When Frederick awoke, he felt as though he had slept eight hours, but that could not be possible, for the cabin was still dark and the ship too quiet. As he wondered about the hour, the ship's bell rang out once, followed by the muffled voice of the sentry at his door calling out "All's well", and then the more distant voices of the other sentries calling out in turn.
He ran a hand through his hair and tried to clear the fogginess in his mind so he could think. Before going to sleep, he had heard one double bell signalling one o'clock in the morning. Did the single bell now indicate half past four in the morning? That seemed the most reasonable conclusion. Frederick reached up for his dark lantern and opened the slide. As light illuminated his surroundings, he located his watch and received the astonishing answer - half past midnight! It was not possible that he slept through a whole day and far into another night! Where was Denham? Why had no one awoken him?
Needing further confirmation, he scrambled out of his cot and walked around the large gun nearby to open the scuttle and look outside. The shining stars and bright gibbous moon against the pitch black sky confirmed that it was indeed night time. Frederick returned to his cot and lay down, trying to think it over, but he could not make anything of it. Had Captain Marley's visit been a dream? He remained there, swaying back and forth gently with the ship, until the bell rang out again, this time a double stroke.
Frederick scarcely had time to remember that Captain Marley had warned him of a visitation at one o'clock, when the room lit up in an instant. He bolted upright and found himself looking at a strange figure - like a child, yet not so like a child as like an old man.
"Are you the Spirit, whose coming was foretold to me?"
"I am." The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.
"Who and what are you?"
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past." It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him by the arm. "Rise and walk with me."
It would have been useless for Frederick to ask to return to sleep instead. The grasp, though gentle as a woman's hand, was not to be resisted. Frederick rose and they entered the great cabin, moving toward the sloped windows. Would they go through the ship as Captain Marley's ghost had done? How would that be possible for him?
He hesitated and, remembering the time of year, said, "I should like to put on a dressing gown first."
"You will not feel the cold."
As the words were spoken, they did indeed pass through the ship and were suddenly standing on an open country road, with fields on either hand. Snowflakes slowly twirled to the ground, yet Frederick noted that he felt perfectly warm and comfortable.
He looked around him, eyes widening in recognition. "Good God! We are three hundred miles from Plymouth. I was raised in this place."
They walked along the road and Frederick marvelled that he could not feel the rough dirt or sharp stones under his unprotected feet. He recognised every gate, and post, and tree; then a little village appeared in the distance, with its bridge, church, and frozen river. They left the high-road, by a well-remembered lane, and soon approached a small house. The Ghost stopped at the door and asked Frederick if he knew it.
"Know it! I spent most of my entire childhood here."
They entered inside to a family scene full of warmth and merriment. "Why, it's mamma and papa!" Frederick cried out. His heart swelled with joy at seeing his parents again.
He quickly walked over to the sofa, where his mother sat with a smile, her complexion rosy and full of good health. "Mamma, how are you?" She did not turn to him.
"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."
At the pianoforte, a young Sophia played Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze". A much younger version of Frederick, about five years old, held a short wooden stick and sparred with Edward. In the fireplace burned a great Yule log, which the boys had selected with their father the day before.
When the music ended, Frederick's father proposed a game of Blind Man's Buff, which was met with universal delight. Furniture was pushed to the walls and all three children begged to put on the blindfold first. Frederick's father said they would go by age, starting with the youngest. Frederick watched and laughed as his younger self stumbled around the room, short arms outstretched trying to find anyone within their limited reach and failing miserably until his mother allowed him to catch her. Edward went next and Frederick, forgetting that his voice made no sound in their ears, joined in with the others, calling and teasing his brother and moving out of the way whenever Edward came near.
When Frederick's father wore the blindfold, it was hard to believe he could not see, for above the ceaseless noises of his three children, he moved directly for his wife. Bumping up against the pianoforte and sofa against the wall, wherever she went, there went he. The children laughed until tears spilled out of their eyes, and so did Frederick. His mother cried out against the unfairness, but in vain, as his father at last succeeded in pinning her in a corner with no chance of escape. Pretending not to know her, he asked if she was Frederick, and the children clutched their sides and laughed some more. She wriggled free but was soon caught again, and this time he said her name. By now, she had also dissolved into a fit of giggles. Once the blindfold was removed, he pointed to the kissing bough hanging above them and was granted a kiss.
After more games, including charades and spillikins, it was time for the children to head upstairs to sleep. Frederick watched as his younger self climbed into bed and his father arranged the counterpane.
"Happy Christmas, Frederick. Did you enjoy the day?" The boy nodded excitedly. "What was your favourite part?"
"The plum pudding!"
His father laughed. "I know how much you love plum pudding. You were very lucky to get two servings of it today."
The boy paused. "Papa, when I stirred the pudding last month, do you know what I wished for? I wished that when I am older, I will be as happy as you are."
His father's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Did you indeed?"
"Yes. You and mamma are always smiling and laughing together. You are rarely sad and never angry."
His father smiled and remained quiet for a long moment before saying, "Mamma and I do have many good times together, but you do not see everything. We have our fair share of disagreements as well, but the good times far outweigh the bad."
