Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Monseigneur
By Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
 
From ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

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 worshipers 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.  1
  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 lackey 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 favored 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.  2
  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 favored!—always was for England (by way of example) in the regretted days of the merry Stuart who sold it.  3
  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 fullness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.”  4
  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 Farmers-General 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.  5
  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.  6
  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 traveling 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 remodeling 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 ever 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 realization 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.  7
  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.  8
  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 honor 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.  9
  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!  10
  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 worshipers of Monseigneur never troubled it.  11
  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.  12
  The show being over, the flutter in the air became quite a little storm, and the precious little bells went ringing down-stairs. 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.  13
  “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!”  14
  With that, he shook the snuff from his fingers as if he had shaken the dust from his feet, and quietly walked down-stairs.  15
  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 color 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 the face made, it was a handsome face, and a remarkable one.  16
  Its owner went down-stairs 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 foot-ways, 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.  17
  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.  18
  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.  19
  “What has gone wrong?” said Monsieur, calmly looking out.  20
  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.  21
  “Pardon, Monsieur the Marquis!” said a ragged and submissive man, “it is a child.”  22
  “Why does he make that abominable noise? Is it his child?”  23
  “Excuse me, Monsieur the Marquis—it is a pity—yes.”  24
  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.  25
  “Killed!” shrieked the man in wild desperation, extending both arms at their length above his head, and staring at him. “Dead!”  26
  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.  27
  He took out his purse.  28
  “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 forever in the way. How do I know what injury you have done my horses? See! Give him that.”  29
  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!”  30
  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.  31
  “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?”  32
  “You are a philosopher, you there,” said the Marquis, smiling. “How do they call you?”  33
  “They call me Defarge.”  34
  “Of what trade?”  35
  “Monsieur the Marquis, vendor of wine.”  36
  “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?”  37
  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 broken 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.  38
  “Hold!” said Monsieur the Marquis. “Hold the horses! Who threw that?”  39
  He looked to the spot where Defarge the vendor of wine had stood, a moment before; but the wretched father was groveling 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.  40
  “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.”  41
  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!”  42
  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 hidden 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.  43
 
