Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the First Day of Advent: The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens

In an old abbey town, a long, long time ago there officiated as sexton and gravedigger in the churchyard one Gabriel Grubb. He was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow, who consorted with nobody but himself and an old wicker-bottle which fitted into his large, deep waistcoat pocket.

A little before twilight one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself toward the old churchyard, for he had a grave to finish by next morning, and feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once.

He strode along 'til he turned into the dark lane which led to the churchyard - a nice, gloomy, mournful place into which the towns-people did not care to go except in broad daylight. Consequently he was not a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring out some jolly song about a Merry Christmas:

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here

Gabriel waited until the boy came up, then rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times to teach him to modulate his voice.

"Modulate your voice, you little whippersnapper.  In fact, don't sing at all.  I don't like it!"

The boy hurried away, with his hand to his head,  "Owwww!"  Gabriel Grubb chuckled to himself, "He he he!" and entered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

He took off his coat, put down his lantern, and getting into an unfinished grave, worked at it for an hour or so with right good will. But the earth was hardened with the frost, and it was no easy matter to break it up and shovel it out. At any other time this would have made Gabriel very miserable, but he was so pleased at having stopped the small boy's singing that he took little heed of the scanty progress he had made when he had finished work for the night, and looked down into the grave with grim satisfaction, murmuring as he gathered up his things:

"Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,
A few feet of cold earth when life is done."

"He he he!" he laughed, and he carried on laughing, as he set himself down on a flat tombstone, which was a favorite resting-place of his, and drew forth his wicker-bottle.  "A coffin at Christmas! A Christmas box.  He he he!"

"Ha ha ha!" repeated a deep voice close beside him.

Gabriel looked all about him but there was nothing to be seen.

"It was the echoes," he said, raising the bottle to his lips again.

"It was not," said that same deep voice.

Gabriel leapt to his feet and stood rooted to the spot with terror, for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.

Seated on an upright tombstone close to him was a strange, unearthly figure. He was sitting perfectly still, grinning at Gabriel Grubb with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.

"What do you here on Christmas Eve?" said the goblin, sternly.

"I, um, I came to dig a grave, sir," stammered Gabriel.

"Tut, tut, tut!  What man wanders among graves on such a night as this?"

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard.

"What have you got in that bottle?" said the goblin.

"Hollands, sir," replied the sexton, trembling more than ever, for he had bought this Dutch gin from smugglers, and he thought his questioner might be in the tax-and-excise department of the goblins.

"Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard on such a night as this?"

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" exclaimed the wild voices again.

"And who, then, is our lawful prize?" exclaimed the goblin, raising his voice.

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" replied the invisible chorus.

"Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?" said the goblin, as he grinned a broader grin than before.

The sexton gasped for breath and was unable to answer.

"What do you think of this, Gabriel?"

"It's--it's very curious, sir, very curious, sir, and very pretty," replied the sexton, half-dead with fright. "But I think I'll go back and finish my work, sir, if you please."

"Work!" said the goblin, "what work?"

"The grave, sir."

"Oh! the grave, eh? Who makes graves at a time when other men are merry, and takes a pleasure in it?"

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" replied the voices once more.

"I'm afraid my friends want you, Gabriel," said the goblin.

The sexton was horror-stricken. "Under favor, sir,  I don't think they can; they don't know me, sir; I don't think the gentlemen have ever seen me."

"Oh! yes, they have. We know the man who struck the boy in the envious malice of his heart because the boy could be merry and he could not."

Here the goblin gave a loud, shrill laugh which the echoes returned twenty-fold.

"I--I am afraid I must leave you, sir," said the sexton, making an effort to move.

"Leave us!" said the goblin laughing loud and long.  And as he laughed he suddenly darted toward Gabriel, laid his hand upon his collar, and sank with him through the earth. And when Gabriel had had time to fetch his breath he found himself in what appeared to be a large cavern, surrounded on all sides by goblins ugly and grim.

"And now," said the king of the goblins, his new friend from the churchyard, now seated in the centre of the room on an elevated seat, "show the man of misery and gloom a few of the pictures from our great storehouses."

As the goblin said this a cloud rolled gradually away and disclosed a small and scantily furnished but neat apartment. Little children were gathered round a bright fire, clinging to their mother's gown, or gamboling round her chair. A frugal meal was spread upon the table and an elbow-chair was placed near the fire. Soon the father entered and the children ran to meet him. As he sat down to his meal the mother sat by his side and all seemed happiness and comfort. The meal was small and cheap: a tiny goose eked out by apple sauce, boiled potatoes, mashed in the saucepan, and gravy.  It wasn't much of a Christmas dinner but it was sufficient for the whole family.

"What do you think of that?" said the goblin.

Gabriel murmured something about its being very pretty.

"Show him some more," said the goblin.

Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson it taught Gabriel Grubb. He saw that men who worked hard and earned their scanty bread could be cheerful and happy. He saw that mothers and children with little enough to eat and drink could be joyful and glad.  Even employers and their employees could be jovial and kind to one another.  And he came to the conclusion that it could be a very respectable world after all; a world in which he, Gabriel Grubb, could be content, could be cheery, indeed perhaps could even be happy; that it was possible for him to make that choice.

No sooner had he formed this opinion than the cloud that closed over and the last picture seemed to settle on his senses and lull him to repose. One by one the goblins faded from his sight, and as the last one disappeared Gabriel sank into a deep sleep.

Christmas Day had broken when he awoke, and he found himself lying on the flat gravestone, with the wicker-bottle empty by his side.  He was quite alone.  There was no goblin nearby; he heard no voices crying, Gabriel Grubb, Gabriel Grubb. 

He got to his feet as well as he could, and brushing the frost off his coat, turned his face towards the town and started to walk.

But he was an altered man, he had learned lessons of gentleness and good-nature by his strange adventure with the king of the goblins, by the visions he'd seen in the goblin's cavern.

And as he walked into the town, people heard a sound they'd never heard before.  Gabriel Grubb could be heard to sing,

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Telling the Tale, "Gabriel Grubb, Gabriel Grubb"
 I adapted this wonderful story for The Hidden Room's Christmas event in December 2011.  Photos are from that sublime evening.

Swing-dancing with Rommel Sulit
Loving the Tree


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