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‘I’m honoured,’ said Scrooge: In the final part of JEFFREY ARCHER’s retelling of A Christmas Carol


The story so far…

Eben Scrooge, in the middle of a deal to defraud his trusting nephew of his inheritance, a local football club, was woken at night by three spectres: the Ghost Of Christmas Past, who reminded him of old friendships and a potential wife whom he lost because of his greed; the Ghost Of Christmas Present, who showed him the effect of his selfishness on others, including his disabled godson, Tiny Tim; and the Ghost Of Christmas Future, who made him witness his lonely, unmourned death. Will he now reform his miserly ways?

Pictured: The Mail invited the master storyteller Jeffrey Archer to reinvent the classic A Christmas Carol in a modern setting

Scrooge woke with a start, sat up and looked at his bedside clock: 6.38.

He tentatively picked up his mobile phone to check any messages. There were none. Next, his WhatsApp: nothing. Then, recent calls: a blank screen appeared. He finally pressed voicemails to hear a faint echo. ‘I cannot help you, unless . . .’

He climbed out of bed and took a long cold shower while he tried not to think about the horrors he had witnessed during the night. By the time he was dressed, he’d made up his mind.

He walked down the wide staircase and made his way to the kitchen, to find his breakfast and morning paper, The Daily Grump, awaiting him. Some things never change.

‘Good morning, Janet,’ he said, as he took his place at the table.

Mrs Carter turned around, unable to mask her surprise. ‘Good morning, Mr Scrooge,’ she replied, before placing two eggs in a pan of boiling water and dropping a slice of bread into the toaster.

‘How did your Christmas shopping go yesterday?’ Scrooge asked, as he pushed The Daily Grump to one side.

This time she couldn’t answer immediately, but eventually managed, ‘Almost done.’

‘Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, Janet? There must be lots of things you still need to do before Christmas Day.’

‘Thank you, Mr Scrooge,’ she said, not noticing that the egg timer had run its course and the toast was burnt. She glanced around to check that it was in fact her master seated at the table. What could have happened, she wondered, since she’d last seen him. Had he won the Lottery? Or was he suffering from a hangover? But neither was possible, because he never gambled and he didn’t drink.

Scrooge cracked the first of his eggs to find it was hard-boiled, then scraped his burnt toast with a knife, but he didn’t comment other than to say, ‘I’ll see you on Monday, Janet.’

‘Won’t you need me as usual on Boxing Day, Mr Scrooge?’

‘Certainly not. You must spend the day with your family.’ Though in truth, he wasn’t even sure if she had a family.

‘Thank you very much, Mr Scrooge,’ she said, sounding so surprised, it only reminded him how badly he’d treated her.

‘I’ve changed my mind,’ he announced, sounding more like his old self. ‘Take all next week off. In fact, I don’t want to see you again until January the second.’

‘But . . . but how will you survive, Mr Scrooge?’

‘I’ll let you know when you come back! Merry Christmas, Janet,’ he declared as he left the kitchen.

Mrs Carter collapsed into the nearest chair. She could only assume Mr Scrooge must be on the way to see a doctor.

Scrooge stepped out into the hall, where he paused in front of the portrait of his ancestor, Ebenezer. He lifted the painting off the wall and looked at him for just a moment, before putting a foot through the canvas as if he was scoring the winning goal.

Eben glanced out of the window to see it was snowing, so he put on his overcoat and hat before venturing out. He hadn’t a moment to waste.

He set off down the street and was surprised to notice that despite the cold, everyone he passed had a smile on their face. ‘Good morning, Mr Scrooge,’ said a passer-by as he made his way towards the town centre. He raised his hat and returned the compliment.

Scrooge said: 'I should tell you that I had originally intended to buy the club as a tax write-off, but my accountant has advised me that if I make this ¿¿ he held up the cheque for one million pounds ¿¿ a charitable donation, your club,¿ he hesitated, ¿our club, can make a claim against tax and it will be worth one million, four hundred thousand pounds.¿

Scrooge said: ‘I should tell you that I had originally intended to buy the club as a tax write-off, but my accountant has advised me that if I make this —’ he held up the cheque for one million pounds ‘— a charitable donation, your club,’ he hesitated, ‘our club, can make a claim against tax and it will be worth one million, four hundred thousand pounds.’

When he reached the High Street, he quickly identified a shop he’d never noticed before but now recognised immediately.

