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“Alice’s Encounter with the Miser”

Briana-Lyn Onishea

“Oh Kitty, don’t you just love London at Christmas time?” Alice asked breathlessly.

            Kitty didn’t answer, in part because she was, in actuality, a kitten who, at that very moment, was tucked halfway inside Alice’s coat, and in part because she was too distracted by the stray string hanging from Alice’s white and blue knit scarf.

            “I do so ever enjoy the evergreen wreaths and their pretty red bows hanging from the lanterns, don’t you, Kitty? They make the city look so pretty, as if it too were dressing itself up for the season!”

            At this point, the black kitten’s tiny paw batted a little too close to Alice’s face, getting stuck for a moment in the girl’s tousled mess of curls. “You naughty thing! Pay attention! Why, Dinah ought to have taught you better, that she ought!” Alice scolded, laughing in spite herself as she untangled Kitty’s nails from her hair. “Now listen, you must behave while we are at Uncle’s. He was so very kind to invite us to spend the holiday in the city. Although, I must admit, I miss how white the snow is in the country. It looks just like a blanket, keeping the grass and all the flowers snug underneath until spring…

            “Oh, dear, I wonder what is taking my sister so long. It’s quite cold out here,” – at this point Kitty let out a little mew, almost as if she agreed – “but I don’t want to bring you inside the store in case people find themselves allergic to you. Don’t look at me like that! It’s not my fault you cause people to sniffle and sneeze!”

            Kitty mewed again, in a most undignified manner, and began wriggling herself out of Alice’s grasp. “Now really, Kitty, this is unnecessary,” Alice began, but it was too late. The creature had slipped free of the girl and had begun to run down the streets of London, chasing after a bit of torn newspaper blowing in the wind.

            “Oh no, Kitty, Kitty, where are you going?” Alice cried, chasing after as the tiny kitten wove herself in between people’s hastily moving feet. “You’re going to get stepped on, or else hit by a carriage, and you wouldn’t like that, not at all,” she announced logically, but to no avail. Kitty was far too interested in pursuing that scrap of paper to care, and no matter how fast Alice went, Kitty managed to squeeze in-between someone else that inconveniently blocked Alice’s way, remaining two steps ahead.

            Tears of frustration crept into Alice’s eyes, but she refused to let them fall, as “Tears never solve anything. Oh, but I’ll box Kitty’s ears when I get her, I will,” she thought, when at that very instant, a door in front of her burst open, causing her to nearly collide with the young gentleman stepping out of the counting-house.

            He caught her about the shoulders, stopping her just in time. “Where are you headed off to in such a hurry?” he asked her, pleasantly enough, when Alice saw, out of the corner of her eye, a black blur in a distinct kitten-like shape sneak inside past them.

            “Sir, if you don’t mind, so sorry, but my cat, you see, she’s very mischievous, and I was chasing her, and oh no, I believe she just went inside!” Alice explained, in a bit of a rush.

            “Inside, eh? Are you certain?” the man asked, his brow furrowing.

            “Yes, very,” Alice said, at the same time that a voice from within said, rather irritably, “What in the devil is all that racket?”

            Both Alice and the man looked at each wide-eyed before Alice pushed past him. The young man followed, hurriedly shutting the door behind them.  

            At that moment, Kitty came bounding out of the adjoining room, closely pursued by what could hardly be mistaken even in the dim lighting as a broom. Alice knelt down, catching the kitten by the scruff and restraining her while the young man stepped forward.

           “Uncle!” he said, shock evident in his voice. “Whatever are you doing?”

           “Getting that animal out of my business and putting it back on the streets where it belongs. I suppose it was you who let it in?”

            Alice backed into the shadows as she watched the exchange. The elderly man in front of her was quite tall, and wore a sour look of distaste upon his face, even as he spoke to his nephew. He was, perhaps, one of the most intimidating people she had ever met, which said a great deal as she had once stood her ground against the Queen of Hearts and an entire card army. Of course, she was a bit larger in stature at that point, and it was also a dream… This mean-looking man, on the other hand, was incredibly real. He stared through his glasses and down his crooked nose, speaking callously of her beloved Kitty!

           “Now really, Uncle, it’s not as if it were a rat or some other vermin…”

           “It may as well have been, Nephew! They’re all the same, strays… nothing but dirty beggars pleading for scraps --”

           “Excuse me, sir,” a child’s voice interrupted Scrooge mid-sentence, “but I happen to find cats quite lovely, and almost all animals, really.” Out from behind his nephew stepped a young girl, no older than perhaps seven or eight, elegantly dressed with blond curls framing a cherub’s face. She spoke articulately and politely, in a manner a bit removed from her age, and watched him through intelligent eyes.

