A Tale Of Two Cities
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"Indeed, sir? That was before my time here, sir. Before our people's
time here, sir. The George was in other hands at that time, sir."
"I believe so."
"But I would hold a pretty wager, sir, that a House like Tellson and
Company was flourishing, a matter of fifty, not to speak of fifteen
"You might treble that, and say a hundred and fifty, yet not be far
from the truth."
Rounding his mouth and both his eyes, as he stepped backward from the
table, the waiter shifted his napkin from his right arm to his left,
dropped into a comfortable attitude, and stood surveying the guest
while he ate and drank, as from an observatory or watchtower.
According to the immemorial usage of waiters in all ages.
When Mr. Lorry had finished his breakfast, he went out for a stroll
on the beach. The little narrow, crooked town of Dover hid itself
away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk cliffs, like a
marine ostrich. The beach was a desert of heaps of sea and stones
tumbling wildly about, and the sea did what it liked, and what it
liked was destruction. It thundered at the town, and thundered at
the cliffs, and brought the coast down, madly. The air among the
houses was of so strong a piscatory flavour that one might have
supposed sick fish went up to be dipped in it, as sick people went
down to be dipped in the sea. A little fishing was done in the port,
and a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward:
particularly at those times when the tide made, and was near flood.
Small tradesmen, who did no business whatever, sometimes unaccountably
realised large fortunes, and it was remarkable that nobody in the
neighbourhood could endure a lamplighter.
As the day declined into the afternoon, and the air, which had been
at intervals clear enough to allow the French coast to be seen,
became again charged with mist and vapour, Mr. Lorry's thoughts
seemed to cloud too. When it was dark, and he sat before the
coffee-room fire, awaiting his dinner as he had awaited his breakfast,
his mind was busily digging, digging, digging, in the live red coals.
A bottle of good claret after dinner does a digger in the red coals
no harm, otherwise than as it has a tendency to throw him out of
work. Mr. Lorry had been idle a long time, and had just poured out
his last glassful of wine with as complete an appearance of
satisfaction as is ever to be found in an elderly gentleman of a
fresh complexion who has got to the end of a bottle, when a rattling
of wheels came up the narrow street, and rumbled into the inn-yard.
He set down his glass untouched. "This is Mam'selle!" said he.
In a very few minutes the waiter came in to announce that Miss
Manette had arrived from London, and would be happy to see the
gentleman from Tellson's.
Miss Manette had taken some refreshment on the road, and required
none then, and was extremely anxious to see the gentleman from
Tellson's immediately, if it suited his pleasure and convenience.
The gentleman from Tellson's had nothing left for it but to empty his
glass with an air of stolid desperation, settle his odd little flaxen
wig at the ears, and follow the waiter to Miss Manette's apartment.
It was a large, dark room, furnished in a funereal manner with black
horsehair, and loaded with heavy dark tables. These had been oiled
and oiled, until the two tall candles on the table in the middle of
the room were gloomily reflected on every leaf; as if THEY were
buried, in deep graves of black mahogany, and no light to speak of
could be expected from them until they were dug out.
The obscurity was so difficult to penetrate that Mr. Lorry,
picking his way over the well-worn Turkey carpet, supposed
Miss Manette to be, for the moment, in some adjacent room, until,
having got past the two tall candles, he saw standing to receive him
by the table between them and the fire, a young lady of not more than
seventeen, in a riding-cloak, and still holding her straw travelling-
hat by its ribbon in her hand. As his eyes rested on a short, slight,
pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that
met his own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular
capacity (remembering how young and smooth it was), of rifting and
knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity,
or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it
included all the four expressions-as his eyes rested on these things,
a sudden vivid likeness passed before him, of a child whom he had
held in his arms on the passage across that very Channel, one cold
time, when the hail drifted heavily and the sea ran high. The
likeness passed away, like a breath along the surface of the gaunt
pier-glass behind her, on the frame of which, a hospital procession
of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering
black baskets of Dead Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine
gender-and he made his formal bow to Miss Manette.
"Pray take a seat, sir." In a very clear and pleasant young voice;
a little foreign in its accent, but a very little indeed.
"I kiss your hand, miss," said Mr. Lorry, with the manners of an
earlier date, as he made his formal bow again, and took his seat.
"I received a letter from the Bank, sir, yesterday, informing me that
some intelligence--or discovery--"
"The word is not material, miss; either word will do."
"--respecting the small property of my poor father, whom I never
saw--so long dead--"
Mr. Lorry moved in his chair, and cast a troubled look towards the
hospital procession of negro cupids. As if THEY had any help for
anybody in their absurd baskets!
"--rendered it necessary that I should go to Paris, there to
communicate with a gentleman of the Bank, so good as to be despatched
to Paris for the purpose."
"As I was prepared to hear, sir."
She curtseyed to him (young ladies made curtseys in those days), with
a pretty desire to convey to him that she felt how much older and
wiser he was than she. He made her another bow.
