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A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 9

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

A STORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

By Charles Dickens

The Golden Thread

(9)

The Gorgon's Head

It was a heavy mass of building, that chateau of Monsieur the Marquis,

with a large stone courtyard before it, and two stone sweeps of

staircase meeting in a stone terrace before the principal door. A stony

business altogether, with heavy stone balustrades, and stone urns, and

stone flowers, and stone faces of men, and stone heads of lions, in

all directions. As if the Gorgon's head had surveyed it, when it was

finished, two centuries ago.

Up the broad flight of shallow steps, Monsieur the Marquis, flambeau

preceded, went from his carriage, sufficiently disturbing the darkness

to elicit loud remonstrance from an owl in the roof of the great pile

of stable building away among the trees. All else was so quiet, that the

flambeau carried up the steps, and the other flambeau held at the great

door, burnt as if they were in a close room of state, instead of being

in the open night-air. Other sound than the owl's voice there was none,

save the falling of a fountain into its stone basin; for, it was one of

those dark nights that hold their breath by the hour together, and then

heave a long low sigh, and hold their breath again.

The great door clanged behind him, and Monsieur the Marquis crossed a

hall grim with certain old boar-spears, swords, and knives of the chase;

grimmer with certain heavy riding-rods and riding-whips, of which many a

peasant, gone to his benefactor Death, had felt the weight when his lord

was angry.

Avoiding the larger rooms, which were dark and made fast for the night,

Monsieur the Marquis, with his flambeau-bearer going on before, went up

the staircase to a door in a corridor. This thrown open, admitted him

to his own private apartment of three rooms: his bed-chamber and two

others. High vaulted rooms with cool uncarpeted floors, great dogs upon

the hearths for the burning of wood in winter time, and all luxuries

befitting the state of a marquis in a luxurious age and country.

The fashion of the last Louis but one, of the line that was never to

break--the fourteenth Louis--was conspicuous in their rich furniture;

but, it was diversified by many objects that were illustrations of old

pages in the history of France.

A supper-table was laid for two, in the third of the rooms; a round

room, in one of the chateau's four extinguisher-topped towers. A small

lofty room, with its window wide open, and the wooden jalousie-blinds

closed, so that the dark night only showed in slight horizontal lines of

black, alternating with their broad lines of stone colour.

“My nephew,” said the Marquis, glancing at the supper preparation; “they

said he was not arrived.”

Nor was he; but, he had been expected with Monseigneur.

“Ah! It is not probable he will arrive to-night; nevertheless, leave the

table as it is. I shall be ready in a quarter of an hour.”

In a quarter of an hour Monseigneur was ready, and sat down alone to his

sumptuous and choice supper. His chair was opposite to the window, and

he had taken his soup, and was raising his glass of Bordeaux to his

lips, when he put it down.

“What is that?” he calmly asked, looking with attention at the

horizontal lines of black and stone colour.

“Monseigneur? That?”

“Outside the blinds. Open the blinds.”

It was done.

“Well?”

“Monseigneur, it is nothing. The trees and the night are all that are

here.”

The servant who spoke, had thrown the blinds wide, had looked out into

the vacant darkness, and stood with that blank behind him, looking round

for instructions.

“Good,” said the imperturbable master. “Close them again.”

That was done too, and the Marquis went on with his supper. He was

half way through it, when he again stopped with his glass in his hand,

hearing the sound of wheels. It came on briskly, and came up to the

front of the chateau.

“Ask who is arrived.”

It was the nephew of Monseigneur. He had been some few leagues behind

Monseigneur, early in the afternoon. He had diminished the distance

rapidly, but not so rapidly as to come up with Monseigneur on the road.

He had heard of Monseigneur, at the posting-houses, as being before him.

He was to be told (said Monseigneur) that supper awaited him then and

there, and that he was prayed to come to it. In a little while he came.

He had been known in England as Charles Darnay.

Monseigneur received him in a courtly manner, but they did not shake

hands.