           Here his nephew appeared a bit nervous, almost as if he were hoping to shield the girl. Finding himself in a somewhat awkward position, he clapped his hands together and said, “Uncle, I’d like you to meet…”

           “Alice. A pleasure to meet you both.”

          “Well, then, Alice, this is my dear Uncle Scrooge.” He said, gesturing helplessly in the older man’s direction. “And I’m Fred.”

           “Where are your parents?” Scrooge barked as a way of greeting.

            “Somewhere in London… I don’t remember the street, precisely…” At Fred’s startled reaction, Alice hastily added, “But my sister is relatively nearby at the general store, purchasing some meat and spirits for tomorrow’s party.”

            “I see,” Scrooge said haughtily. “Too busy shopping to pay attention to you, eh? Too busy getting ready for ‘Christmas’! Hmph! Humbug!”

            “I realize that you’re unlikely to change your mind, Uncle, but since I’m here again anyway, I may as well repeat that my offer will continue to stay open, should you wish to partake in our merriment tomorrow afternoon,” the young man offered as a way of removing Scrooge’s attention from the girl.

            “And I say again, what right have you to be merry?” Scrooge retorted angrily.

            Alice watched this exchange with great fascination and confusion. “Pardon me, but am I correct in presuming that you don’t wish to celebrate Christmas?” she asked innocently.

           Scrooge opened his mouth wide to reply, but (perhaps luckily for Alice) his nephew cut him off. “No, my darling uncle seems to find the entire holiday a waste of good time and money, my dear. But no matter. Shall we be off? I should think your sister is worried,” he said, attempting to guide Alice toward the counting-house door.

           “But Christmas is lovely!” Alice interjected, refusing to budge. “What isn’t there to like about it? The way the candles and ribbons look on the tree, and the sweet, pretty angel sitting atop it, watching over us all. And why, there’s cakes and puddings and plenty of music and dancing, and everyone gathers together to play games and oh, simply to be together!” Alice stopped, dejectedly, as she took note of the old man’s indifferent face and his nephew’s disappointment.

         “We’d best be on our way,” Fred said softly.

        “I see,” Alice said. “Will you do me a favor, and hold Kitty for a moment?” she asked him, placing the wriggling creature hastily into his hands. Taking several steps towards Scrooge, Alice grabbed the ends of her skirts in each hand, extending her arms and moving her right leg in front of her left, then bending her knees into a perfectly graceful curtsy. “Merry Christmas, sir,” she said, before turning and accompanying Fred who was waiting to escort her home.

       She didn’t look back to see how the old man had reacted, afraid to see his face still as hard and cold as stone. For once, though, unbeknownst to her, his expression had shifted – first to a tiny ‘o’ of surprise, before settling into something perhaps imperceptibly more tender. That child reminded him vaguely of someone… but he couldn’t recall now who, or from when, other than long ago…

       “Oh, bah humbug!” Scrooge said, returning to the single lonely candle on his desk.

Note: I chose to end the story this way because I didn’t think that Scrooge would undergo such a significant transformation without his own personal journey. Meeting the spirits allowed him to visit his past, view other people’s lives, and gave him insight into his own future in a supernatural, otherworldly manner. Honestly, I don’t think anything of this world alone would have been able to alter him to such a varying degree. However, in this alter-reality where Scrooge and Alice meet, I do think Alice would have an impact on him, if only for a moment. I made the allusion of Alice reminding Scrooge of someone else as a way of leading into what happens later in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge revisits his past and recalls his sister Fan’s sweet nature and enthusiasm, but didn’t want to include that specifically because I don’t think Alice is enough like Fan for Scrooge to have made such a distinct connection. Alice is far more polite and reserved, despite having a temper and, at times, bold mannerisms, mainly when she in a situation where she loses her composure or where she has strong ideals that she doesn’t wish to back down from. Still, I think Alice’s innocent nature, simply by being a child filled with curiosity, would soften the old grump, in much the same way that Tiny Tim, his sister, and his younger self seem to have a similar impact in Dickens’s novel. Scrooge has removed himself from his inner child, but despite that, interactions with children seem to move him in spite of himself. He is redeemable, which is the main point I wanted to show at the ending of this story.