Scrooge wakes up and starts freaking out because the clock makes it seem like he slept straight through the next day… but, you know, once you start messing around with ghosts and stuff, the clock is the least of your problems.
Scrooge goes over the whole thing with Marley in his head and decides it was probably a crazy dream. Which—um, spoiler alert—not really.
Suddenly, the clock strikes one, the curtains of his bed are pulled open, and he sees… a ghost that looks like a cross between a tiny old man and a child. (Oh, just a little Shmooptastic FYI here: back in the day, they had four-post beds for a reason—there were curtains going from post to post that you would pull closed to sleep. So those are the curtains that we're talking about here.)
So. The kid/grandpa ghost is crazy looking, sometimes with twenty legs, sometimes with no head. It also is very, very bright, but carries with it a huge version of an old-timey metal candle-extinguisher (basically, a little cone-shaped thing that you would put over a candle to cut off the evaporated candle wax fumes that make the fire go in order to put it out).
It claims to be the Ghost of Christmas Past, and takes Scrooge off for a walk through the wall. Scrooge is all, um, that's not going to fly for me, buddy, but the ghost magics him into being transmutable. Sweet.
Off they go.
First stop? Scrooge's totally depressing childhood, spent all alone in a school where every other kid is off for Christmas break with the family.
(Before we go on, we have to point out something here. Scrooge starts to break down pretty much immediately from this point on. Like, there is almost no effort required on the part of the ghosts to get him to own up to being a jerk. Almost every modern adaptation of the whole Scrooge-and-the-three-ghosts archetype that follows this one—and there are many, so check out Shmoop's "Best of the Web" section for some cool ones—tries to draw out this process a bit more. So it's always a little shocking to re-read the original and see that Scrooge gives in to the lesson-learning with no resistance at all.)
Back to the story.
Scrooge starts to sob hysterically at the sight of himself as a little boy reading a bunch of fantasy books. (Oh, and did you notice that he reads pretty much only adventure stories? That's pretty at odds with his hyper-rational self in the present. Dickens, by the way, was way against rationalism.)
Not only does he cry, but also he immediately fesses up to the kid/grandpa ghost that he should really have shelled out some coin to that caroling kid from earlier in the evening.
But it's time to get back on the love train, oops we mean the ghost train. Stop number two is another one of these Christmas-vacation-spent-at-school days. This time, though, Scrooge's little sister comes to bring him home. Her big news is that their dad has for some reason gotten way nicer and so little Ebenezer is allowed to come back home for good.
(Wait, what? Yeah, no kidding. None of this is filled in beyond what we're telling you here—why on earth he was sent away in the first place, what was the matter with crazy old dad, why the sister was allowed to stay behind, and what changed? Apparently doesn't matter when you're trying to crank this thing out to get it published before the Christmas deadline.)
Anyway, we learn that the sister is dead now, but that Scrooge's nephew is her son. Which… doesn't really tell us anything that the word "nephew" didn't already convey, but, you know, clearly this is more important than the whole our-dad-was-way-crazy-but-let's-just-gloss-right-over-that-shall-we situation.
So, fine then, dead sister, got it.
Now, it's on to stop number three, where Scrooge remembers how awesomely he partied that one Christmas at the house of his master Fezziwig with his BFF and fellow apprentice, Dick Wilkins. Dudes, that party was totally off the hook!
Also, it's the first nice Christmas scene we've gotten so far—the point being that just for a few bucks, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig make a whole bunch of neighborhood apprentice kids happy for a few hours and are then remembered with affection forever. Or something like that.
Scrooge immediately gets the point of this. By contrast he's been kind of a jerko to his own clerk. He's really pretty quick on the uptake, no?
On to the next glimpse into the past: the Christmas when Scrooge really starts turning into the greedy old hobgoblin we know and love.
In the scene, a slightly older Scrooge sits with his fiancée who straight up accuses him of loving money more than her. He's all, "Um, but I can still love you second-best, right? And also, money is really totally important!" But she is not having it, and breaks off the engagement. He doesn't really argue.
The ex-fiancée is now sitting in the middle of her huge family, with a whole bunch of kids happily running around, and a husband who totally loves her and them and is just completely the kind of Prince Charming that Scrooge would never have been. The happiness is so absolute that it's a little suspicious. Or maybe Shmoop's just getting cynical in its old age.
Anyway, just like that, these super happy people just happen to mention crazy old Scrooge, who the husband says is all alone, now that Marley is on the verge of death. Wow, what a coincidence that they would just happen to talk about him right then!
Scrooge can't take any more of this all of a sudden. He grabs the extinguisher cap thing and tries to smother the kid/grandpa ghost with it. Wow, that's like Chekhov's gun! You just knew that thing was going to be used at some point as soon as Dickens described it when the ghost first showed up.
The ghost kind of melts into the floorboards and Scrooge falls asleep, which is clearly his go-to method of coping with a crisis. We prefer chocolate.