As Scrooge of "A Christmas Carol" waits for the toll of the bell as Marley's ghost has instructed him, he sees a
strange figure--like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatureal medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions.
It is an ephemeral image, with white hair as though it is old, yet there are no wrinkles in its face and the bloom of youth is in the being's face. The delicate arms and legs and feet are bare, and there is "a lustrous belt" aruong the waist, but the strangest thing about this spirit is that
from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible
To extinguish this beacon of light, the spirit carries "a great extinguisher for a cap" under its arms. But, even more bizarre that this, Dickens writes, is the fact that the being "glittered now in one part and now in another" so that only a part of it was visible, then another part, then only an outline, then in dense gloom it would disappear. Suddenly, it would be whoe again, "distinct and clear as ever." This description is much like the twinkling star of memory, flashing upon one at times, lost at another. The being is the Ghost of Christmas Past.
It seems that Dickens couldn't make his mind up on this one. First he tells us that "the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light." But then he changes his mind and says that this light "was not its strangest quality." Its strangest quality, Dickens concedes, is the ghost's ability to fluctuate in corporal distinctness; at one time it has "one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body."