“You left Paris yesterday, sir?” he said to Monseigneur, as he took his

seat at table.

“Yesterday. And you?”

“I come direct.”

“From London?”

“Yes.”

“You have been a long time coming,” said the Marquis, with a smile.

“On the contrary; I come direct.”

“Pardon me! I mean, not a long time on the journey; a long time

intending the journey.”

“I have been detained by”--the nephew stopped a moment in his

answer--“various business.”

“Without doubt,” said the polished uncle.

So long as a servant was present, no other words passed between them.

When coffee had been served and they were alone together, the nephew,

looking at the uncle and meeting the eyes of the face that was like a

fine mask, opened a conversation.

“I have come back, sir, as you anticipate, pursuing the object that

took me away. It carried me into great and unexpected peril; but it is

a sacred object, and if it had carried me to death I hope it would have

sustained me.”

“Not to death,” said the uncle; “it is not necessary to say, to death.”

“I doubt, sir,” returned the nephew, “whether, if it had carried me to

the utmost brink of death, you would have cared to stop me there.”

The deepened marks in the nose, and the lengthening of the fine straight

lines in the cruel face, looked ominous as to that; the uncle made a

graceful gesture of protest, which was so clearly a slight form of good

breeding that it was not reassuring.

“Indeed, sir,” pursued the nephew, “for anything I know, you may have

expressly worked to give a more suspicious appearance to the suspicious

circumstances that surrounded me.”

“No, no, no,” said the uncle, pleasantly.

“But, however that may be,” resumed the nephew, glancing at him with

deep distrust, “I know that your diplomacy would stop me by any means,

and would know no scruple as to means.”

“My friend, I told you so,” said the uncle, with a fine pulsation in the

two marks. “Do me the favour to recall that I told you so, long ago.”

“I recall it.”

“Thank you,” said the Marquis--very sweetly indeed.

His tone lingered in the air, almost like the tone of a musical

instrument.

“In effect, sir,” pursued the nephew, “I believe it to be at once your

bad fortune, and my good fortune, that has kept me out of a prison in

France here.”

“I do not quite understand,” returned the uncle, sipping his coffee.

“Dare I ask you to explain?”

“I believe that if you were not in disgrace with the Court, and had not

been overshadowed by that cloud for years past, a letter de cachet would

have sent me to some fortress indefinitely.”

“It is possible,” said the uncle, with great calmness. “For the honour

of the family, I could even resolve to incommode you to that extent.

Pray excuse me!”

“I perceive that, happily for me, the Reception of the day before

yesterday was, as usual, a cold one,” observed the nephew.

“I would not say happily, my friend,” returned the uncle, with refined

politeness; “I would not be sure of that. A good opportunity for

consideration, surrounded by the advantages of solitude, might influence

your destiny to far greater advantage than you influence it for

yourself. But it is useless to discuss the question. I am, as you say,

at a disadvantage. These little instruments of correction, these gentle

aids to the power and honour of families, these slight favours that

might so incommode you, are only to be obtained now by interest

and importunity. They are sought by so many, and they are granted

(comparatively) to so few! It used not to be so, but France in all such

things is changed for the worse. Our not remote ancestors held the right

of life and death over the surrounding vulgar. From this room, many such

dogs have been taken out to be hanged; in the next room (my bedroom),

one fellow, to our knowledge, was poniarded on the spot for professing

some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter--_his_ daughter? We have

lost many privileges; a new philosophy has become the mode; and the

assertion of our station, in these days, might (I do not go so far as

to say would, but might) cause us real inconvenience. All very bad, very

bad!”

The Marquis took a gentle little pinch of snuff, and shook his head;

as elegantly despondent as he could becomingly be of a country still

containing himself, that great means of regeneration.

“We have so asserted our station, both in the old time and in the modern

time also,” said the nephew, gloomily, “that I believe our name to be

more detested than any name in France.”

“Let us hope so,” said the uncle. “Detestation of the high is the

involuntary homage of the low.”