As he stepped inside, he tried not to make it too obvious he knew the salesman who was walking towards him. ‘Good morning, Sir,’ said the salesman. ‘How can I help you?’

‘An old friend of mine, Mr Cratchit, came into your shop yesterday afternoon,’ said Scrooge, ‘with his wife and their son.’

‘I remember them well. They purchased the new SRX electric wheelchair.’

‘The latest model,’ said Scrooge. ‘I believe he paid a deposit of one thousand pounds.’

‘He did indeed, sir.’

‘Do you still have the cheque, by any chance?’

‘Yes, I’ll be banking it later.’

‘May I see it?’

The salesman looked puzzled, but opened the till and rifled through several cheques before finding the one he was looking for. Scrooge grabbed the cheque and tore it in half. He then took out his chequebook and said, ‘£4,600, is that correct?’

‘Plus VAT.’

‘Of course,’ said Scrooge, then wrote out the full amount and handed the cheque over.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ said the salesman as he placed the cheque in the till and closed it quickly.

‘Should Mr Cratchit ever ask you who paid for the wheelchair, you will not under any circumstances tell him. Is that understood?’

‘Of course, Sir,’ said the salesman. He would have thanked the customer who had ensured his Christmas bonus, but he’d already left the shop.

Scrooge continued on down the High Street, raising his hat to several more well-wishers before coming to halt outside a building he’d visited many times before, but not for this purpose.

Entering the bank, he joined a long queue of customers waiting to be served. When he eventually reached the front of the line, he asked the teller if he could have a word with the manager.

‘Mr Deering usually only sees customers who’ve made an appointment,’ she said. ‘I’ll have to see if he’s free, Mr . . ?’

‘Eben Scrooge.’

She picked up her phone and dialled a number which was answered immediately. ‘Mr Deering, I have a Mr Eben Scrooge at my counter, and he’s asking . . .’ The line went dead. As the teller began to redial, a door on the far side of the banking hall burst open and the manager came rushing in. He hurried across to a customer he knew didn’t like to be kept waiting.

‘Good morning, Mr Scrooge,’ he said, even before he’d reached him. ‘How can I help you?’

‘I must apologise, Mr Deering,’ began Scrooge, ‘as I don’t have an appointment and I now realise Christmas Eve must be one of your busiest days of the year.’

‘I’m never too busy to see you, Mr Scrooge,’ said the manager, fearful of what could have caused such an important customer to visit without an appointment. ‘Perhaps you’d like to come into my office,’ he ventured.

After Scrooge had taken a seat, Deering asked him if he’d like some coffee.

‘No, thank you. I have a busy day ahead of me.’

‘Of course, Sir. So please, tell me,’ he added, with a slight tremor in his voice, ‘how can I assist you?’

‘My old schoolfriend Dick Wilkins is due to repay me a sum of money I loaned him almost a year ago.’

‘The payment is due on January the first, if I remember correctly,’ said the manager, opening a desk drawer and removing a file. ‘Twenty thousand pounds at 12 per cent interest, with a penalty clause should he fail to pay on time. You insisted on the title deeds of his home as collateral.’

‘I’d like you to clear the debt and return the deeds to him.’

Mr Deering wasn’t sure he’d heard Mr Scrooge correctly, but after a moment’s hesitation he opened another drawer and extracted a form. ‘Shall I fill in the details?’ he asked.

Master storyteller Jeffrey Archer has reinvented the Dickens original, A Christmas Carol, in a modern setting, creating a joyous tale for our age

Master storyteller Jeffrey Archer has reinvented the Dickens original, A Christmas Carol, in a modern setting, creating a joyous tale for our age

‘Yes, of course. I’ll just sign it for now and leave the rest to you.’

Deering hesitated again. He’d never known Mr Scrooge not to check a document twice before he signed it. Sometimes three times. ‘As you wish,’ he said, turning to the last page and pointing to the dotted line.

Scrooge took out his fountain pen, signed his name and handed back the document.

‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ asked Mr Deering as Scrooge rose from his seat.

‘Just one more thing. Would you be kind enough to call Mr Wilkins and tell him he’s had a dividend payment on old shares following a takeover, which has yielded £25,000, and transfer that amount from my personal account.’

This time Mr Deering was rendered speechless.

‘Happy Christmas, Mr Deering,’ said Scrooge, who left the manager’s office without another word. By the time Mr Deering had looked up Dick Wilkins’s number in his phone book to pass on the glad news, Scrooge was already back out on the street, heading home. He didn’t want to be late for the club’s Christmas Eve lunch.

