A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 23 in English Moral Stories by Charles Dickens books and stories PDF | A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 23

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 23

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

A STORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

By Charles Dickens

The Golden Thread

(23)

Fire Rises

There was a change on the village where the fountain fell, and where

the mender of roads went forth daily to hammer out of the stones on the

highway such morsels of bread as might serve for patches to hold his

poor ignorant soul and his poor reduced body together. The prison on the

crag was not so dominant as of yore; there were soldiers to guard it,

but not many; there were officers to guard the soldiers, but not one of

them knew what his men would do--beyond this: that it would probably not

be what he was ordered.

Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation.

Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as

shrivelled and poor as the miserable people. Everything was bowed down,

dejected, oppressed, and broken. Habitations, fences, domesticated

animals, men, women, children, and the soil that bore them--all worn

out.

Monseigneur (often a most worthy individual gentleman) was a national

blessing, gave a chivalrous tone to things, was a polite example of

luxurious and shining life, and a great deal more to equal purpose;

nevertheless, Monseigneur as a class had, somehow or other, brought

things to this. Strange that Creation, designed expressly for

Monseigneur, should be so soon wrung dry and squeezed out! There must

be something short-sighted in the eternal arrangements, surely! Thus it

was, however; and the last drop of blood having been extracted from the

flints, and the last screw of the rack having been turned so often that

its purchase crumbled, and it now turned and turned with nothing

to bite, Monseigneur began to run away from a phenomenon so low and

unaccountable.

But, this was not the change on the village, and on many a village like

it. For scores of years gone by, Monseigneur had squeezed it and wrung

it, and had seldom graced it with his presence except for the pleasures

of the chase--now, found in hunting the people; now, found in hunting

the beasts, for whose preservation Monseigneur made edifying spaces

of barbarous and barren wilderness. No. The change consisted in

the appearance of strange faces of low caste, rather than in the

disappearance of the high caste, chiselled, and otherwise beautified and

beautifying features of Monseigneur.

For, in these times, as the mender of roads worked, solitary, in the

dust, not often troubling himself to reflect that dust he was and

to dust he must return, being for the most part too much occupied in

thinking how little he had for supper and how much more he would eat if

he had it--in these times, as he raised his eyes from his lonely labour,

and viewed the prospect, he would see some rough figure approaching on

foot, the like of which was once a rarity in those parts, but was now

a frequent presence. As it advanced, the mender of roads would discern

without surprise, that it was a shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian

aspect, tall, in wooden shoes that were clumsy even to the eyes of a

mender of roads, grim, rough, swart, steeped in the mud and dust of many

highways, dank with the marshy moisture of many low grounds, sprinkled

with the thorns and leaves and moss of many byways through woods.

Such a man came upon him, like a ghost, at noon in the July weather,

as he sat on his heap of stones under a bank, taking such shelter as he

could get from a shower of hail.

The man looked at him, looked at the village in the hollow, at the mill,

and at the prison on the crag. When he had identified these objects

in what benighted mind he had, he said, in a dialect that was just

intelligible:

“How goes it, Jacques?”

“All well, Jacques.”

“Touch then!”

They joined hands, and the man sat down on the heap of stones.

“No dinner?”

“Nothing but supper now,” said the mender of roads, with a hungry face.

“It is the fashion,” growled the man. “I meet no dinner anywhere.”

He took out a blackened pipe, filled it, lighted it with flint and

steel, pulled at it until it was in a bright glow: then, suddenly held

it from him and dropped something into it from between his finger and

thumb, that blazed and went out in a puff of smoke.

“Touch then.” It was the turn of the mender of roads to say it this

time, after observing these operations. They again joined hands.

“To-night?” said the mender of roads.

“To-night,” said the man, putting the pipe in his mouth.

“Where?”

“Here.”

He and the mender of roads sat on the heap of stones looking silently at

one another, with the hail driving in between them like a pigmy charge

of bayonets, until the sky began to clear over the village.

“Show me!” said the traveller then, moving to the brow of the hill.

“See!” returned the mender of roads, with extended finger. “You go down

here, and straight through the street, and past the fountain--”

“To the Devil with all that!” interrupted the other, rolling his eye

over the landscape. “_I_ go through no streets and past no fountains.

Well?”

“Well! About two leagues beyond the summit of that hill above the

village.”

