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A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 7

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

A STORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

By Charles Dickens

The Golden Thread

(7)

Monseigneur in Town

Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his

fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in

his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to

the crowd of worshippers in the suite of rooms without. Monseigneur

was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many

things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather

rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so

much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four

strong men besides the Cook.

Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration, and the

Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his

pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set by Monseigneur, to

conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. One lacquey carried

the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second, milled and frothed

the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function;

a third, presented the favoured napkin; a fourth (he of the two gold

watches), poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to

dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high

place under the admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon

his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three

men; he must have died of two.

Monseigneur had been out at a little supper last night, where the Comedy

and the Grand Opera were charmingly represented. Monseigneur was out at

a little supper most nights, with fascinating company. So polite and so

impressible was Monseigneur, that the Comedy and the Grand Opera had far

more influence with him in the tiresome articles of state affairs and

state secrets, than the needs of all France. A happy circumstance

for France, as the like always is for all countries similarly

favoured!--always was for England (by way of example), in the regretted

days of the merry Stuart who sold it.

Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business, which

was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular public

business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it must all go

his way--tend to his own power and pocket. Of his pleasures, general and

particular, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea, that the world

was made for them. The text of his order (altered from the original

by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran: “The earth and the fulness

thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.”

Yet, Monseigneur had slowly found that vulgar embarrassments crept into

his affairs, both private and public; and he had, as to both classes of

affairs, allied himself perforce with a Farmer-General. As to finances

public, because Monseigneur could not make anything at all of them, and

must consequently let them out to somebody who could; as to finances

private, because Farmer-Generals were rich, and Monseigneur, after

generations of great luxury and expense, was growing poor. Hence

Monseigneur had taken his sister from a convent, while there was yet

time to ward off the impending veil, the cheapest garment she could

wear, and had bestowed her as a prize upon a very rich Farmer-General,

poor in family. Which Farmer-General, carrying an appropriate cane with

a golden apple on the top of it, was now among the company in the outer

rooms, much prostrated before by mankind--always excepting superior

mankind of the blood of Monseigneur, who, his own wife included, looked

down upon him with the loftiest contempt.

A sumptuous man was the Farmer-General. Thirty horses stood in his

stables, twenty-four male domestics sat in his halls, six body-women

waited on his wife. As one who pretended to do nothing but plunder and

forage where he could, the Farmer-General--howsoever his matrimonial

relations conduced to social morality--was at least the greatest reality

among the personages who attended at the hotel of Monseigneur that day.

For, the rooms, though a beautiful scene to look at, and adorned with

every device of decoration that the taste and skill of the time could

achieve, were, in truth, not a sound business; considered with any

reference to the scarecrows in the rags and nightcaps elsewhere (and not

so far off, either, but that the watching towers of Notre Dame, almost

equidistant from the two extremes, could see them both), they would

have been an exceedingly uncomfortable business--if that could have

been anybody's business, at the house of Monseigneur. Military officers

destitute of military knowledge; naval officers with no idea of a ship;

civil officers without a notion of affairs; brazen ecclesiastics, of the

worst world worldly, with sensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives;

all totally unfit for their several callings, all lying horribly in

pretending to belong to them, but all nearly or remotely of the order of

Monseigneur, and therefore foisted on all public employments from which

anything was to be got; these were to be told off by the score and the

score. People not immediately connected with Monseigneur or the State,

yet equally unconnected with anything that was real, or with lives

passed in travelling by any straight road to any true earthly end, were

no less abundant. Doctors who made great fortunes out of dainty remedies

for imaginary disorders that never existed, smiled upon their courtly

patients in the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors who had

discovered every kind of remedy for the little evils with which the

State was touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnest to

root out a single sin, poured their distracting babble into any ears

they could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur. Unbelieving

Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words, and making

card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked with Unbelieving

Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, at this

wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur. Exquisite gentlemen of

the finest breeding, which was at that remarkable time--and has been

since--to be known by its fruits of indifference to every natural

subject of human interest, were in the most exemplary state of

exhaustion, at the hotel of Monseigneur. Such homes had these various

notabilities left behind them in the fine world of Paris, that the spies

among the assembled devotees of Monseigneur--forming a goodly half

of the polite company--would have found it hard to discover among

the angels of that sphere one solitary wife, who, in her manners and

appearance, owned to being a Mother. Indeed, except for the mere act of

bringing a troublesome creature into this world--which does not go far

towards the realisation of the name of mother--there was no such thing

known to the fashion. Peasant women kept the unfashionable babies close,

and brought them up, and charming grandmammas of sixty dressed and

supped as at twenty.