As he strode along, Scrooge passed a man he thought he recognised, turned and called to him.

‘Sir!’

The man swung around.

‘Aren’t you the choirmaster at St Bede’s?’

‘Indeed I am, Mr Scrooge.’

‘Was that your choir singing outside my house when I returned home last night?’

‘I’m afraid it was, Sir. I can only apologise if they disturbed you. Be assured it won’t happen again.’

‘It is I who should apologise. I’m afraid I was preoccupied at the time,’ said Scrooge, as he took out his wallet and emptied it of every note, before handing them over to the shocked choirmaster. ‘I’m afraid this won’t make up for all those years when I failed to give your superb choristers anything. But don’t hesitate to call on me again whenever it’s convenient.’

(From a previous chapter) Eben Scrooge was always delighted when anyone described him as every bit as mean as his ancestor, and among the other traits he was proud to have inherited were being ruthless, cunning and selfish, all of which he considered compliments

(From a previous chapter) Eben Scrooge was always delighted when anyone described him as every bit as mean as his ancestor, and among the other traits he was proud to have inherited were being ruthless, cunning and selfish, all of which he considered compliments

‘That’s most generous of you, Mr Scrooge,’ replied the choirmaster, as Eben raised his hat and continued on his way. He was becoming anxious that Heath would be waiting outside his front door, wondering where he could be.

When he turned the corner, he saw his driver stamping his feet in the snow in an effort to keep warm.

‘Sorry to have kept you waiting,’ said Scrooge, as he jumped into the back of the car. ‘I hope we will still be on time for the club’s Christmas lunch.’

‘I’ll try to make sure you’re not late, Mr Scrooge,’ said Heath. And as the car moved off, Scrooge asked, ‘When did I last give you a raise, Ned?’

‘Must have been about three years ago, Sir.’

‘Then you shall have one immediately. Ten per cent, and I’ll backdate it for three years.’ Heath crunched the gears. ‘It’s no more than you deserve,’ said Scrooge.

Heath glanced in the rear-view mirror to check it really was his master in the back. ‘That’s most generous of you, Sir,’ he said, still not sure if he’d heard correctly.

‘It’s nothing of the sort. And in future, make sure that whenever you do any overtime, you keep a record of the hours so you can claim the full amount.’

Heath only just avoided crashing into the car in front.

Scrooge didn’t say another word until they drew up outside the clubhouse 15 minutes later. His nephew was standing on the top step, waiting to greet him. Such a well-mannered young man, thought Scrooge.

As Scrooge stepped out of the car, he paused for a moment to survey the land that stretched as far as the eye could see. Twenty-two acres, if he remembered correctly. Unquestionably an ideal site for a supermarket, he considered, before his eyes moved on to the perfect spot for a car park.

(From a previous chapter) Scrooge didn¿t say a word during the 15-minute journey to Southbury Football Club. He spent the time mentally preparing himself for the encounter with his nephew Fred, who had been brought up by Jake Marley after Scrooge¿s sister Nell had died in childbirth

(From a previous chapter) Scrooge didn’t say a word during the 15-minute journey to Southbury Football Club. He spent the time mentally preparing himself for the encounter with his nephew Fred, who had been brought up by Jake Marley after Scrooge’s sister Nell had died in childbirth

He began to wonder if he’d already done enough to assuage the three ghosts and could now go ahead with the deal.

When he turned back to look at Fred standing on the top step, he saw instead Jake Marley, staring disapprovingly at him and again wagging a finger. Scrooge bowed his head as he climbed the clubhouse steps to join his nephew, who shook him by the hand.

‘Welcome back,’ said Fred, before accompanying him into the clubhouse. Several members stood up as Scrooge walked in, while others remained seated. A couple even turned their backs on him.

A few minutes later, the assembled members sat down for lunch. Fred had placed Scrooge on his right-hand side and began to regale him with his future plans for the club, even before the first course had been served.

Scrooge glanced down the long table and caught sight of Belle deep in conversation with Bob Cratchit. The look of despair she had worn the last time he’d seen her had been replaced by the old familiar smile.

Dick, too, was looking relaxed as he told the club secretary that he’d completed the outline drawings for the new clubhouse.

‘Be sure to send me your account,’ said the secretary. ‘We won’t have to delay payments any longer, as I have a feeling Mr Scrooge is about to hand over a cheque for a million pounds now that we’ve signed away our land.’

‘But can we trust him?’ said Dick, remembering his wife’s words.

