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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Miners, Lighthouse Keepers and Sailors (“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens)


Welsh coal miners singing Christmas carols on December 23, 1943, in the Bryn Valley Colliery, a mile west of Maesteg, in Glamorgan, South Wales, U.K.; the colliery was sunk in the 1890 and closed in 1964  (Photo by Jack Esten/Daily Herald, @ National Science and Media Museum)

 

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude rock 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 gloom of darkest night.

 

‘What place is this?’ asked Scrooge.

 

‘A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,’ 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 howl 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 vigour sank again.

 

The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped whither? Not to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’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.

 


 

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds – born of the wind, one might suppose, as sea-weed is of water – rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

 

But, even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them – the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred from hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be – struck up a sturdy song that was like a gale in itself.

 

Over the Sea, an illustration for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a ghost story of Christmas, published by Ticknor and Fields, Boston, 1869 (Wood engraving by Sol Eytinge)


 

Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea – on, on – until being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to a companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for one another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.

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