The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance

upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozen exceptional

people who had had, for a few years, some vague misgiving in them that

things in general were going rather wrong. As a promising way of setting

them right, half of the half-dozen had become members of a fantastic

sect of Convulsionists, and were even then considering within themselves

whether they should foam, rage, roar, and turn cataleptic on the

spot--thereby setting up a highly intelligible finger-post to the

Future, for Monseigneur's guidance. Besides these Dervishes, were other

three who had rushed into another sect, which mended matters with a

jargon about “the Centre of Truth:” holding that Man had got out of the

Centre of Truth--which did not need much demonstration--but had not got

out of the Circumference, and that he was to be kept from flying out of

the Circumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre,

by fasting and seeing of spirits. Among these, accordingly, much

discoursing with spirits went on--and it did a world of good which never

became manifest.

But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of

Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been

ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally

correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such

delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant

swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense of smell, would

surely keep anything going, for ever and ever. The exquisite gentlemen

of the finest breeding wore little pendent trinkets that chinked as they

languidly moved; these golden fetters rang like precious little bells;

and what with that ringing, and with the rustle of silk and brocade and

fine linen, there was a flutter in the air that fanned Saint Antoine and

his devouring hunger far away.

Dress was the one unfailing talisman and charm used for keeping all

things in their places. Everybody was dressed for a Fancy Ball that

was never to leave off. From the Palace of the Tuileries, through

Monseigneur and the whole Court, through the Chambers, the Tribunals

of Justice, and all society (except the scarecrows), the Fancy Ball

descended to the Common Executioner: who, in pursuance of the charm, was

required to officiate “frizzled, powdered, in a gold-laced coat, pumps,

and white silk stockings.” At the gallows and the wheel--the axe was a

rarity--Monsieur Paris, as it was the episcopal mode among his brother

Professors of the provinces, Monsieur Orleans, and the rest, to call

him, presided in this dainty dress. And who among the company at

Monseigneur's reception in that seventeen hundred and eightieth year

of our Lord, could possibly doubt, that a system rooted in a frizzled

hangman, powdered, gold-laced, pumped, and white-silk stockinged, would

see the very stars out!

Monseigneur having eased his four men of their burdens and taken his

chocolate, caused the doors of the Holiest of Holiests to be thrown

open, and issued forth. Then, what submission, what cringing and

fawning, what servility, what abject humiliation! As to bowing down in

body and spirit, nothing in that way was left for Heaven--which may have

been one among other reasons why the worshippers of Monseigneur never

troubled it.

Bestowing a word of promise here and a smile there, a whisper on one

happy slave and a wave of the hand on another, Monseigneur affably

passed through his rooms to the remote region of the Circumference of

Truth. There, Monseigneur turned, and came back again, and so in due

course of time got himself shut up in his sanctuary by the chocolate

sprites, and was seen no more.

The show being over, the flutter in the air became quite a little storm,

and the precious little bells went ringing downstairs. There was soon

but one person left of all the crowd, and he, with his hat under his arm

and his snuff-box in his hand, slowly passed among the mirrors on his

way out.

“I devote you,” said this person, stopping at the last door on his way,

and turning in the direction of the sanctuary, “to the Devil!”

With that, he shook the snuff from his fingers as if he had shaken the

dust from his feet, and quietly walked downstairs.

He was a man of about sixty, handsomely dressed, haughty in manner, and

with a face like a fine mask. A face of a transparent paleness; every

feature in it clearly defined; one set expression on it. The nose,

beautifully formed otherwise, was very slightly pinched at the top

of each nostril. In those two compressions, or dints, the only little

change that the face ever showed, resided. They persisted in changing

colour sometimes, and they would be occasionally dilated and contracted

by something like a faint pulsation; then, they gave a look of

treachery, and cruelty, to the whole countenance. Examined with

attention, its capacity of helping such a look was to be found in the

line of the mouth, and the lines of the orbits of the eyes, being much

too horizontal and thin; still, in the effect of the face made, it was a

handsome face, and a remarkable one.

Its owner went downstairs into the courtyard, got into his carriage, and

drove away. Not many people had talked with him at the reception; he had

stood in a little space apart, and Monseigneur might have been warmer

in his manner. It appeared, under the circumstances, rather agreeable

to him to see the common people dispersed before his horses, and

often barely escaping from being run down. His man drove as if he were

charging an enemy, and the furious recklessness of the man brought no

check into the face, or to the lips, of the master. The complaint had

sometimes made itself audible, even in that deaf city and dumb age,

that, in the narrow streets without footways, the fierce patrician

custom of hard driving endangered and maimed the mere vulgar in a

barbarous manner. But, few cared enough for that to think of it a second

time, and, in this matter, as in all others, the common wretches were

left to get out of their difficulties as they could.

With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of

consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage

dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming

before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of

its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its

wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry from a

number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.