“Good. When do you cease to work?”

“At sunset.”

“Will you wake me, before departing? I have walked two nights without

resting. Let me finish my pipe, and I shall sleep like a child. Will you

wake me?”

“Surely.”

The wayfarer smoked his pipe out, put it in his breast, slipped off his

great wooden shoes, and lay down on his back on the heap of stones. He

was fast asleep directly.

As the road-mender plied his dusty labour, and the hail-clouds, rolling

away, revealed bright bars and streaks of sky which were responded to

by silver gleams upon the landscape, the little man (who wore a red cap

now, in place of his blue one) seemed fascinated by the figure on the

heap of stones. His eyes were so often turned towards it, that he used

his tools mechanically, and, one would have said, to very poor account.

The bronze face, the shaggy black hair and beard, the coarse woollen

red cap, the rough medley dress of home-spun stuff and hairy skins of

beasts, the powerful frame attenuated by spare living, and the sullen

and desperate compression of the lips in sleep, inspired the mender

of roads with awe. The traveller had travelled far, and his feet were

footsore, and his ankles chafed and bleeding; his great shoes, stuffed

with leaves and grass, had been heavy to drag over the many long

leagues, and his clothes were chafed into holes, as he himself was into

sores. Stooping down beside him, the road-mender tried to get a peep at

secret weapons in his breast or where not; but, in vain, for he slept

with his arms crossed upon him, and set as resolutely as his lips.

Fortified towns with their stockades, guard-houses, gates, trenches, and

drawbridges, seemed to the mender of roads, to be so much air as against

this figure. And when he lifted his eyes from it to the horizon and

looked around, he saw in his small fancy similar figures, stopped by no

obstacle, tending to centres all over France.

The man slept on, indifferent to showers of hail and intervals of

brightness, to sunshine on his face and shadow, to the paltering lumps

of dull ice on his body and the diamonds into which the sun changed

them, until the sun was low in the west, and the sky was glowing. Then,

the mender of roads having got his tools together and all things ready

to go down into the village, roused him.

“Good!” said the sleeper, rising on his elbow. “Two leagues beyond the

summit of the hill?”

“About.”

“About. Good!”

The mender of roads went home, with the dust going on before him

according to the set of the wind, and was soon at the fountain,

squeezing himself in among the lean kine brought there to drink, and

appearing even to whisper to them in his whispering to all the village.

When the village had taken its poor supper, it did not creep to bed,

as it usually did, but came out of doors again, and remained there. A

curious contagion of whispering was upon it, and also, when it gathered

together at the fountain in the dark, another curious contagion of

looking expectantly at the sky in one direction only. Monsieur Gabelle,

chief functionary of the place, became uneasy; went out on his house-top

alone, and looked in that direction too; glanced down from behind his

chimneys at the darkening faces by the fountain below, and sent word to

the sacristan who kept the keys of the church, that there might be need

to ring the tocsin by-and-bye.

The night deepened. The trees environing the old chateau, keeping its

solitary state apart, moved in a rising wind, as though they threatened

the pile of building massive and dark in the gloom. Up the two terrace

flights of steps the rain ran wildly, and beat at the great door, like a

swift messenger rousing those within; uneasy rushes of wind went through

the hall, among the old spears and knives, and passed lamenting up the

stairs, and shook the curtains of the bed where the last Marquis

had slept. East, West, North, and South, through the woods, four

heavy-treading, unkempt figures crushed the high grass and cracked the

branches, striding on cautiously to come together in the courtyard. Four

lights broke out there, and moved away in different directions, and all

was black again.

But, not for long. Presently, the chateau began to make itself strangely

visible by some light of its own, as though it were growing luminous.

Then, a flickering streak played behind the architecture of the front,

picking out transparent places, and showing where balustrades, arches,

and windows were. Then it soared higher, and grew broader and brighter.

Soon, from a score of the great windows, flames burst forth, and the

stone faces awakened, stared out of fire.

A faint murmur arose about the house from the few people who were left

there, and there was a saddling of a horse and riding away. There was

spurring and splashing through the darkness, and bridle was drawn in the

space by the village fountain, and the horse in a foam stood at Monsieur

Gabelle's door. “Help, Gabelle! Help, every one!” The tocsin rang

impatiently, but other help (if that were any) there was none. The

mender of roads, and two hundred and fifty particular friends, stood

with folded arms at the fountain, looking at the pillar of fire in the

sky. “It must be forty feet high,” said they, grimly; and never moved.

