A Tale Of Two Cities
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Marquis drew up in his travelling carriage at the posting-house gate.
It was hard by the fountain, and the peasants suspended their
operations to look at him. He looked at them, and saw in them,
without knowing it, the slow sure filing down of misery-worn face and
figure, that was to make the meagreness of Frenchmen an English
superstition which should survive the truth through the best part of
a hundred years.
Monsieur the Marquis cast his eyes over the submissive faces that
drooped before him, as the like of himself had drooped before
Monseigneur of the Court--only the difference was, that these faces
drooped merely to suffer and not to propitiate--when a grizzled
mender of the roads joined the group.
"Bring me hither that fellow!" said the Marquis to the courier.
The fellow was brought, cap in hand, and the other fellows closed
round to look and listen, in the manner of the people at the Paris
"I passed you on the road?"
"Monseigneur, it is true. I had the honour of being passed on the road."
"Coming up the hill, and at the top of the hill, both?"
"Monseigneur, it is true."
"What did you look at, so fixedly?"
"Monseigneur, I looked at the man."
He stooped a little, and with his tattered blue cap pointed under the
carriage. All his fellows stooped to look under the carriage.
"What man, pig? And why look there?"
"Pardon, Monseigneur; he swung by the chain of the shoe--the drag."
"Who?" demanded the traveller.
"Monseigneur, the man."
"May the Devil carry away these idiots! How do you can the man?
You know all the men of this part of the country. Who was he?"
"Your clemency, Monseigneur! He was not of this part of the country.
Of all the days of my life, I never saw him."
"Swinging by the chain? To be suffocated?"
"With your gracious permission, that was the wonder of it,
Monseigneur. His head hanging over--like this!"
He turned himself sideways to the carriage, and leaned back, with his
face thrown up to the sky, and his head hanging down; then recovered
himself, fumbled with his cap, and made a bow.
"What was he like?"
"Monseigneur, he was whiter than the miller. All covered with dust,
white as a spectre, tall as a spectre!"
The picture produced an immense sensation in the little crowd;
but all eyes, without comparing notes with other eyes, looked at
Monsieur the Marquis. Perhaps, to observe whether he had any spectre
on his conscience.
"Truly, you did well," said the Marquis, felicitously sensible that
such vermin were not to ruffle him, "to see a thief accompanying my
carriage, and not open that great mouth of yours. Bah! Put him aside,
Monsieur Gabelle was the Postmaster, and some other taxing functionary
united; he had come out with great obsequiousness to assist at this
examination, and had held the examined by the drapery of his arm in
an official manner.
"Bah! Go aside!" said Monsieur Gabelle.
"Lay hands on this stranger if he seeks to lodge in your village
to-night, and be sure that his business is honest, Gabelle."
"Monseigneur, I am flattered to devote myself to your orders."
"Did he run away, fellow?--where is that Accursed?"
The accursed was already under the carriage with some half-dozen
particular friends, pointing out the chain with his blue cap.
Some half-dozen other particular friends promptly hauled him out,
and presented him breathless to Monsieur the Marquis.
"Did the man run away, Dolt, when we stopped for the drag?"
"Monseigneur, he precipitated himself over the hill-side, head first,
as a person plunges into the river."
"See to it, Gabelle. Go on!"
The half-dozen who were peering at the chain were still among the
wheels, like sheep; the wheels turned so suddenly that they were
lucky to save their skins and bones; they had very little else to
save, or they might not have been so fortunate.
The burst with which the carriage started out of the village and up
the rise beyond, was soon checked by the steepness of the hill.
Gradually, it subsided to a foot pace, swinging and lumbering upward
among the many sweet scents of a summer night. The postilions, with
a thousand gossamer gnats circling about them in lieu of the Furies,
quietly mended the points to the lashes of their whips; the valet
walked by the horses; the courier was audible, trotting on ahead into
the dun distance.
At the steepest point of the hill there was a little burial-ground,
with a Cross and a new large figure of Our Saviour on it; it was a
poor figure in wood, done by some inexperienced rustic carver, but he
had studied the figure from the life--his own life, maybe--for it was
dreadfully spare and thin.
To this distressful emblem of a great distress that had long been
growing worse, and was not at its worst, a woman was kneeling.
She turned her head as the carriage came up to her, rose quickly,
and presented herself at the carriage-door.
"It is you, Monseigneur! Monseigneur, a petition."
With an exclamation of impatience, but with his unchangeable face,
Monseigneur looked out.
"How, then! What is it? Always petitions!"
"Monseigneur. For the love of the great God! My husband, the forester."
"What of your husband, the forester? Always the same with you people.
He cannot pay something?"
"He has paid all, Monseigneur. He is dead."
"Well! He is quiet. Can I restore him to you?"
"Alas, no, Monseigneur! But he lies yonder, under a little heap of
"Monseigneur, there are so many little heaps of poor grass?"
She looked an old woman, but was young. Her manner was one of
passionate grief; by turns she clasped her veinous and knotted hands
together with wild energy, and laid one of them on the carriage-door
--tenderly, caressingly, as if it had been a human breast, and could
be expected to feel the appealing touch.
"Monseigneur, hear me! Monseigneur, hear my petition! My husband
died of want; so many die of want; so many more will die of want."
"Again, well? Can I feed them?"
"Monseigneur, the good God knows; but I don't ask it. My petition is,
that a morsel of stone or wood, with my husband's name, may be placed
over him to show where he lies. Otherwise, the place will be quickly
forgotten, it will never be found when I am dead of the same malady,
I shall be laid under some other heap of poor grass. Monseigneur,
they are so many, they increase so fast, there is so much want.
The valet had put her away from the door, the carriage had broken
into a brisk trot, the postilions had quickened the pace, she was
left far behind, and Monseigneur, again escorted by the Furies, was
rapidly diminishing the league or two of distance that remained
between him and his chateau.
The sweet scents of the summer night rose all around him, and rose,
as the rain falls, impartially, on the dusty, ragged, and toil-worn
group at the fountain not far away; to whom the mender of roads, with
the aid of the blue cap without which he was nothing, still enlarged
upon his man like a spectre, as long as they could bear it.
By degrees, as they could bear no more, they dropped off one by one,
and lights twinkled in little casements; which lights, as the
casements darkened, and more stars came out, seemed to have shot up
into the sky instead of having been extinguished.
The shadow of a large high-roofed house, and of many over-hanging
trees, was upon Monsieur the Marquis by that time; and the shadow was
exchanged for the light of a flambeau, as his carriage stopped,
and the great door of his chateau was opened to him.
"Monsieur Charles, whom I expect; is he arrived from England?"
"Monseigneur, not yet."
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 failing 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
"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.
"Outside the blinds. Open the blinds."
It was done.
"Monseigneur, it is nothing. The trees and the night are all that
The servant who spoke, had thrown the blinds wide, had looked out
into the vacant darkness, and stood with that blank behind him,