Ebenezer's heartbreak: Belle
Editor’s note: This serial, which explores the days leading up to that fateful night in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” continues through Christmas Day. The story thus far: Marleyreveals to The Council,who governs the realm of the dead, how he is responsible for Ebenezer's corrupt soul.
Ebenezer’s house becamemy home after he rescued me from Queen's Row.Our arrangement was to be temporary at first, but we grew close over the next several months, men from dissimilar worlds but withsimilar pain and loss.
I grew accustomed to my new life, to regular meals and warmth and a bed; to baths and teatimes. I felt my metamorphosis from pauper to prince in real time.
Anger guided me, transformed me into a twisted butterfly inan unholy cocoon. Anger at the old man, mostly; at his idealism, his choice to abandon me for a stranger, all to make an impractical, naïve point about hope and honor and other fictions of the human condition.
Angerwas a lovely and convenient poultice for the sadness I felt.
My delusion grew as I grew older.My voice deepened. Muscles hardened and sculpted themselves with seemingly magic clay.
Ebenezer bought me clothes from afabric firm called Fezziwig’s, wherehe’d finished apprenticingthe year before. I received my own room, furnished with finery. We walked the streets of London and took in sights such as I had never seen in the slum. Parliament. Buckingham Palace. St. Paul’s and Westminster, where we attended church, took Communion and prayed.
The culture and lifestyle absorbed me by my late 20s. Etiquette became second nature. Ebenezer and I attended plays and took ladies out for dinner. I became a partner in his small properties firm, and it flourished.
Neither of us married. Not to say we didn’t try. Oh, we courted women, said all the right things, but love cannot serve two masters, and mine lay with industry, the glint of shillings and the crisp feel of pound notes.
Ebenezer came close. Belle, yes, that was her name. They’d met at Fezziwig’s, both apprentices, bothnot much older than I in my final days at Queen’s Row. Curious and hopeful and quite sure of so many things.
Her hair was dark blond, her eyes a silvery blue. Her smile put sunrises to shame. There was honey in her voice and life in her steps. In the beginning, I was certain they would marry. I began preparations to leave the home, quite confident in my ability to find another.
The fighting started a week later. Mere arguments at first, nothing beyond the ordinary. They escalated. There was screaming. Dishes broke and doors slammed and tears flowed. The gap between them widened and transformed into a dark chasm with a bottom you couldn’t see.
I refrained from asking him why. The man had given me a new life. He owed me nothing. So I kept silent, shut the door to my bedroom when one of their rows got underway, stuck balls of candle wax in my ears when it became a true nuisance.
He initiated the only words that passed between us on the subject. We were in a pub, proofing quarterly financials, a tired wind sighing through the streets outside. My hand had just dotted an “I” when he spoke.
“Belle will not be coming around the house anymore,” he said. "She...we're finished. Done."
“I’m sorry, old boy,” I said, setting my quill down.
“She ended things between us this morning,” he said, his eyes growing misty. “She said the oddest thing.”
“She saidbloody hell, what was it again? Ah. Yes. She said an idol had replaced her. A golden idol."
He stared at nothing, his hands clasped around a tepid ale.
"Ebenezer," I said after a few moments. "Ebenezer, hear me."
He looked up, his eyes weary.
"If I may offer an observation," I said.
"I want you to cling to this moment," I said. "How you feel, right now."
"For what purpose? You fancy me fond of self-inflicted torture?"
"No, no," I said, keeping my voice in check, trying to lure his brokenness with a welcoming calm. "Because in moments of weakness, in moments where you fancy yourself run through with Cupid's arrow, I want you to remember. Love did not spare your sister from death as you held her hand and wept at her bedside for days on end. Love did not keep Belle. You offered her the world, and only asked — bah, you didn't even ask —and only hoped that she would allow a focus on our counting house so that the life you sought to give her could be maintained. She left you anyway, scoffed at your desire to provide.
"My friend," I continued. "Work is not an idol. Work is self-respect. Work is self-reliance. Work is power."
His clenched jaw relaxed a little. God, but passionate speeches are fine weapons in duels for the soul.
"Maybe it's time you recoup those expenses, my dear partner," I said. "Maybe now is the time to run toward the only lover who would never try to change you, who would never leave you, who will never die."
Ebenezer nodded, drank the last of his ale. I had snared him.
I am a wretched man indeed.
Belle married a year later. Children followed. We were not invited to the wedding. Ebenezer received a letter from her at work years later, written from her new address in the country farther north. I watched Ebenezer toss it into the fire without opening it. The paper curled and ignited and withered to ashes. I walked back to my desk and resumed my work.
The depth of injuryBelle hadwrought on his heart left an almost supernatural scar.She wouldhaunt him forever,a ghostly memento that surfaces during the gloomier moments in life.
In my mind, Belle joined the old man in a hateful echelon ofthose who resented hard work and the money that flowered because of it: souless idealists who sneered at wealth and success.
Ebenezer and Jacob. Melancholy and rage. Wewould bebrothers in darkness.
Ebenezer’s descent continued slowly,cold and faint as falling snow. A small crop of dark weeds had sprouted within him.
Belle planted them. I gave them water when I could.
Read part 11 here.