Charles Dickens has given us no picture of Tiny Tim, but at the thought of him comes a vision of a delicate figure, less boy than spirit. We seem to see a face oval in shape and fair in colouring. We see eyes deep-set and grey, shaded by lashes as dark as the hair parted from the middle of his low forehead. We see a sunny, patient smile which from time to time lights up his whole face, and a mouth whose firm, strong lines reveal clearly the beauty of character, and the happiness of disposition, which were Tiny Tim’s.
He was a rare little chap indeed, and a prime favourite as well. Ask the Crachits old and young, whose smile they most desired, whose applause they most coveted, whose errands they almost fought with one another to run, whose sadness or pain could most affect the family happiness, and with one voice they would answer, “Tim’s!”
It was Christmas Day, and in all the suburbs of London there was to be no merrier celebration than at the Crachits. To be sure, Bob Crachit had but fifteen “Bob” himself a week on which to clothe and feed all the little Crachits, but what they lacked in luxuries they made up in affection and contentment, and would not have changed places, one of them, with any king or queen.
While Bob took Tiny Tim to church, preparations for the feast were going on at home. Mrs. Crachit was dressed in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons, while Master Peter Crachit plunged a fork into a saucepan full of potatoes, getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, but rejoiced to find himself so finely dressed, and yearning to show his linen in the fashionable Parks.
Two smaller Crachits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onions, these young Crachits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Crachit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collar almost choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes, bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
“What has ever got your precious father, then?” said Mrs. Crachit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half an hour!”
“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Crachits. “Hurrah! there’s such a goose, Martha!”
“Why, bless your heart alive, dear, how late you are!” said Mrs. Crachit, kissing the daughter, who lived away from home, a dozen times. “Well, never mind as long as you are come!”
“There’s father coming!” cried the two young Crachits, who were everywhere at once. “Hide, Martha, hide!”
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter hanging down before him, and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Why was the child thus carried? Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch and had his limbs supported by an iron frame! Patient little Tim,—never was he heard to utter a fretful or complaining word. No wonder they cherished him so tenderly!
“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Crachit looking round.
“Not coming!” said Mrs. Crachit.
“Not coming?” said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high spirits; for he had been Tim’s blood horse all the way from church, and had come home rampant.
“Not coming upon Christmas Day!”
Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she ran out from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Crachits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Crachit; when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that ‘he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, Who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.'”
Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and it trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Bob compounded some hot mixture in a jug and put it on the hob to simmer, Master Peter and the two young Crachits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought the goose the rarest of all birds, and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Crachit made the gravy hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a corner at the table; the two young Crachits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Crachit, looking slowly along the carving knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast. When she did one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Crachits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried “Hurrah!”
There never was such a goose! its tenderness and size, flavour and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, every one had enough, and the youngest Crachits were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed, Mrs. Crachit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! a great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper, and in half a minute Mrs. Crachit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly, with the pudding blazing in ignited brandy, and with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Its appearance was hailed with cheers and with exclamations of joyous admiration. Then, when it was safely landed upon the table, what a racket and clatter there was! Such stories and songs and jokes, and such riotous applause no one can imagine who was not there to see and hear!
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted and pronounced perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Crachit family drew round the hearth, Tiny Tim very close to his father’s side, upon his little stool, while he gave them a song in his plaintive little voice, about a lost child, and sang it very well indeed.
At Bob Crachit’s elbow stood the family display of glass; two tumblers and a custard cup without a handle. These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done, and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
“A merry Christmas to us all, my dears,—God bless us!”
which was just what was needed to bring the joy and enthusiasm to a climax. Cheer after cheer went up, over and over the toast was re-echoed, and then one was added for the family ogre, Bob’s hard employer, Mr. Scrooge, and one for old and for young, for sick and for well, for Father Christmas and for Father Crachit and for all the little Crachits;—for everyone everywhere who had heard the holiday bells, there was a toast given. Then when the uproar ceased for a moment, low and sweet spoke Tiny Tim alone:
“God bless us every one!”
Clearly it rang out in the earnest childish voice. There was a sudden hush of the merriment, while Bob’s arm stole round his son with a firmer grasp and for a moment the shadow of a coming Christmas fell upon him, when the little stool would be vacant and the little crutch unused.
Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God! Thou didst not know that in the benediction of lives like thine, is given the answer to such prayers. Much did thy loved ones learn from thee; much can the world learn of the nobility of patience from thy sweet child life. Unawares thou wert thyself an answer to thy Christmas prayer:
“God bless us every one!”