"I replied to the Bank, sir, that as it was considered necessary, by
those who know, and who are so kind as to advise me, that I should go
to France, and that as I am an orphan and have no friend who could go
with me, I should esteem it highly if I might be permitted to place
myself, during the journey, under that worthy gentleman's protection.
The gentleman had left London, but I think a messenger was sent after
him to beg the favour of his waiting for me here."
"I was happy," said Mr. Lorry, "to be entrusted with the charge.
I shall be more happy to execute it."
"Sir, I thank you indeed. I thank you very gratefully. It was told
me by the Bank that the gentleman would explain to me the details of
the business, and that I must prepare myself to find them of a
surprising nature. I have done my best to prepare myself, and I
naturally have a strong and eager interest to know what they are."
"Naturally," said Mr. Lorry. "Yes--I--"
After a pause, he added, again settling the crisp flaxen wig at the ears,
"It is very difficult to begin."
He did not begin, but, in his indecision, met her glance. The young
forehead lifted itself into that singular expression--but it was
pretty and characteristic, besides being singular--and she raised
her hand, as if with an involuntary action she caught at, or stayed
some passing shadow.
"Are you quite a stranger to me, sir?"
"Am I not?" Mr. Lorry opened his hands, and extended them outwards
with an argumentative smile.
Between the eyebrows and just over the little feminine nose, the line
of which was as delicate and fine as it was possible to be, the
expression deepened itself as she took her seat thoughtfully in the
chair by which she had hitherto remained standing. He watched her as
she mused, and the moment she raised her eyes again, went on:
"In your adopted country, I presume, I cannot do better than address
you as a young English lady, Miss Manette?"
"If you please, sir."
"Miss Manette, I am a man of business. I have a business charge to
acquit myself of. In your reception of it, don't heed me any more
than if I was a speaking machine-truly, I am not much else. I will,
with your leave, relate to you, miss, the story of one of our
He seemed wilfully to mistake the word she had repeated, when he
added, in a hurry, "Yes, customers; in the banking business we
usually call our connection our customers. He was a French
gentleman; a scientific gentleman; a man of great acquirements--
"Not of Beauvais?"
"Why, yes, of Beauvais. Like Monsieur Manette, your father,
the gentleman was of Beauvais. Like Monsieur Manette, your father,
the gentleman was of repute in Paris. I had the honour of knowing
him there. Our relations were business relations, but confidential.
I was at that time in our French House, and had been--oh! twenty years."
"At that time--I may ask, at what time, sir?"
"I speak, miss, of twenty years ago. He married--an English
lady--and I was one of the trustees. His affairs, like the affairs
of many other French gentlemen and French families, were entirely in
Tellson's hands. In a similar way I am, or I have been, trustee of
one kind or other for scores of our customers. These are mere business
relations, miss; there is no friendship in them, no particular
interest, nothing like sentiment. I have passed from one to another,
in the course of my business life, just as I pass from one of our
customers to another in the course of my business day; in short, I
have no feelings; I am a mere machine. To go on--"
"But this is my father's story, sir; and I begin to think"
--the curiously roughened forehead was very intent upon him--"that
when I was left an orphan through my mother's surviving my father
only two years, it was you who brought me to England. I am almost
sure it was you."
Mr. Lorry took the hesitating little hand that confidingly advanced
to take his, and he put it with some ceremony to his lips. He then
conducted the young lady straightway to her chair again, and, holding
the chair-back with his left hand, and using his right by turns to
rub his chin, pull his wig at the ears, or point what he said, stood
looking down into her face while she sat looking up into his.
"Miss Manette, it WAS I. And you will see how truly I spoke of
myself just now, in saying I had no feelings, and that all the
relations I hold with my fellow-creatures are mere business
relations, when you reflect that I have never seen you since.
No; you have been the ward of Tellson's House since, and I have been
busy with the other business of Tellson's House since. Feelings!
I have no time for them, no chance of them. I pass my whole life,
miss, in turning an immense pecuniary Mangle."
After this odd description of his daily routine of employment, Mr.
Lorry flattened his flaxen wig upon his head with both hands (which
was most unnecessary, for nothing could be flatter than its shining
surface was before), and resumed his former attitude.
"So far, miss (as you have remarked), this is the story of your
gretted father. Now comes the difference. If your father had not
died when he did--Don't be frightened! How you start!"
She did, indeed, start. And she caught his wrist with both her hands.
"Pray," said Mr. Lorry, in a soothing tone, bringing his left hand
from the back of the chair to lay it on the supplicatory fingers that
clasped him in so violent a tremble: "pray control your agitation--
a matter of business. As I was saying--"
Her look so discomposed him that he stopped, wandered, and began anew:
"As I was saying; if Monsieur Manette had not died; if he had
suddenly and silently disappeared; if he had been spirited away;
if it had not been difficult to guess to what dreadful place, though
no art could trace him; if he had an enemy in some compatriot who
could exercise a privilege that I in my own time have known the boldest
people afraid to speak of in a whisper, across the water there; for
instance, the privilege of filling up blank forms for the consignment