The rider from the chateau, and the horse in a foam, clattered away

through the village, and galloped up the stony steep, to the prison on

the crag. At the gate, a group of officers were looking at the fire;

removed from them, a group of soldiers. “Help, gentlemen--officers! The

chateau is on fire; valuable objects may be saved from the flames by

timely aid! Help, help!” The officers looked towards the soldiers who

looked at the fire; gave no orders; and answered, with shrugs and biting

of lips, “It must burn.”

As the rider rattled down the hill again and through the street, the

village was illuminating. The mender of roads, and the two hundred and

fifty particular friends, inspired as one man and woman by the idea of

lighting up, had darted into their houses, and were putting candles in

every dull little pane of glass. The general scarcity of everything,

occasioned candles to be borrowed in a rather peremptory manner of

Monsieur Gabelle; and in a moment of reluctance and hesitation on

that functionary's part, the mender of roads, once so submissive to

authority, had remarked that carriages were good to make bonfires with,

and that post-horses would roast.

The chateau was left to itself to flame and burn. In the roaring and

raging of the conflagration, a red-hot wind, driving straight from the

infernal regions, seemed to be blowing the edifice away. With the rising

and falling of the blaze, the stone faces showed as if they were in

torment. When great masses of stone and timber fell, the face with the

two dints in the nose became obscured: anon struggled out of the smoke

again, as if it were the face of the cruel Marquis, burning at the stake

and contending with the fire.

The chateau burned; the nearest trees, laid hold of by the fire,

scorched and shrivelled; trees at a distance, fired by the four fierce

figures, begirt the blazing edifice with a new forest of smoke. Molten

lead and iron boiled in the marble basin of the fountain; the water ran

dry; the extinguisher tops of the towers vanished like ice before the

heat, and trickled down into four rugged wells of flame. Great rents and

splits branched out in the solid walls, like crystallisation; stupefied

birds wheeled about and dropped into the furnace; four fierce figures

trudged away, East, West, North, and South, along the night-enshrouded

roads, guided by the beacon they had lighted, towards their next

destination. The illuminated village had seized hold of the tocsin, and,

abolishing the lawful ringer, rang for joy.

Not only that; but the village, light-headed with famine, fire, and

bell-ringing, and bethinking itself that Monsieur Gabelle had to do with

the collection of rent and taxes--though it was but a small instalment

of taxes, and no rent at all, that Gabelle had got in those latter

days--became impatient for an interview with him, and, surrounding his

house, summoned him to come forth for personal conference. Whereupon,

Monsieur Gabelle did heavily bar his door, and retire to hold counsel

with himself. The result of that conference was, that Gabelle again

withdrew himself to his housetop behind his stack of chimneys; this time

resolved, if his door were broken in (he was a small Southern man

of retaliative temperament), to pitch himself head foremost over the

parapet, and crush a man or two below.

Probably, Monsieur Gabelle passed a long night up there, with the

distant chateau for fire and candle, and the beating at his door,

combined with the joy-ringing, for music; not to mention his having an

ill-omened lamp slung across the road before his posting-house gate,

which the village showed a lively inclination to displace in his favour.

A trying suspense, to be passing a whole summer night on the brink of

the black ocean, ready to take that plunge into it upon which Monsieur

Gabelle had resolved! But, the friendly dawn appearing at last, and the

rush-candles of the village guttering out, the people happily dispersed,

and Monsieur Gabelle came down bringing his life with him for that

while.

Within a hundred miles, and in the light of other fires, there were

other functionaries less fortunate, that night and other nights, whom

the rising sun found hanging across once-peaceful streets, where they

had been born and bred; also, there were other villagers and townspeople

less fortunate than the mender of roads and his fellows, upon whom the

functionaries and soldiery turned with success, and whom they strung up

in their turn. But, the fierce figures were steadily wending East, West,

North, and South, be that as it would; and whosoever hung, fire burned.

The altitude of the gallows that would turn to water and quench it,

no functionary, by any stretch of mathematics, was able to calculate

successfully.

******

Rate & Review

Sheik Msheik

Sheik Msheik 3 years ago

Niraj Bishwas

Niraj Bishwas Matrubharti Verified 3 years ago