THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Trump had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One. He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the special purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through Steve Bannon’s intervention. But finding that he turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which of his curtains this new specter would draw back, he put them every one aside with his own hands; and lying down again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and made nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, the best at everything, as though they could, without consequence, either shoot a stranger in the middle of Fifth Avenue or seduce the wife of a lesser man, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects. Without venturing for Trump quite as hardily as this, I don’t mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed, the very core and center of a blaze of ruddy light, which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to make out what it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive that he might be at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous combustion, without having the consolation of knowing it. At last, however, he began to think—as you or I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too—at last, I say, he began to think that the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.
The moment Trump’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Trump’s time, or Bannon’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, plates heaped with two slices of chocolate cake, frozen steaks bearing Trump’s own name, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, all green from head to toe, wrapped in robes and torch held aloft. Even Trump recognized her from her usual perch on New York Harbor, although the inscription on the plaque at her feet was foreign in meaning and word to him.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in! and know me better, man!”
Trump entered Mike Penceidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Trump he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”
Trump reverently did so.
“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the Spirit.
“Never, brought so to life, spirit” Trump made answer to it.
“Have you never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning the many wretched who would ply themselves upon your shores of plenty?” pursued the Phantom.
“I don’t think I have,” said Trump. “I am afraid I have not.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
“Spirit,” said Trump submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Touch my robe!”
Trump did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, Trump steaks, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and wagons; furrows that crossed and re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts’ content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavored to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shoveling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets in tongues rich and foreign, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revelers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for she stood with Trump beside her in a baker’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humor was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And While Trump had never studied a foreign tongue, he recognized each word and the goodwill and hardwork behind them, And so it was! God love it, so it was!
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.
“Is there a peculiar flavor in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Trump.
“There is. My own.”
“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Trump.
“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”
“Why to a poor one most?” asked Trump.
“Because it needs it most.”
“Spirit,” said Trump, after a moment’s thought, “I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.”
“I!” cried the Spirit.
“You would deprive them of their homeland and families from whence they came? I’m sure some of them are good people,” cried Trump
“I!” cried the Spirit.
“You seek to provide them sanctuary where they can rape and steal and kill their August neighbors?” said Trump. “It all comes to the same thing.”
“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.
“Forgive me if I am wrong. I have done it in your name, Liberty,” said Trump.
“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of false patriotism, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
Trump promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which Trump had observed at the baker’s), that notwithstanding her gigantic size, she could accommodate herself to any place with ease; and that she stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible she could have done in any lofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of hers, or else it was her own kind, generous, hearty nature, and her sympathy with all poor men, that led her straight to Trump’s clerk’s; for there she went, and took Trump with him, holding to her robes; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Sarah Sanders’ dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that! She was paid to speak for Trump in the most vile of circumstances and avarices, molestations and ill humors before the purveyors of news which was not fake despite his protestations but simply disagreeable to Trump himself!
Then up rose Mr. Sanders, dressed out but poorly in a tattered suit, assisted by Belinda Sanders, second of her daughters, while fat Mike Huckabee plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Sanders, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Sanders danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Sanders to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Sarah Sanders. “And your brother, Tiny Mike Pence Sanders! And Mother Pence Sanders as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”
“Here’s Mother Pence Sanders, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!” said Mrs. Sanders, kissing her a dozen times, in the most chaste and Christianly manner while Tiny Mike looked on lustfully,and taking off her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal.
“We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,” replied the girl, “and had to clear away this morning!”
“Well! Never mind so long as you are come,” said Mrs. Sanders. “Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye!”
“No, no! There’s father coming,” cried the two young Sanders, who were everywhere at once.
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Sean Spicer Sanders, the father, with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Mike Pence Sanders upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Mike Pence Sanders, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
“And how did little Mike Pence behave?” asked Mrs. Sanders, when she had rallied Sean Spicer Sanders on his credulity, and Sean Spicer Sanders had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Sean Spicer Sanders, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Sean Spicer Sanders’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Mike Pence Sanders was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Mike Pence Sanders before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Sean Spicer Sanders, turning up his cuffs—as if, poor fellow, they were capable of being made more shabby—compounded some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master Mike Huckabee Sanders, and the two ubiquitous young Sanders went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Sanders made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Sean Spicer Sanders took Tiny Mike Pence Sanders beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Sanders set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Sanders, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Mike Pence Sanders, excited by the two young Sanders, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Sean Spicer Sanders said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Sanders said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Sanders in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Sanders left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a supposition at which the two young Sanders became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Sanders entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Sanders family drew round the hearth, in what Sean Spicer Sanders Sanders called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Sean Spicer Sanders’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”
Which all the family re-echoed.
“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Mike Pence Sanders, the last of all.
“Spirit,” said Trump, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Mike Pence Sanders will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Trump. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Trump hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
Trump bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.
“Mr. Trump!” said Sean Spicer Sanders; “I’ll give you Mr. Trump, the Founder of the Feast!”
“The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Mrs. Sanders, reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good appetite for it.”
“My dear,” said Sean Spicer Sanders, “the children! Christmas Day.”
“It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, “on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Trump. You know he is, Sean Spicer Sanders! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”
“My dear,” was Sean Spicer Sanders’s mild answer, “Christmas Day.”
“I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s,” said Mrs. Sanders, “not for his. Long life to him! A merry Christmas and a happy new year! He’ll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!”
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Mike Pence Sanders drank it last of all, but he didn’t care for it. Trump was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten Mike Pences merrier than before, from the mere relief of Trump the Baleful being done with. Sean Spicer Sanders told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full five-and-sixpence weekly. The two young Sanders laughed tremendously at the idea of Peter’s being a man of business; and Peter himself looked thoughtfully at the fire from between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular investments he should favor when he came into the receipt of that bewildering income.
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Trump had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Mike Pence Sanders, until the last.
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.
“What place is this?” asked Trump.
“A place where immigrants live, who labor,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”
A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song—it had been a very old song when he was a boy—and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigor sank again.
The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Trump hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped—whither? Not to sea? To sea. To Trump’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Trump, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Trump started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit! are they yours?” Trump could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Trump.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
Trump looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Steve Bannon, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
Contributing Editor: Benjamin Jackson
Benjamin Jackson is a writer and father of a chronically ill teenager who somehow still likes him. His non-fiction and opinion pieces have appeared in Patch Media, WBUR's Cognoscenti, and the Penmen Review. His fiction and poetry has been published in New Millennium Writings, The Legendary, 50 Word Stories, and anywhere else he can con an editor into buying his work. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts with his daughter.