In Victorian London foundling Jedrington Secret-Past has his shop of stuff confiscated and his wife and children jailed in the Skint debtors' prison by wicked lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm, who claims that Jedrington has inherited a debt from his supposed grandfather, which must be paid by Christmas day - eleven hours' time. Denied help by his austere adopted aunts, Jedrington's kindly uncle provides the money but Skulkingworm attempts to kill the shop keeper. He is rescued by the Artful Codger and his urchins and shown proof by Skulkingworm's clerk Fearshiver that he is not the descendant of a debtor but the child of Miss Christmasham, who deserted Malifax to marry Mr Fruitcake, the maddest man in the Skint. After the family has escaped from jail with jovial Mr Jollyforth, Miss Christmasham and Fruitcake marry on Christmas eve, thus giving Jedrington legitimacy and thwarting the evil lawyer.
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