The valet was making the final fussy adjustments to Paul's suit and tie when the youngest Scrooge, Ebenezer, came into the room carrying a small cloth sack. He walked up to the beaming Paul, and holding the bag by the bottom used it as a mitt to crush a horse dropping on Paul's face, twisting it around to work it well into the skin. As Paul and brother Edmund sputtered in indignant surprise, Ebenezer said, "Merry Christmas" and stalked out of the room. Although the reference to Christmas was unseasonal, Paul and Edmund understood perfectly.
Nathaniel Scrooge was a comfortably affluent barrister well able to supply his family with luxuries as well as necessities. It was good that he had an ample income. With Paul and Edmund at university and Polly beginning to blossom into womanhood (a process that was much more expensive than he ever imagined it could be), not to mention Mary Elizabeth's passion for Parisian gowns he needed a large and frequently replenished purse. He was thankful that Ebenezer, the youngest, was still some years away from university, although by the time he got there his older brothers would, hopefully be earning their own way.
The more reflective among the citizens of 1840's London gave thanks that the carriages, drays and carts that crowded the streets were pulled by horses rather than oxen. The neat horse apples, as they
were euphemistically called in polite conversation, made it possible for pedestrians to dodge across streets without stepping into the pies that oxen would have left. In the city center street sweepers kept
the streets cleared. In the residential areas it was regarded as responsible citizenship to keep the area in front of the house picked up. This task usually fell to an under groom who could often be seen
on a bench in front of the house, ready to dart out whenever a horse passed.
Tom, the Scrooge under groom was a sickly boy, whose frequent bouts of sniffles interfered with his attention to his principal duty. He was only tolerated by Nathaniel because his mother, Nancy, a jewel among cooks, made clear that she and Tom went together. What rendered Nathaniel nearly apoplectic were the occasions when Mary Elizabeth hosted a dinner and the guests, on leaving, found horse apples in front of their waiting carriages and Tom nowhere in sight. On these occasions, Nancy's continued employment teetered on a knife edge although Mary Elizabeth always ultimately prevailed.
As far as Ebenezer could tell, this Christmas would be pretty much like all other Christmases. He would get socks, mittens and gloves knitted by his grandmothers and his aunts, his grandfathers would give him books intended to inspire and elevate him, his father might give him some soldiers and his brothers would probably, as they did every year, play some practical joke on him. He was getting bigger each year and he looked forward eagerly to the time when he would give each of them a bloody nose for Christmas. Not this year, he wasn't big enough yet, but his time would come.
The Scrooge custom was to hang stockings on the fireplace with presents for each child. This year, there were only two as the older boys were considered to be past this. To heighten the suspense, the children were not allowed to empty their stockings until after Christmas dinner. Ebenezer didn't really care when he would get his supply of knitted goods. He'd just as soon get it over with and go to
The day did not start well. Mary Elizabeth had said, "Ebenezer, Tom is sick today, so I'm afraid you'll have to look after the street." "Why can't Peter (the groom), do it?" "Your father has given him the day off to be with his mother, so I'm afraid it will have to be you. It won't be so bad, there won't be many carriages out today." It could have been worse, he'd only had to get out a couple of times with
his brush and his shovel, still, it wasn't his job and he hated it. Dinner finally came and the turkey was proudly placed before Nathaniel for carving. As always, Ebenezer asked for a drumstick, as always, he didn't get it The two went as they usually did to Paul and Edmund. Polly and a visiting aunt each got a thigh. Ebenezer got a wing.
All through the interminable dinner, Paul and Edmund would look at Ebenezer, nudge each other and snicker. Finally it was over and now was the time for the stockings. Polly was the first. She had her fair share of knitted goods, along with a bracelet, a pearl necklace and a silk scarf from Paris. Everybody oohed and aahed and Polly was pleased.
Now it was Ebenezer's turn. He reached into his stocking and the first thing he brought out was a horse apple. Paul and Edmund collapsed in gales of laughter while tears ran down their faces.
Nathaniel, barely suppressing a smile, said mildly, "That wasn't in very good taste." Ebenezer threw the horse apple and the stocking into the fire and promised himself that he would never again ever have
anything to do with Christmas.