“There is not,” pursued the nephew, in his former tone, “a face I can

look at, in all this country round about us, which looks at me with any

deference on it but the dark deference of fear and slavery.”

“A compliment,” said the Marquis, “to the grandeur of the family,

merited by the manner in which the family has sustained its grandeur.

Hah!” And he took another gentle little pinch of snuff, and lightly

crossed his legs.

But, when his nephew, leaning an elbow on the table, covered his eyes

thoughtfully and dejectedly with his hand, the fine mask looked at

him sideways with a stronger concentration of keenness, closeness,

and dislike, than was comportable with its wearer's assumption of

indifference.

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear

and slavery, my friend,” observed the Marquis, “will keep the dogs

obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,” looking up to it, “shuts

out the sky.”

That might not be so long as the Marquis supposed. If a picture of the

chateau as it was to be a very few years hence, and of fifty like it as

they too were to be a very few years hence, could have been shown to

him that night, he might have been at a loss to claim his own from

the ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked rains. As for the roof

he vaunted, he might have found _that_ shutting out the sky in a new

way--to wit, for ever, from the eyes of the bodies into which its lead

was fired, out of the barrels of a hundred thousand muskets.

“Meanwhile,” said the Marquis, “I will preserve the honour and repose

of the family, if you will not. But you must be fatigued. Shall we

terminate our conference for the night?”

“A moment more.”

“An hour, if you please.”

“Sir,” said the nephew, “we have done wrong, and are reaping the fruits

of wrong.”

“_We_ have done wrong?” repeated the Marquis, with an inquiring smile,

and delicately pointing, first to his nephew, then to himself.

“Our family; our honourable family, whose honour is of so much account

to both of us, in such different ways. Even in my father's time, we did

a world of wrong, injuring every human creature who came between us and

our pleasure, whatever it was. Why need I speak of my father's time,

when it is equally yours? Can I separate my father's twin-brother, joint

inheritor, and next successor, from himself?”

“Death has done that!” said the Marquis.

“And has left me,” answered the nephew, “bound to a system that is

frightful to me, responsible for it, but powerless in it; seeking to

execute the last request of my dear mother's lips, and obey the last

look of my dear mother's eyes, which implored me to have mercy and to

redress; and tortured by seeking assistance and power in vain.”

“Seeking them from me, my nephew,” said the Marquis, touching him on the

breast with his forefinger--they were now standing by the hearth--“you

will for ever seek them in vain, be assured.”

Every fine straight line in the clear whiteness of his face, was

cruelly, craftily, and closely compressed, while he stood looking

quietly at his nephew, with his snuff-box in his hand. Once again he

touched him on the breast, as though his finger were the fine point of

a small sword, with which, in delicate finesse, he ran him through the

body, and said,

“My friend, I will die, perpetuating the system under which I have

lived.”

When he had said it, he took a culminating pinch of snuff, and put his

box in his pocket.

“Better to be a rational creature,” he added then, after ringing a small

bell on the table, “and accept your natural destiny. But you are lost,

Monsieur Charles, I see.”

“This property and France are lost to me,” said the nephew, sadly; “I

renounce them.”

“Are they both yours to renounce? France may be, but is the property? It

is scarcely worth mentioning; but, is it yet?”

“I had no intention, in the words I used, to claim it yet. If it passed

to me from you, to-morrow--”

“Which I have the vanity to hope is not probable.”

“--or twenty years hence--”

“You do me too much honour,” said the Marquis; “still, I prefer that

supposition.”

“--I would abandon it, and live otherwise and elsewhere. It is little to

relinquish. What is it but a wilderness of misery and ruin!”

“Hah!” said the Marquis, glancing round the luxurious room.

“To the eye it is fair enough, here; but seen in its integrity,

under the sky, and by the daylight, it is a crumbling tower of waste,

mismanagement, extortion, debt, mortgage, oppression, hunger, nakedness,

and suffering.”

“Hah!” said the Marquis again, in a well-satisfied manner.

