Scrood suddenly grasped the meaning of the light. It was morning already. The spirits had taken his whole night! He rose a bit unsteadily, yawned and gaped.
Morning??? But WHAT morning??? He hurried to his window and hollered to an urchin playing in the alley: "You there, boy! What day is this?"
The urchin looked at him as if he was crazy. "What day? Why Crispness, to be sure. And Monday too, I suppose, if THAT matters."
Scrood grinned at the boy. The day had not passed; the spirits had granted him a reprieve. "My fine fellow," he hollered, "do you know the vintner but three blocks from here? Has he still the Jereboam in his window?"
"The what?" the boy goggled. "OH! Do yer mean the bottle as big as me?"
Scrood laughed. "Yes, my fine fellow, the one as big as you. Is it still there?"
"And where else would it be?" The urchin asked. "'E wants a gold sovereign for it. Not likely many will be paying that, even for Crispness!"
"Quite!" Scrood laughed. "Fetch the vintner for me, my boy, and I'll give you a shilling. Have him and his bottle here in half an hour and I'll give you half a crown." The boy's eyes widened and he raced away. Scrood laughed again. "Crispness it is, by George! And hope yet, Jake Gnarly."
He dressed quickly and searched around his night stand. Finding and pocketing the object of his search, he went to his door just as the boy arrived, tugging the vintner in his wake.
"This better not be a joke, boy," the man puffed. "I'll box yer ears."
Scrood greeted them with a laugh. "No joke, my fine sir," he assured him. "Here you go boy," he said, giving the urchin the promised coin, "and a merry Crispness to you." The boy fled. "Now sir," Scrood addressed his guest, placing a large golden coin and a piece of paper in his hand, "I'll thank you take that to the home of Bob Crotchit at that address. Tell him it's a down payment from the ghost of Crispness yet to come. No more mind you."
"That I'll do and gladly sir," the vintner beamed. "Someone's lady will be a bit tender the night, I'll vow."
"If she ain't, by George, I'll have his hide!" They laughed together.
Still chuckling, Scrood set out, enjoying the brisk air of the morning. With a mile, he found three workmen sitting around a makeshift fire with glum expressions. "How now fellows," he beamed, "why so unhappy? 'Tis Crispness!"
"Humbug," growled one, and the others nodded. "No work today, and that's a fact," the man complained. "No money in the pocket and none to be had. A pox on Crispness, says I!"
Scrood was stunned to hear his own former thoughts. "Gentlemen," he spoke, almost hesitantly, "I once thought as you do, and I understand your reluctance. Perhaps I can change your minds. Do you know the sporting house hard by the exchange?"
One of the men spat. "We do, and small use they have for the likes of us. I ain't earned enough in a month to spend an hour there."
Scrood opened his wallet and took out some notes. "What say then, my friends? Would twenty pounds change their minds?" The three looked stunned. "I rather think the ladies will be a bit lonely this day, with everyone celebrating the holiday. Ought to be some wine to be shared, among other things." He winked and one of the workmen laughed.
"Are ye serious, sir?" he asked. "Twenty pounds would buy the three of us more wine than we could drink, and as ye said, other things."
"Quite serious, my friends," Scrood assured them, handing them the money. "Only promise me that you will leave no bottom unwarmed." The three laughed.
"Now sir, I can't remember a promise easier made nor kept than that! A blessing on you sir!"
"Not on me," Scrood insisted, "bless Crispness and keep it well."
"That we will, sir," they agreed, "and a merry Crispness to you too." They hurried away on their new mission.
Presently, Scrood found himself at the door of his nephew's home. Blushing at his memory of his rebuff yesterday, he hesitated, then rang the bell. Red's eyes widened as he opened the door.
"Uncle Ebenezer!" he snorted. "By George if you aren't the last man I expected."
"I wish very much to apologize to you for that, nephew," Scrood allowed. "For these many years, you have invited me most graciously, and I have refused most churlish. If I am still welcome, I would like to make amends."
"Welcome? By George of course you're welcome, uncle. Do come in! Elspeth! Come see who's here!"
Scrood entered and blushed as Red's wife appeared, dressed as he expected, but still an amazement, her erect nipples speaking of prior enjoyments and more to come.
"Why Uncle Ebenezer!" sh e exulted, "At long last! We have so regretted that you have not taken Crispness with us." With a sly sidelong glance, she asked: "May I pour you a cup?"
"I would be honored my dear," he beamed, putting his coat aside. "I fear I have a good many debts to be paid today." When Elspeth turned toward the table, Scrood could net help feeling a sudden tightness in his loins as her bottom showed already well scoured under the black lace. He nudged Red. "At least one of the family knows how to keep Crispness, I'll vow."
Red laughed. "Elspeth wouldn't let me forget, even if I wished to. By night, her rump will more tender than any in the city or I'm a Chinaman! As to that," he whispered back, just loud enough for Elspeth to overhear, "Don't mind a bit having some help, and that's a fact. She DOES wear a man out!"
Elspeth, overhearing as she was meant to, giggled. "Now husband," she warned, "have a care! You'll be having poor Uncle Ebenezer thinking me quite lewd." All three laughed.
"Not a bit of it, my dear," Scrood assured her. "Crispness comes but once a year, and I'll vow it makes me proud to see you so eager for the celebration. Red is a lucky man."
Elspeth beamed happily as she offered Scrood the cup. "I believe this year, we are ALL lucky, uncle."
Scrood smiled and tossed off the wine. "Well now," he said, "do ye suppose anyone hereabouts might have a birch pickled?"
Elspeth caught her breath. "Now uncle," she asked, wide-eyed, "how would you be guessing that?"
Scrood laughed and caught her shoulder, turning her gently. He tugged up the skirt of her gown and patted the marks on her buttocks. "Tell me that was a strap and I'll eat it," he laughed.
Elspeth giggled. "Ah yes, I had rather forgotten that I have no secrets in this gown. You will add a good dozen, won't you uncle Ebenezer?"
"My dear," Scrood grinned, "I have a good many back debts to pay the Crispness. I thought rather a dozen right across and another six between?"
He heard Red exclaim in surprise and Elspeth's eyes widened again.
"Oh my dear uncle," she gasped, "where have you been these many years?"
"Out of my mind, I suspect," he laughed, "but I'm back now. Does that seem a fair exchange for the wine?"
She rose on her toes and kissed him soundly. "Only if you will promise not to be so gentle as my husband! I'll vow he seems almost afraid I will break or something."
"I will endeavor to do my best, or worst as the case may be," he grinned. "If I haven't brought tears by ten, Red may toss me out in the snow."
Elspeth giggled again
and bent delicately to hold her ankles. "Allow me," Red offered,
raising the gown over her shoulders. Scrood swished the birch and wondered
how he could have been so foolish for so long.