"Disagreements?" young Frederick asked in dismay.
"It would be unrealistic to think we did not. No two people, however in love and well matched, can be in perfect unison all the time. But even though mamma and I may argue, that does not mean we do not love each other. Just like you and Edward - do you boys not argue frequently?" Frederick slowly nodded his head, trying to absorb his father's words. "And do you not still love him, even after you two yell and fight and storm away?"
"Of course. He is my brother."
"It does not apply only to your siblings, but all of your important relationships. One day, you will get married too."
Young Frederick's nose wrinkled. "I will?"
His father chuckled and patted his hand. "Yes, you will. And you will discover that marriage is hard work, but with a generous amount of patience, forgiveness, and love, it will survive even the darkest storms."
They exchanged a few more words, then his father kissed him on the forehead and blew out the candle.
When the surroundings lit up again, Frederick saw that he was in a different, larger bedchamber decorated in soft hues of yellow and light green. His mother lay in bed, her thin body propped up with pillows and covered with a stack of counterpanes. His father sat beside her, holding her hand and looking as if he had not slept in days. The window curtains were drawn closed and a large fire blazed, the flickering flames casting long shadows throughout the room.
"The apothecary will not tell me, but I know my time is near," Frederick's mother said weakly. Her eyes were half-closed and she struggled to breathe.
"You may yet regain your strength and health, my love." His father's voice was hoarse and tears threatened to spill.
Her fingers moved slightly, trying to squeeze his reassuringly but lacking the strength to do so. "Do not weep for me. I have lived a full and happy life. I only wish I could see our children with children of their own."
"And you will. I know you will."
She smiled sadly. "You must guide them in my stead. Especially Frederick. He is only nine years old and yet so spirited."
"He will need the right profession to channel all his energy. I dare say he will not share Edward's desire to enter the clergy."
The two shared a gentle laugh before Frederick's mother started coughing. Once she stopped, she replied, "No. He is too headstrong for the pulpit. He must learn to keep his emotions in check so he does not act impulsively or recklessly. You will help him, my dear? Promise me you will." Frederick's father remained silent as his eyes clouded and a tear slid down his cheek. "Promise me," she said more firmly.
"Yes I promise," he whispered, the tears now falling freely. He kissed her hand, then her forehead. "Rest now, my love, and Merry Christmas."
The scene faded and Frederick and the Spirit stood side by side in the open air. Frederick wiped his eyes.
"Mamma died four days later. Papa guided me as best he could, but he died seven years after she did."
"You miss them both," observed the Ghost.
"Very much. I have tried to follow their teachings, but perhaps have not done all that I could…"
The Ghost seemed to consult an invisible clock. "My time grows short. Quick!"
The effect was immediate. They were in another place. At a table sat Anne, looking strikingly altered since Frederick last saw her. She was thin and frail, and he could tell she had been crying excessively as her eyes were red and swollen. Her elegantly arranged hair and beautiful rose silk gown only highlighted how miserable the rest of her looked.
Frederick glanced around the room and started when he saw a dressing mirror and bed. Anne's bed, no doubt.
"Spirit! We should not be intruding here. Remove me at once!"
The Ghost raised his hand to silence him.
Anne held in her hand a miniature painting of an older woman. She stared at it and fingered the edge gently. Frederick moved closer to see it. The woman's face shared Anne's gentle eyes and delicate chin.
"Oh mamma, how I wish you were here." Anne's voice was broken and tired. "I need you now more than ever. I fear I made a terrible mistake. Lady Russell told me you would have given the same advice, but now I am not so sure. Would you have disapproved of him like she did? Would you have urged me to break with him so irrevocably? She insisted that we would be miserable if we married. I resisted her arguments until she exploited my greatest fear. She said if I stayed with him, he would be so desperate for prize money that he would be killed in action and I would be responsible for his death."
"What?" Frederick exclaimed. "I should have known it was Lady Russell's doing! She was clear in her dislike of me. How could she have said that to Anne?"
Anne continued, "His parting words were so angry and hurtful, but I do not blame him. My misery is of my own making. Lady Russell is taking me to Bath tomorrow, where I expect she will try to play match-maker. I do not want to go, but she will brook no opposition. Papa and Elizabeth are in agreement, so as usual, my own wishes do not signify."
Frederick recalled his angry words. He told Anne that she must not love him if she could give him up so easily. He also called her a coward and said she cared more about money than about him. In his heart, he knew he was being unfair to her but had not cared. Her relinquishment pained him so much that he sought to wound her equally through words. He would never forget the shocked look on her face as he delivered blow after vicious blow, not stopping until she finally burst into tears. Only then was he satisfied enough to walk away, and yet he was not satisfied at all, but instead overwhelmed with a sense of guilt at his behaviour.
Already troubled by being in Anne's bedchamber while wearing only a nightshirt, Frederick's agitation increased with the remembrance that he had been so unjust to her. "Spirit! Why do you delight in torturing me?"
"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."
"I cannot bear this. Return me to my ship at once!"
To Frederick's great surprise, the Ghost complied, and he had the sensation of falling, falling, falling until he landed in his cot on the Laconia and sank into a heavy sleep.
~~END OF CHAPTER~~