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Drawn to the Loadstone Rock

Page history last edited by Michael J 13 years ago

In such risings of fire and risings of sea--the firm earth shaken by

the rushes of an angry ocean which had now no ebb, but was always on

the flow, higher and higher, to the terror and wonder of the beholders

on the shore--three years of tempest were consumed. Three more

birthdays of little Lucie had been woven by the golden thread into

the peaceful tissue of the life of her home.

 

Many a night and many a day had its inmates listened to the echoes in

the corner, with hearts that failed them when they heard the thronging

feet. For, the footsteps had become to their minds as the footsteps

of a people, tumultuous under a red flag and with their country declared

in danger, changed into wild beasts, by terrible enchantment long

persisted in.

 

Monseigneur, as a class, had dissociated himself from the phenomenon

of his not being appreciated: of his being so little wanted in France,

as to incur considerable danger of receiving his dismissal from it,

and this life together. Like the fabled rustic who raised the Devil

with infinite pains, and was so terrified at the sight of him that he

could ask the Enemy no question, but immediately fled; so, Monseigneur,

after boldly reading the Lord's Prayer backwards for a great number of

years, and performing many other potent spells for compelling the Evil

One, no sooner beheld him in his terrors than he took to his noble heels.

 

The shining Bull's Eye of the Court was gone, or it would have been

the mark for a hurricane of national bullets. It had never been a

good eye to see with--had long had the mote in it of Lucifer's pride,

Sardanapalus's luxury, and a mole's blindness--but it had dropped

out and was gone. The Court, from that exclusive inner circle to its

outermost rotten ring of intrigue, corruption, and dissimulation, was

all gone together. Royalty was gone; had been besieged in its Palace

and "suspended," when the last tidings came over.

 

The August of the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two was

come, and Monseigneur was by this time scattered far and wide.

 

As was natural, the head-quarters and great gathering-place of

Monseigneur, in London, was Tellson's Bank. Spirits are supposed to

haunt the places where their bodies most resorted, and Monseigneur

without a guinea haunted the spot where his guineas used to be.

Moreover, it was the spot to which such French intelligence as was

most to be relied upon, came quickest. Again: Tellson's was a

munificent house, and extended great liberality to old customers who

had fallen from their high estate. Again: those nobles who had seen

the coming storm in time, and anticipating plunder or confiscation,

had made provident remittances to Tellson's, were always to be heard

of there by their needy brethren. To which it must be added that every

new-comer from France reported himself and his tidings at Tellson's,

almost as a matter of course. For such variety of reasons, Tellson's

was at that time, as to French intelligence, a kind of High Exchange;

and this was so well known to the public, and the inquiries made there

were in consequence so numerous, that Tellson's sometimes wrote the

latest news out in a line or so and posted it in the Bank windows,

for all who ran through Temple Bar to read.

 

On a steaming, misty afternoon, Mr. Lorry sat at his desk, and Charles

Darnay stood leaning on it, talking with him in a low voice. The

penitential den once set apart for interviews with the House, was now

the news-Exchange, and was filled to overflowing. It was within half

an hour or so of the time of closing.

 

"But, although you are the youngest man that ever lived," said Charles

Darnay, rather hesitating, "I must still suggest to you--"

 

"I understand. That I am too old?" said Mr. Lorry.

 

"Unsettled weather, a long journey, uncertain means of travelling, a

disorganised country, a city that may not be even safe for you."

 

"My dear Charles," said Mr. Lorry, with cheerful confidence, "you

touch some of the reasons for my going: not for my staying away.

It is safe enough for me; nobody will care to interfere with an old

fellow of hard upon fourscore when there are so many people there

much better worth interfering with. As to its being a disorganised

city, if it were not a disorganised city there would be no occasion

to send somebody from our House here to our House there, who knows

the city and the business, of old, and is in Tellson's confidence.

As to the uncertain travelling, the long journey, and the winter

weather, if I were not prepared to submit myself to a few inconveniences

for the sake of Tellson's, after all these years, who ought to be?"

 

"I wish I were going myself," said Charles Darnay, somewhat restlessly,

and like one thinking aloud.

 

"Indeed! You are a pretty fellow to object and advise!" exclaimed

Mr. Lorry. "You wish you were going yourself? And you a Frenchman

born? You are a wise counsellor."

 

"My dear Mr. Lorry, it is because I am a Frenchman born, that the

thought (which I did not mean to utter here, however) has passed

through my mind often. One cannot help thinking, having had some

sympathy for the miserable people, and having abandoned something to

them," he spoke here in his former thoughtful manner, "that one might

be listened to, and might have the power to persuade to some restraint.

Only last night, after you had left us, when I was talking to Lucie--"

 

"When you were talking to Lucie," Mr. Lorry repeated. "Yes. I wonder

you are not ashamed to mention the name of Lucie! Wishing you were

going to France at this time of day!"

 

"However, I am not going," said Charles Darnay, with a smile. "It is

more to the purpose that you say you are."

 

"And I am, in plain reality. The truth is, my dear Charles," Mr. Lorry

glanced at the distant House, and lowered his voice, "you can have no

conception of the difficulty with which our business is transacted,

and of the peril in which our books and papers over yonder are involved.

The Lord above knows what the compromising consequences would be to

numbers of people, if some of our documents were seized or destroyed;

and they might be, at any time, you know, for who can say that Paris

is not set afire to-day, or sacked to-morrow! Now, a judicious selection

from these with the least possible delay, and the burying of them,

or otherwise getting of them out of harm's way, is within the power

(without loss of precious time) of scarcely any one but myself,

if any one. And shall I hang back, when Tellson's knows this and says

this--Tellson's, whose bread I have eaten these sixty years--because

I am a little stiff about the joints? Why, I am a boy, sir, to half

a dozen old codgers here!"