  A BEAUTIFUL landscape, with the corn bright in it but not abundant. Patches of poor rye where corn should have been, patches of poor peas and beans, patches of most coarse vegetable substitutes for wheat. On inanimate nature, as on the men and women who cultivated it, a prevalent tendency towards an appearance of vegetating unwillingly—a dejected disposition to give up and wither away.  44
  Monsieur the Marquis in his traveling carriage (which might have been lighter), conducted by four post-horses and two postilions, fagged up a steep hill. A blush on the countenance of Monsieur the Marquis was no impeachment of his high breeding; it was not from within; it was occasioned by an external circumstance beyond his control—the setting sun.  45
  The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hill-top, that its occupant was steeped in crimson. “It will die out,” said Monsieur the Marquis, glancing at his hands, “directly.”  46
  In effect, the sun was so low that it dipped at the moment. When the heavy drag had been adjusted to the wheel, and the carriage slid down hill, with a cinderous smell, in a cloud of dust, the red glow departed quickly; the sun and the Marquis going down together, there was no glow left when the drag was taken off.  47
  But there remained a broken country, bold and open, a little village at the bottom of the hill, a broad sweep and rise beyond it, a church tower, a windmill, a forest for the chase, and a crag with a fortress on it, used as a prison. Round upon all these darkening objects as the night drew on, the Marquis looked, with the air of one who was coming near home.  48
  The village had its one poor street, with its poor brewery, poor tannery, poor tavern, poor stable-yard for relays of post-horses, poor fountain, all usual poor appointments. It had its poor people too. All its people were poor, and many of them were sitting at their doors, shredding spare onions and the like for supper, while many were at the fountain, washing leaves, and grasses, and any such small yieldings of the earth that could be eaten. Expressive signs of what made them poor were not wanting; the tax for the state, the tax for the church, the tax for the lord, tax local and tax general, were to be paid here and to be paid there, according to solemn inscription in the little village, until the wonder was that there was any village left unswallowed.  49
  Few children were to be seen, and no dogs. As to the men and women, their choice on earth was stated in the prospect—Life on the lowest terms that could sustain it, down in the little village under the mill; or captivity and Death in the dominant prison on the crag.  50
  Heralded by a courier in advance, and by the cracking of his postilions’ whips, which twined snake-like about their heads in the evening air, as if he came attended by the Furies, Monsieur the Marquis drew up in his traveling 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.  51
  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.  52
  “Bring me hither that fellow!” said the Marquis to the courier.  53
  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 fountain.  54
  “I passed you on the road?”  55
  “Monseigneur, it is true. I had the honor of being passed on the road.”  56
  “Coming up the hill, and at the top of the hill, both?”  57
  “Monseigneur, it is true.”  58
  “What did you look at so fixedly?”  59
  “Monseigneur, I looked at the man.”  60
  He stooped a little, and with his tattered blue cap pointed under the carriage. All his fellows stooped to look under the carriage.  61
  “What man, pig? And why look there?”  62
  “Pardon, Monseigneur; he swung by the chain of the shoe—the drag.”  63
  “Who?” demanded the traveler.  64
  “Monseigneur, the man.”  65
  “May the Devil carry away these idiots! How do you call the man? You know all the men of this part of the country. Who was he?”  66
  “Your clemency, Monseigneur! He was not of this part of the country. Of all the days of my life, I never saw him.”  67
  “Swinging by the chain? To be suffocated?”  68
  “With your gracious permission, that was the wonder of it, Monseigneur. His head hanging over—like this!”  69
  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.  70
  “What was he like?”  71
  “Monseigneur, he was whiter than the miller. All covered with dust, white as a spectre, tall as a spectre!”  72
  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.  73
  “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!”  74
  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.  75
  “Bah! Go aside!” said Monsieur Gabelle.  76
  “Lay hands on this stranger if he seeks to lodge in your village to-night, and be sure that his business is honest, Gabelle.”  77
  “Monseigneur, I am flattered to devote myself to your orders.”  78
  “Did he run away, fellow?—where is that Accursed?”  79
  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 haled him out, and presented him breathless to Monsieur the Marquis.  80
  “Did the man run away, Dolt, when we stopped for the drag?”  81
  “Monseigneur, he precipitated himself over the hill-side, head first, as a person plunges into the river.”  82
  “See to it, Gabelle. Go on!”  83
  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.  84
  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 dim distance.  85
  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.  86
  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.  87
  “It is you, Monseigneur! Monseigneur, a petition.”  88
  With an exclamation of impatience, but with his unchangeable face, Monseigneur looked out.  89
  “How, then! What is it? Always petitions!”  90
  “Monseigneur. For the love of the great God! My husband, the forester.”  91
  “What of your husband, the forester? Always the same with you people. He cannot pay something?”  92
  “He has paid all, Monseigneur. He is dead.”  93
  “Well! He is quiet. Can I restore him to you?”  94
  “Alas, no, Monseigneur! But he lies yonder, under a little heap of poor grass.”  95
  “Well?”  96
  “Monseigneur, there are so many little heaps of poor grass!”  97
  “Again, well?”  98
  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.  99
  “Monseigneur, hear me! Monseigneur, hear my petition! My husband died of want; so many die of want; so many more will die of want.”  100
  “Again, well? Can I feed them?”  101
  “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. Monseigneur! Monseigneur!”  102
  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 château.  103
  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.  104
  The shadow of a large high-roofed house, and of many overhanging 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 château was opened to him.  105
  “Monsieur Charles, whom I expect; is he arrived from England?”  106
  “Monseigneur, not yet.”  107
 
