets still further. Tis a crying shame is all,’ she said, a sulphurous match flaring as she struck it on the wooden tabletop.
‘Might I suggest,’ said the Chairman, wishing to draw the meandering meeting to a close, ‘that if no-one has anything of practical design to offer in addressing the Scrooge situation, we try an idea of mine before we consider adopting more drastic measures. I propose the selection of three Committee members to approach Scrooge – at spread times across the course of a day – to attempt one last appeal to his conscience. We might not stand a ghost of a chance, but try, we must; it is Christmas after all.’
There being no ready dissenters to the Chairman’s proposal, he continued.
‘You speak true, Mary – the way Scrooge treats Bob Cratchit is a disgrace, as is his treatment of the impoverished tenants crammed into his rat-infested, damp houses. Not forgetting all those countless unfortunates who owe him money. So, Mary, being the good mother, wife, and Londoner you are, I recommend you approach Scrooge first. Appeal to his childhood memories of Christmas past; a time when he was not the flint-like excuse of a man he is today.’ The Chairman looked at the man sat to her right. ‘Harry, if that fails, as well it might, then as our representative for the hostelry business, you’ll approach him next. As a prodigious lover of life and all its gifts, and being so blessed with joyful spirit, appeal to any vestige of Christmas spirit he still might possess in the present, as remote as that prospect appears.’ There remained but one member to select, and the Chairman looked across at him with due deference.
‘Jack, I know you’re not a trader, but as a dedicated member of this committee and being as sick of Scrooge as we all are, I propose that if the first two fail, you’ll go in last. As your reputation already proceeds you, put the frighteners on him in whatever manner you deem warranted; as sexton and caretaker of the local graveyard, you’re adept at moving through dark places unseen in your black, hooded cowl, as the vicar here knows. And there’s nowhere darker than Scrooge’s heart. Just don’t get caught, mind, or leave a trail that the authorities can tread back to our door!
‘I have made my selection,’ said the Chairman, ‘which all three of you and the remaining Members appear to accept; I therefore pass the motion.’ Mary O’Rourke could never refrain from giggling at this turn of phrase. Had he possessed a gavel, the Chairman would have struck the table with it – several times – both to further show their resolute determination to hammer their message home into Scrooge… and to close the meeting at long last and head straight for the nearest alehouse.
It was Christmas, after all.
 Old Prinny was an affectionate nickname applied to King George IV by his subjects.
 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Citation for this post (MHRA - Modern Humanities Research Association). Please use:
Priestley, James, ‘Matters Arising: Ebenezer Scrooge’, Matters Arising: Ebenezer Scrooge, 2022 <https://www.jppriestley.com/post/title> [accessed D/M/Y]
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