Bob Cratchit got up from his desk as Ebenezer Scrooge hunched over his account books.
"Sir?" he said, tapping on the old man's door. "I've copied all the letters and filed the paperwork. I also brought in more firewood and swept out the ashes."
Here, Bob Cratchit paused, and then began again.
"And, well, it's closing time, Mr. Scrooge."
"Fine," Scrooge replied. "If your work is finished, you may leave."
"Mr. Scrooge?" Cratchit proceeded cautiously. "Tomorrow is Christmas, a day to spend with family."
"Christmas? Bah!" Scrooge all but spat. "Fine. Take tomorrow off, but be here early the next day."
"Yes, sir," Cratchit acquiesced. "You can count on it, sir."
Cratchit pulled his coat snug around him.
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge," he said, and then stood there.
"Well?" Scrooge said, getting up from his desk.
"I just thought…"
"You thought what, Cratchit?"
"I just thought, it being Christmas and all, that there might be some kind of a bonus?"
"A bonus?" Scrooge exclaimed, as if the word were distasteful to him.
"Yes, sir," Cratchit continued. "A… ah... Christmas bonus."
"Humbug!" Scrooge growled, and opened the front door to let Cratchit scurry out.
On his way home, Bob Cratchit saw some neighborhood boys sledding down a hill.
"Merry Christmas," he wished them, but his words could not conceal the sadness in his heart.
Another Christmas without a bonus. It was not as if Ebenezer Scrooge paid an honest wage. If he did, then Bob Cratchit could make due with what he had, but the slave wages Scrooge recompensed were barely enough for Cratchit to honor his commitments, much less support his family.
His wife performed miracles with the meager finances Cratchit brought home, but it was not enough for day to day expenses, much less to properly celebrate the holiest of holidays. Here it was, Christmas Eve, and there were still no presents for his children, nor would there be. It was easier back when he could merely wrap a small stone or a stick and call it a gift of the Magi, but his six children were too old to fall for that now.
Cratchit smiled sadly to himself, remembering the potato he had convinced the children was a shy turtle. They loved their pet until it "ran away from home." Ran all the way to the dinner table, where it made a nice soup.
His stomach rumbled at the memory. They barely had enough to eat, and, sometimes, not even that, much less food for a Christmas feast. The cupboards in his kitchen were as empty as the hole in Scrooge's heart which generosity should have filled.
Cratchit stopped just under a streetlamp, his melancholy an unwelcome acquaintance. He felt too ashamed to go home with empty hands and barren pockets. A teardrop fell from his eye and landed on the tender snow between his feet.
"I fear," Cratchit lamented to the salty liquid, "that I can ill afford to lose you as well."
A stray, adrift in the empty streets, came to where Cratchit stood. Trembling and afraid, it made its cautious way to his side. Even frightened, the abandoned dog desired the friendship of a stranger, and was willing to chance a violent rebuke to attain this.
"Alone and friendless, you come to me, eh?" Cratchit told the pup, rubbing its head affectionately.
A wagging tail was its eager reply.
"It seems I shall not go home bereft of blessings for my family, after all," Cratchit said cheerfully, and lifted the grateful animal close to his chest. "Thanks to you, my friend."
When he entered his home, his joyous family greeted him with jubilation at the sight of the Christmas miracle in his arms.
"A dog?" his wife gasped. "That's … that's wonderful!"
Martha, Belinda, and Peter nudged at each other, trying to be the first to pet the happy dog's head. The two smaller children jumped up, trying to get a closer look.
"God bless us," Tiny Tim sang out happily. "Especially this one."
The following day, their bellies filled to bursting, the Cratchit family sat around a cozy fire and all agreed, it was the best dog they had ever eaten.