The Gorgon’s Head

  It was a heavy mass of building, that château 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.
  108
  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.  109
  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.  110
  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 bedchamber 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.  111
  A supper-table was laid for two, in the third of the rooms; a round room, in one of the château’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-color.  112
  “My nephew,” said the Marquis, glancing at the supper preparation; “they said he was not arrived.”  113
  Nor was he; but he had been expected with Monseigneur.  114
  “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.”  115
  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.  116
  “What is that?” he calmly asked, looking with attention at the horizontal lines of black and stone-color.  117
  “Monseigneur? That?”  118
  “Outside the blinds. Open the blinds.”  119
  It was done.  120
  “Well?”  121
  “Monseigneur, it is nothing. The trees and the night are all that are here.”  122
  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.  123
  “Good,” said the imperturbable master. “Close them again.”  124
  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 château.  125
  “Ask who is arrived.”  126
  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.  127
  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.  128
  Monseigneur received him in a courtly manner, but they did not shake hands.  129
  “You left Paris yesterday, sir?” he said to Monseigneur, as he took his seat at table.  130
  “Yesterday. And you?”  131
  “I come direct.”  132
  “From London?”  133
  “Yes.”  134
  “You have been a long time coming,” said the Marquis, with a smile.  135
  “On the contrary; I come direct.”  136
  “Pardon me! I mean, not a long time on the journey; a long time intending the journey.”  137
  “I have been detained by”—the nephew stopped a moment in his answer—“various business.”  138
  “Without doubt,” said the polished uncle.  139
  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.  140
  “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.”  141
  “Not to death,” said the uncle; “it is not necessary to say, to death.”  142
  “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.”  143
  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.  144
  “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.”  145
  “No, no, no,” said the uncle pleasantly.  146
  “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.”  147
  “My friend, I told you so,” said the uncle, with a fine pulsation in the two marks. “Do me the favor to recall that I told you so, long ago.”  148
  “I recall it.”  149
  “Thank you,” said the Marquis—very sweetly indeed.  150
  His tone lingered in the air, almost like the tone of a musical instrument.  151
  “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.”  152
  “I do not quite understand,” returned the uncle, sipping his coffee. “Dare I ask you to explain?”  153
  “I believe that if you were not in disgrace with the court, and had not been overshadowed by that cloud for years past, a lettre de cachet would have sent me to some fortress indefinitely.”  154
  “It is possible,” said the uncle, with great calmness. “For the honor of the family, I could even resolve to incommode you to that extent. Pray excuse me!”  155
  “I perceive that, happily for me, the Reception of the day before yesterday was, as usual, a cold one,” observed the nephew.  156
  “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 honor of families, these slight favors 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!”  157
  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.  158
  “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.”  159
  “Let us hope so,” said the uncle. “Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low.”  160
  “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.”  161
  “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.  162
  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.  163
  “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.”  164
  That might not be so long as the Marquis supposed. If a picture of the château 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 ruins. As for the roof he vaunted, he might have found that shutting out the sky in a new way—to wit, forever, from the eyes of the bodies into which its lead was fired, out of the barrels of a hundred thousand muskets.  165
  “Meanwhile,” said the Marquis, “I will preserve the honor and repose of the family, if you will not. But you must be fatigued. Shall we terminate our conference for the night?”  166
  “A moment more.”  167
  “An hour if you please.”  168
  “Sir,” said the nephew, “we have done wrong, and are reaping the fruits of wrong.”  169
  “We have done wrong?” repeated the Marquis, with an inquiring smile, and delicately pointing, first to his nephew, then to himself.  170
  “Our family; our honorable family, whose honor 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?”  171
  “Death has done that!” said the Marquis.  172
  “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.”  173
  “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 forever seek them in vain, be assured.”  174
  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.”  175
  When he had said it, he took a culminating pinch of snuff, and put his box in his pocket.  176
  “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.”  177
  “This property and France are lost to me,” said the nephew, sadly; “I renounce them.”  178
  “Are they both yours to renounce? France may be, but is the property? It is scarcely worth mentioning; but is it, yet?”  179
  “I had no intention, in the words I used, to claim it yet. If it passed to me from you to-morrow—”  180
  “Which I have the vanity to hope is not probable.”  181
  “—or twenty years hence—”  182
  “You do me too much honor,” said the Marquis; “still, I prefer that supposition.”  183
  “—I would abandon it, and live otherwise and elsewhere. It is little to relinquish. What is it but a wilderness of misery and ruin!”  184
  “Hah!” said the Marquis, glancing round the luxurious room.  185
  “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.”  186
  “Hah!” said the Marquis again, in a well-satisfied manner.  187
  “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.”  188
  “And you?” said the uncle. “Forgive my curiosity; do you, under your new philosophy, graciously intend to live?”  189
  “I must do, to live, what others of my countrymen, even with nobility at their backs, may have to do some day—work.”  190
  “In England, for example?”  191
  “Yes. The family honor, sir, is safe for me in this country. The family name can suffer from me in no other, for I bear it in no other.”  192
  The ringing of the bell had caused the adjoining bedchamber 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.  193
  “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.  194
  “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.”  195
  “They say, those boastful English, that it is the Refuge of many. You know a compatriot who has found a Refuge there? A Doctor?”  196
  “Yes.”  197
  “With a daughter?”  198
  “Yes.”  199
  “Yes,” said the Marquis. “You are fatigued. Good-night!”  200
  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.  201
  “Yes,” repeated the Marquis. “A Doctor with a daughter. Yes. So commences the new philosophy! You are fatigued. Good-night!”  202
  It would have been of as much avail to interrogate any stone fence outside the château as to interrogate that face of his. The nephew looked at him in vain, in passing on to the door.  203
  “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.  204
  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.  205
  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!”  206
  “I am cool now,” said Monsieur the Marquis, “and may go to bed.”  207
  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.  208
  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.  209
  For three heavy hours the stone faces of the château, 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.  210
  The fountain in the village flowed unseen and unheard, and the fountain at the château dropped unseen and unheard—both melting away, like the minutes that were falling from the spring of Time—through three dark hours. Then the gray water of both began to be ghostly in the light, and the eyes of the stone faces of the château were opened.  211
  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 château 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 bedchamber 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.  212
  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.  213
  The château 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.  214
  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 château, 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?  215
  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.  216
  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 château, 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?  217
  It portended that there was one stone face too many, up at the château.  218
  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.  219
  It lay back on the pillow of Monsieur the Marquis. It was like a fine mask, suddenly started, 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:—  220
  “Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES.”  221
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.