“If it ever becomes mine, it shall be put into some hands better

qualified to free it slowly (if such a thing is possible) from the

weight that drags it down, so that the miserable people who cannot leave

it and who have been long wrung to the last point of endurance, may, in

another generation, suffer less; but it is not for me. There is a curse

on it, and on all this land.”

“And you?” said the uncle. “Forgive my curiosity; do you, under your new

philosophy, graciously intend to live?”

“I must do, to live, what others of my countrymen, even with nobility at

their backs, may have to do some day--work.”

“In England, for example?”

“Yes. The family honour, sir, is safe from me in this country. The

family name can suffer from me in no other, for I bear it in no other.”

The ringing of the bell had caused the adjoining bed-chamber to be

lighted. It now shone brightly, through the door of communication. The

Marquis looked that way, and listened for the retreating step of his

valet.

“England is very attractive to you, seeing how indifferently you have

prospered there,” he observed then, turning his calm face to his nephew

with a smile.

“I have already said, that for my prospering there, I am sensible I may

be indebted to you, sir. For the rest, it is my Refuge.”

“They say, those boastful English, that it is the Refuge of many. You

know a compatriot who has found a Refuge there? A Doctor?”

“Yes.”

“With a daughter?”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” said the Marquis. “You are fatigued. Good night!”

As he bent his head in his most courtly manner, there was a secrecy

in his smiling face, and he conveyed an air of mystery to those words,

which struck the eyes and ears of his nephew forcibly. At the same

time, the thin straight lines of the setting of the eyes, and the thin

straight lips, and the markings in the nose, curved with a sarcasm that

looked handsomely diabolic.

“Yes,” repeated the Marquis. “A Doctor with a daughter. Yes. So

commences the new philosophy! You are fatigued. Good night!”

It would have been of as much avail to interrogate any stone face

outside the chateau as to interrogate that face of his. The nephew

looked at him, in vain, in passing on to the door.

“Good night!” said the uncle. “I look to the pleasure of seeing you

again in the morning. Good repose! Light Monsieur my nephew to his

chamber there!--And burn Monsieur my nephew in his bed, if you will,” he

added to himself, before he rang his little bell again, and summoned his

valet to his own bedroom.

The valet come and gone, Monsieur the Marquis walked to and fro in his

loose chamber-robe, to prepare himself gently for sleep, that hot still

night. Rustling about the room, his softly-slippered feet making no

noise on the floor, he moved like a refined tiger:--looked like some

enchanted marquis of the impenitently wicked sort, in story, whose

periodical change into tiger form was either just going off, or just

coming on.

He moved from end to end of his voluptuous bedroom, looking again at the

scraps of the day's journey that came unbidden into his mind; the slow

toil up the hill at sunset, the setting sun, the descent, the mill, the

prison on the crag, the little village in the hollow, the peasants at

the fountain, and the mender of roads with his blue cap pointing out the

chain under the carriage. That fountain suggested the Paris fountain,

the little bundle lying on the step, the women bending over it, and the

tall man with his arms up, crying, “Dead!”

“I am cool now,” said Monsieur the Marquis, “and may go to bed.”

So, leaving only one light burning on the large hearth, he let his thin

gauze curtains fall around him, and heard the night break its silence

with a long sigh as he composed himself to sleep.

The stone faces on the outer walls stared blindly at the black night

for three heavy hours; for three heavy hours, the horses in the stables

rattled at their racks, the dogs barked, and the owl made a noise with

very little resemblance in it to the noise conventionally assigned to

the owl by men-poets. But it is the obstinate custom of such creatures

hardly ever to say what is set down for them.

For three heavy hours, the stone faces of the chateau, lion and human,

stared blindly at the night. Dead darkness lay on all the landscape,

dead darkness added its own hush to the hushing dust on all the roads.

