Maggie was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The streets of Britain celebrated. Barack watched on CNN. And Barack’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Maggie was as dead as a door-nail.
Hopenchange knew she was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Barack and she were partners, as it were, albeit removed by I don’t know how many years. Barack was her sole executor, her sole administrator, her sole assign, her sole residuary legatee, her sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Capnpeaceprize was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain and a couple of drone strikes.
There is no doubt that Maggie was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. Obomber never painted out Old Maggie’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the Thatched roof in neon: Barry and Maggie’s Farm. The farm was known as Barry and Maggie. Sometimes people new to the business called Barry Barry, and sometimes Maggie, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Barack! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him, no-drama-obama; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Barack. Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Barack, how are you. When will you come to see me.” But what did Barack care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along to a Terror Tuesday gathering, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Barack.
Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Changenhope sat busy in his counting-house. The door of Barack’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his veep, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Barack had a very small fire, but the veep’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Barack kept the coal-box in his own oval room.
“A merry Christmas, Mr. President! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Barack’s campaign volunteer, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Barack, “Humbug!”
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the heat of December, this volunteer of Barack’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, Dear Leader!” said Barack’s campaign volunteer. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”
“I do,” said Barack. “Let me be clear. Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? what reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough, and I’ll make you poorer.”
“Come, then,” returned the volunteer gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? what reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough, and you’ll be mountains richer when this term is up. Fired up? Ready to go?”
Barack having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
“Don’t be cross, Mr. President” said the volunteer.
“What else can I be when I live in such a world of fools as this Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas. What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Barack indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should! And Fox News can quote me!”
“Master!” pleaded the campaigner.
“Son,” returned the President, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Barack’s follower. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said the Hopester. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the volunteer: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, Dear Leader, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
The veep in the tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark for ever.
“Let me be clear. Let me hear another sound from you,” said Barack, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by winning a nomination to a kill list. You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir,” he added, turning to his sycophant. “I wonder you don’t run for Congress.”
“Don’t be angry, my Master. Come! Dine with us to-morrow.”
Barack said that he would see him — yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.
“I want nothing from you,” said the volunteer. “I ask nothing of you; I’ll vote for you if you tear up the Constitution and run a third time; why cannot we be friends?”
“Let me be clear. Good afternoon,” said Obummer.
His campaigner left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greeting of the season on the veep, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Barack; for he returned them cordially.
“There’s another fellow,” muttered Barack; who overheard him: “my veep, with fifteen dollars a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam. I’ll put the pair of them on a list first.”
This lunatic, in letting Barack’s loyal volunteer out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Barack’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.
“Barry and Maggie’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Barry, or Mr Maggie?”
“Baroness Maggie has been dead these seven days,” Barack replied. “She died one week ago, this very night.”
“We have no doubt her liberality is well represented by her surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.
It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word “liberality”, Barack frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Barry,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of decent healthcare, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Barack.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“Never mind, I’ll build more. And military recruiters?” demanded Barack. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“With signing bonuses and stoplosses in full vigour, then?” said Barack.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Barack. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Barack replied. “Let me be clear. Raise their payroll taxes, cut their Medicare, slash their Social Security, crush their unions, bury them in debt.”
. . .
Barack lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Barack had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Barack had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the world. Let it also be borne in mind that Barack had not bestowed one thought on Maggie, since his last mention of his seven-day’s dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Barack, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker, but Maggie’s face.
Maggie’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Barry as Maggie used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
As Barack looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. Barack entered and retired to bed. He closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. And then he heard a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant’s cellar. Barack then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.
The situation room door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
“It’s humbug still!” said Barack. “I won’t believe it.”
His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, “I know her! Maggie’s Ghost!” and fell again.
The same face: the very same. Maggie. The chain she drew was clasped about her middle. It was long, and wound about her like a tail; and it was made (for Barack observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. Her body was transparent; so that Barack, observing her, and looking through her waistcoat, could see the two buttons on her coat behind.
Barack had often heard it said that Maggie had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.
No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
“How now!” said Barack, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”
“Much!” — Maggie’s voice, no doubt about it.
“Who are you?”
“Ask me who I was.”
“Let me be clear. Who were you then.” said Barack, raising his voice. “You’re particular, for a shade.”
“In life I was your partner, Margaret Thatcher.”
“Can you — can you sit down?” asked Barack, looking doubtfully at her.
“Do it, then.”
Barack asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a ghost so transparent might find herself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fireplace, as if she were quite used to it.
“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
Mercy!” Barack said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
The spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Barack, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chained CPI I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Barack trembled more and more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? Would you know of the mass rejoicing that will greet your funeral as it greeted mine?”
“But you were always a good woman of business, Maggie,” faultered Barack, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, and SOCIETY were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
It held up its chained CPI at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.