But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would not have

stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their wounded

behind, and why not? But the frightened valet had got down in a hurry,

and there were twenty hands at the horses' bridles.

“What has gone wrong?” said Monsieur, calmly looking out.

A tall man in a nightcap had caught up a bundle from among the feet of

the horses, and had laid it on the basement of the fountain, and was

down in the mud and wet, howling over it like a wild animal.

“Pardon, Monsieur the Marquis!” said a ragged and submissive man, “it is

a child.”

“Why does he make that abominable noise? Is it his child?”

“Excuse me, Monsieur the Marquis--it is a pity--yes.”

The fountain was a little removed; for the street opened, where it was,

into a space some ten or twelve yards square. As the tall man suddenly

got up from the ground, and came running at the carriage, Monsieur the

Marquis clapped his hand for an instant on his sword-hilt.

“Killed!” shrieked the man, in wild desperation, extending both arms at

their length above his head, and staring at him. “Dead!”

The people closed round, and looked at Monsieur the Marquis. There was

nothing revealed by the many eyes that looked at him but watchfulness

and eagerness; there was no visible menacing or anger. Neither did the

people say anything; after the first cry, they had been silent, and they

remained so. The voice of the submissive man who had spoken, was flat

and tame in its extreme submission. Monsieur the Marquis ran his eyes

over them all, as if they had been mere rats come out of their holes.

He took out his purse.

“It is extraordinary to me,” said he, “that you people cannot take care

of yourselves and your children. One or the other of you is for ever in

the way. How do I know what injury you have done my horses. See! Give

him that.”

He threw out a gold coin for the valet to pick up, and all the heads

craned forward that all the eyes might look down at it as it fell. The

tall man called out again with a most unearthly cry, “Dead!”

He was arrested by the quick arrival of another man, for whom the rest

made way. On seeing him, the miserable creature fell upon his shoulder,

sobbing and crying, and pointing to the fountain, where some women were

stooping over the motionless bundle, and moving gently about it. They

were as silent, however, as the men.

“I know all, I know all,” said the last comer. “Be a brave man, my

Gaspard! It is better for the poor little plaything to die so, than to

live. It has died in a moment without pain. Could it have lived an hour

as happily?”

“You are a philosopher, you there,” said the Marquis, smiling. “How do

they call you?”

“They call me Defarge.”

“Of what trade?”

“Monsieur the Marquis, vendor of wine.”

“Pick up that, philosopher and vendor of wine,” said the Marquis,

throwing him another gold coin, “and spend it as you will. The horses

there; are they right?”

Without deigning to look at the assemblage a second time, Monsieur the

Marquis leaned back in his seat, and was just being driven away with the

air of a gentleman who had accidentally broke some common thing, and had

paid for it, and could afford to pay for it; when his ease was suddenly

disturbed by a coin flying into his carriage, and ringing on its floor.

“Hold!” said Monsieur the Marquis. “Hold the horses! Who threw that?”

He looked to the spot where Defarge the vendor of wine had stood, a

moment before; but the wretched father was grovelling on his face on

the pavement in that spot, and the figure that stood beside him was the

figure of a dark stout woman, knitting.

“You dogs!” said the Marquis, but smoothly, and with an unchanged front,

except as to the spots on his nose: “I would ride over any of you very

willingly, and exterminate you from the earth. If I knew which rascal

threw at the carriage, and if that brigand were sufficiently near it, he

should be crushed under the wheels.”

So cowed was their condition, and so long and hard their experience of

what such a man could do to them, within the law and beyond it, that not

a voice, or a hand, or even an eye was raised. Among the men, not one.

But the woman who stood knitting looked up steadily, and looked the

Marquis in the face. It was not for his dignity to notice it; his

contemptuous eyes passed over her, and over all the other rats; and he

leaned back in his seat again, and gave the word “Go on!”

He was driven on, and other carriages came whirling by in quick

succession; the Minister, the State-Projector, the Farmer-General, the

Doctor, the Lawyer, the Ecclesiastic, the Grand Opera, the Comedy, the

whole Fancy Ball in a bright continuous flow, came whirling by. The rats

had crept out of their holes to look on, and they remained looking

on for hours; soldiers and police often passing between them and the

spectacle, and making a barrier behind which they slunk, and through

which they peeped. The father had long ago taken up his bundle and

bidden himself away with it, when the women who had tended the bundle

while it lay on the base of the fountain, sat there watching the running

of the water and the rolling of the Fancy Ball--when the one woman who

had stood conspicuous, knitting, still knitted on with the steadfastness

of Fate. The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran

into evening, so much life in the city ran into death according to rule,

time and tide waited for no man, the rats were sleeping close together

in their dark holes again, the Fancy Ball was lighted up at supper, all

things ran their course.

*****

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