KT POOLIE continues to apologise to Mr. Charles Dickens

Scrote woke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE. A strange figure like a man, viewed through some supernatural medium, stood before him. Its hair was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it. It wore a tunic of the blue and white. 

"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrote.

"I am!"

"Who, and what are you?" Scrote demanded.

"I am Cyril Knowles, the Manager of Christmas Past."

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm. "Rise and walk with me!"

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon Clarence Road. The darkness and the mist had vanished. It was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground.

"Good Heaven!" said Scrote, "It’s The Victoria Ground. I was a boy here!"

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man's sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!"Howay and know me better, man! I am, Barron, the Manager of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.

"You recollect the way?" inquired the Spirit.

"Remember it!" cried Scrote with fervour; "I could walk it blindfold."

"Strange to have forgotten the excitement of it for so many years!" observed the Ghost. "Let us go on."

They walked along the road, Scrote recognising every step, until a little rickety wooden stand appeared in the distance, with corrugated iron roof and wooden supports. Boys called to other boys in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the street was so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it!

"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."

The jocund supporters came on, and as they came, Scrote knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past? Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas, as they arrived at the turnstiles? What was merry Christmas to Scrote? What good had it ever done to him?

They went, the Ghost and Scrote, across the Rink End steps, to a corner at the back of the terrace. Before them a lonely boy was standing near a floodlight. Scrote sat down upon a step, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

"What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.

How all this was brought about, Scrote knew no more than you do. He only knew that there he was, alone, when all the other boys were chanting and clapping joyfully behind the blue painted barriers.

"I wish I’d joined in" Scrote muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his sleeve, "but it's too late now."

When the man in black blew his watch, the game was up. The team was defeated again and in desperate straits. Nevertheless, fans on either side of the Vic showed no ill-temper towards the players or each other, shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wishing him or her a Merry Christmas.

"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude, they have spent but a few pounds of your mortal money, three or four perhaps. Is that so much that they shouldn’t applaud a losing team, and try to turn around their ill-fortune?"

"Spirit!" said Scrote, "show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?" Remove me from this place."

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

Scrote was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness, and, further, of being in his own bedroom, and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrote had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One.

"Get up!" exclaimed a Ghost. "Howay and know me better, man! I am, Barron, the Manager of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.

The Spirit bade Scrote hold his robe, and passing through the wall and on above the moor, the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea - on, on, on - until, being far away, as he told Scrote, from any shore, they lighted by an empty stadium.

There the ghost brought two children - dressed in shirts of the black and white hoops they favoured - wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled 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.

"What happened to them?" asked Scrote.

“They forgot their background and upbringing. They listened to promises of fame and fortune and sought it too quickly and left behind common sense. This boy is Indifference. 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 Administration, unless the writing be erased.”

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrote.

“There’s no workhouse lower than theirs”, replied Barron.

The bell struck twelve.

Scrote looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Cloughie, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrote bent down upon his knee, for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

"I am in the presence of the Manager of Christmas Yet To Come." said Scrote, “Who are you?”

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Scrote pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?"

"Manager of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

"Lead on!" said Scrote. “Lead on, Spirit!"

They went onto Clarence Road, but it was now an obscure part of the town, which Scrote felt he had never penetrated before, although he recognised its situation. The ways were foul and narrow, the club shop and offices wretched. The street like so many cesspools, disgorged its offences of smell, and dirt, and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.

A man stopped to shut the main door for the last time. “Ah! How it skreeks! There ain't such a rusty bit of metal in the place as its own hinges, I believe; and I'm sure there's no such old bones here, as mine.”

Scrote recoiled in terror, for now he saw a sign: a bare, metal sign, on which words peeped beneath a ragged sheet. Scrote crept towards it, trembling as he went and read upon the sign the words:

A notice of Intention to appoint an administrator has been filed with the court.

"Is this the fate of my club?" he cried, upon his knees. "Spirit!" Scrote cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the supporter I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!"

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"

The kind hand trembled.

“I will not shut out the lessons that the past, the present and the future teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this sign!"

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrote, laughing and crying in the same breath. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everybody!

He opened his bedroom window, spying a boy passing in the street.

"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrote.

"To-day!" replied the boy. "Why, January 2nd."

"Scunthorpe at home!" said Scrote to himself. "I haven't missed it.

He dressed himself "all in his blue and white best," and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, and walking with his hands behind him, Scrote regarded every one with a delighted smile. Entering the ground he beheld the robust raffle sellers.

"My dear sirs," said Scrote, "How do you do? Have the goodness to give me ten tickets.”

Taking his usual Millhouse seat, Scrote was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. Buying each the largest pies in the shop, he joined his nephew and Scratchit and sang and cheered and clapped for a full 90 minutes.

Scrote became as good a supporter, and as good a man, as the good old club knew, or any other club, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them. His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, and although Tiny Tim had never got any better, ever afterwards it was always said of Scrote, that he knew how to be a fan and keep Christmas well.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, God bless Us, Every One!