The burial-place had got to the pass that its little heaps of poor grass

were undistinguishable from one another; the figure on the Cross might

have come down, for anything that could be seen of it. In the village,

taxers and taxed were fast asleep. Dreaming, perhaps, of banquets, as

the starved usually do, and of ease and rest, as the driven slave and

the yoked ox may, its lean inhabitants slept soundly, and were fed and

freed.

The fountain in the village flowed unseen and unheard, and the fountain

at the chateau dropped unseen and unheard--both melting away, like the

minutes that were falling from the spring of Time--through three dark

hours. Then, the grey water of both began to be ghostly in the light,

and the eyes of the stone faces of the chateau were opened.

Lighter and lighter, until at last the sun touched the tops of the still

trees, and poured its radiance over the hill. In the glow, the water

of the chateau fountain seemed to turn to blood, and the stone faces

crimsoned. The carol of the birds was loud and high, and, on the

weather-beaten sill of the great window of the bed-chamber of Monsieur

the Marquis, one little bird sang its sweetest song with all its might.

At this, the nearest stone face seemed to stare amazed, and, with open

mouth and dropped under-jaw, looked awe-stricken.

Now, the sun was full up, and movement began in the village. Casement

windows opened, crazy doors were unbarred, and people came forth

shivering--chilled, as yet, by the new sweet air. Then began the rarely

lightened toil of the day among the village population. Some, to the

fountain; some, to the fields; men and women here, to dig and delve; men

and women there, to see to the poor live stock, and lead the bony cows

out, to such pasture as could be found by the roadside. In the church

and at the Cross, a kneeling figure or two; attendant on the latter

prayers, the led cow, trying for a breakfast among the weeds at its

foot.

The chateau awoke later, as became its quality, but awoke gradually and

surely. First, the lonely boar-spears and knives of the chase had been

reddened as of old; then, had gleamed trenchant in the morning sunshine;

now, doors and windows were thrown open, horses in their stables looked

round over their shoulders at the light and freshness pouring in at

doorways, leaves sparkled and rustled at iron-grated windows, dogs

pulled hard at their chains, and reared impatient to be loosed.

All these trivial incidents belonged to the routine of life, and the

return of morning. Surely, not so the ringing of the great bell of the

chateau, nor the running up and down the stairs; nor the hurried

figures on the terrace; nor the booting and tramping here and there and

everywhere, nor the quick saddling of horses and riding away?

What winds conveyed this hurry to the grizzled mender of roads, already

at work on the hill-top beyond the village, with his day's dinner (not

much to carry) lying in a bundle that it was worth no crow's while to

peck at, on a heap of stones? Had the birds, carrying some grains of it

to a distance, dropped one over him as they sow chance seeds? Whether or

no, the mender of roads ran, on the sultry morning, as if for his life,

down the hill, knee-high in dust, and never stopped till he got to the

fountain.

All the people of the village were at the fountain, standing about

in their depressed manner, and whispering low, but showing no other

emotions than grim curiosity and surprise. The led cows, hastily brought

in and tethered to anything that would hold them, were looking stupidly

on, or lying down chewing the cud of nothing particularly repaying their

trouble, which they had picked up in their interrupted saunter. Some of

the people of the chateau, and some of those of the posting-house, and

all the taxing authorities, were armed more or less, and were crowded

on the other side of the little street in a purposeless way, that was

highly fraught with nothing. Already, the mender of roads had penetrated

into the midst of a group of fifty particular friends, and was smiting

himself in the breast with his blue cap. What did all this portend,

and what portended the swift hoisting-up of Monsieur Gabelle behind

a servant on horseback, and the conveying away of the said Gabelle

(double-laden though the horse was), at a gallop, like a new version of

the German ballad of Leonora?

It portended that there was one stone face too many, up at the chateau.

The Gorgon had surveyed the building again in the night, and had added

the one stone face wanting; the stone face for which it had waited

through about two hundred years.

It lay back on the pillow of Monsieur the Marquis. It was like a fine

mask, suddenly startled, made angry, and petrified. Driven home into the

heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife. Round its hilt

was a frill of paper, on which was scrawled:

“Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques.”

*******

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