Knowing how much Mrs Scrooge had inherited, people were surprised at the frugal life she lived after Scrooge was gone. Nobody was ever invited to dinner, or even to visit, these days. In public she was always seen in the same old clothes, which she wore until they practically fell off her back. Fred and his family, once the recipients of such lavish generosity from Scrooge, only ever received token gifts now, and though they continued to be kindly towards her, Mrs Scrooge always kept her distance from them. People whispered that she was just a gold-digger who had inherited Scrooge’s former miserly spirit along with his fortune.
She died of pneumonia - probably from living on poor food and in such a chilled house, the doctor said.
The family were surprised to see the whole church packed out at the funeral service. Even the Cratchit family came, having travelled by uncomfortable coach all the way from that lovely coastal house which had been bought by Scrooge to give Tiny Tim a healthier life.
‘What a wonderful, kindly lady she was’, extolled Martha Cratchit, who seemed genuinely distressed at Mrs Scrooge’s passing. Fred was glad for her that she hadn’t stayed around to witness the changes in Mrs Scrooge, and was too kind to disabuse her.
But here’s the thing. As Fred and his family stood to shake hands with mourners after the service, many perfect strangers came up to them and expressed the same sentiments. Fred was very confused – until the reading of the will.
After clearing his throat and polishing his glasses, the old attorney advised Fred:
‘Before I read this will, I want to let you know that, over the years of her widowhood, Mrs Scrooge regularly gave very large sums of money to charities and poor families. I was bound by the strictest promises to keep this secret from everyone, as were the recipients of her charity. I consider that promise to be at an end now that she has gone. But I’m sorry to have to tell you, Fred, that even the house was mortgaged to the hilt, and there is nothing left of the great fortune she inherited.’
To which Fred replied,
‘Mr Hodgkins, this morning I felt only sorrow. My aunt-in-law was just a sad reminder to me of happier times when Uncle Ebenezer was alive, and, try as I might to engage with her, I thought her beyond reach of my love. Now I see her for the truly worthy mate and successor which she had become to dear old uncle. I am happy beyond all measure, because you have just given me the greatest inheritance a man could ever wish for.’