Scrooge turned his attention to the other side of the table, where Bob Cratchit was listening intently to something Tiny Tim was telling him.

After Scrooge had eaten a little too much, and even taken a sip from his glass of wine, he put down his knife and fork, took a cheque from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him.

He watched as the words and numbers appeared to change in front of his eyes to ‘Pay Eben Scrooge £20,000,000’ and he once again had second thoughts — until the empty plate in front of him began to take the shape of a tombstone and his knife rose from its place unaided, turning into a chisel that began to carve the dates ‘1971-20 . . .’

Then Fred tapped the side of his wine glass with a spoon and stood up, causing Scrooge to snap back into the real world.

‘Today,’ he began, once the murmur of conversation had quietened down, ‘is a red-letter day in the club’s history. This afternoon we play against our great local rivals in the cup final. Should we win, it would be more than reason enough to celebrate, but I know you will all be delighted to learn that our generous benefactor, Eben Scrooge, has agreed to become the club’s president.’

Almost everyone joined in the applause that followed, and the cries of ‘Speech! Speech!’ left Scrooge with little choice but to respond. He rose slowly from his place.

‘I am,’ he began, searching for the words, ‘honoured to follow my late business partner Jake Marley as your club president. I should tell you that I had originally intended to buy the club as a tax write-off, but my accountant has advised me that if I make this —’ he held up the cheque for one million pounds ‘— a charitable donation, your club,’ he hesitated, ‘our club, can make a claim against tax and it will be worth one million, four hundred thousand pounds.’

This time the applause was deafening, and it was some time before he could continue. ‘Be assured,’ he said, ‘that early in the new year, the bulldozers will move in and demolish this antiquated clubhouse. Its replacement, designed by my old friend Dick Wilkins, one of the city’s leading architects, will be a building we can all be proud of.’

Another round of applause broke out but Scrooge lifted a hand, as he had more to say. ‘And, like your chairman, I am confident Southbury will win the Marley Cup this afternoon, and that this will only be the start of far greater things to come.’

Scrooge sat down to a standing ovation. He couldn’t help wondering where those words had come from, until he saw Jake Marley standing at the end of the table, a satisfied grin on his face.

‘We’d better get a move on,’ said Fred, after coffee had been served, ‘or we’ll miss the kick-off.’

Scrooge immediately stood up and led them all out of the clubhouse.

While the club’s new president stood alongside the supporters on the touchline, waiting for the match to begin, several members came up to congratulate him on his speech. ‘Reminded me of Jake Marley,’ one said. A moment later, Councillor Roberts appeared at the president’s side and asked if they could have a word in private.

‘Not now,’ said Scrooge, turning his back on him as the referee blew his whistle.

The match went first one way and then the other but after 90 minutes it was still nil-nil, with only three minutes of added time to be played.

Scrooge felt anxious and excited. With less than a minute remaining, he began cheering as loudly as anyone when Wayne Ibrahim burst over the halfway line, the ball at his feet, having left two of the opposition in his wake.

He glided past another, then a fourth, leaving only two defenders between him and the goal. He feinted deftly to his right, causing one hapless full back to trip over, while the other ran towards him. At the last moment, Wayne turned his back on him, swung around and propelled the ball with all the force he could muster towards the goalmouth.

The crowd fell silent as the ball arched through the air. The goalkeeper made a desperate leap to his left, but his outstretched fingers couldn’t reach the ball as it whistled past him into the far corner of the net.

‘Goal!’ screamed the jubilant crowd, as they leapt in the air while the rest of the team ran deliriously towards their talisman. But Wayne had once again changed direction and was heading for the touchline when he fell to his knees and slid to a halt in front of Tiny Tim, who threw his arms around him. If possible, the cheers grew even louder.

Scrooge turned to Councillor Roberts and said, ‘He’ll play for England one day.’

After the home team had been presented with the cup, Scrooge and the chairman headed back to the clubhouse with Councillor Roberts following a pace behind.

‘I wonder if I might be allowed to change my mind,’ he said to Fred, bowing his head. Councillor Roberts was suddenly alert, while his nephew looked anxious.

‘You see,’ said Eben, embarrassed, ‘I’ve had second thoughts.’ He whispered the words, making sure no one else could hear. ‘I wonder if I could accept your kind invitation and join you and your family for dinner on Christmas Day?’

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

© 2021 Jeffrey Archer

The fee for this story will be donated to the Science Museum at Lord Archer’s request.



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