 

"How I admire the gallantry of your youthful spirit, Mr. Lorry."

 

"Tut! Nonsense, sir!--And, my dear Charles," said Mr. Lorry, glancing

at the House again, "you are to remember, that getting things out of

Paris at this present time, no matter what things, is next to an

impossibility. Papers and precious matters were this very day brought

to us here (I speak in strict confidence; it is not business-like to

whisper it, even to you), by the strangest bearers you can imagine,

every one of whom had his head hanging on by a single hair as he

passed the Barriers. At another time, our parcels would come and go,

as easily as in business-like Old England; but now, everything

is stopped."

 

"And do you really go to-night?"

 

"I really go to-night, for the case has become too pressing to

admit of delay."

 

"And do you take no one with you?"

 

"All sorts of people have been proposed to me, but I will have

nothing to say to any of them. I intend to take Jerry. Jerry has

been my bodyguard on Sunday nights for a long time past and I am used

to him. Nobody will suspect Jerry of being anything but an English

bull-dog, or of having any design in his head but to fly at anybody

who touches his master."

 

"I must say again that I heartily admire your gallantry and

youthfulness."

 

"I must say again, nonsense, nonsense! When I have executed this

little commission, I shall, perhaps, accept Tellson's proposal to retire

and live at my ease. Time enough, then, to think about growing old."

 

This dialogue had taken place at Mr. Lorry's usual desk, with Monseigneur

swarming within a yard or two of it, boastful of what he would do to

avenge himself on the rascal-people before long. It was too much the

way of Monseigneur under his reverses as a refugee, and it was much

too much the way of native British orthodoxy, to talk of this terrible

Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies

that had not been sown--as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted

to be done, that had led to it--as if observers of the wretched

millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that

should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming,

years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw. Such

vapouring, combined with the extravagant plots of Monseigneur for the

restoration of a state of things that had utterly exhausted itself,

and worn out Heaven and earth as well as itself, was hard to be endured

without some remonstrance by any sane man who knew the truth. And it

was such vapouring all about his ears, like a troublesome confusion of

blood in his own head, added to a latent uneasiness in his mind, which

had already made Charles Darnay restless, and which still kept him so.

 

Among the talkers, was Stryver, of the King's Bench Bar, far on his

way to state promotion, and, therefore, loud on the theme: broaching

to Monseigneur, his devices for blowing the people up and

exterminating them from the face of the earth, and doing without them:

and for accomplishing many similar objects akin in their nature to

the abolition of eagles by sprinkling salt on the tails of the race.

Him, Darnay heard with a particular feeling of objection; and Darnay

stood divided between going away that he might hear no more, and

remaining to interpose his word, when the thing that was to be, went

on to shape itself out.

 

The House approached Mr. Lorry, and laying a soiled and unopened

letter before him, asked if he had yet discovered any traces of the

person to whom it was addressed? The House laid the letter down so

close to Darnay that he saw the direction--the more quickly because

it was his own right name. The address, turned into English, ran:

 

"Very pressing. To Monsieur heretofore the Marquis St. Evremonde,

of France. Confided to the cares of Messrs. Tellson and Co., Bankers,

London, England."

 

On the marriage morning, Doctor Manette had made it his one urgent

and express request to Charles Darnay, that the secret of this name

should be--unless he, the Doctor, dissolved the obligation--kept

inviolate between them. Nobody else knew it to be his name; his own

wife had no suspicion of the fact; Mr. Lorry could have none.

 

"No," said Mr. Lorry, in reply to the House; "I have referred it,

I think, to everybody now here, and no one can tell me where this

gentleman is to be found."

 

The hands of the clock verging upon the hour of closing the Bank,

there was a general set of the current of talkers past Mr. Lorry's

desk. He held the letter out inquiringly; and Monseigneur looked at

it, in the person of this plotting and indignant refugee; and

Monseigneur looked at it in the person of that plotting and indignant

refugee; and This, That, and The Other, all had something disparaging

to say, in French or in English, concerning the Marquis who was not

to be found.

 

"Nephew, I believe--but in any case degenerate successor--of the

polished Marquis who was murdered," said one. "Happy to say, I never

knew him."

 

"A craven who abandoned his post," said another--this Monseigneur

had been got out of Paris, legs uppermost and half suffocated, in a

load of hay--"some years ago."

 

"Infected with the new doctrines," said a third, eyeing the direction

through his glass in passing; "set himself in opposition to the last

Marquis, abandoned the estates when he inherited them, and left them

to the ruffian herd. They will recompense him now, I hope,

as he deserves."

 

"Hey?" cried the blatant Stryver. "Did he though? Is that the sort

of fellow? Let us look at his infamous name. D--n the fellow!"

 

Darnay, unable to restrain himself any longer, touched Mr. Stryver on

the shoulder, and said:

 

"I know the fellow."

 

"Do you, by Jupiter?" said Stryver. "I am sorry for it."

 

"Why?"

 

"Why, Mr. Darnay? D'ye hear what he did? Don't ask, why,

in these times."

 

"But I do ask why?"

 

"Then I tell you again, Mr. Darnay, I am sorry for it. I am sorry to

hear you putting any such extraordinary questions. Here is a fellow,

who, infected by the most pestilent and blasphemous code of devilry

that ever was known, abandoned his property to the vilest scum of the

earth that ever did murder by wholesale, and you ask me why I am

sorry that a man who instructs youth knows him? Well, but I'll

answer you. I am sorry because I believe there is contamination in

such a scoundrel. That's why."

 

Mindful of the secret, Darnay with great difficulty checked himself,

and said: "You may not understand the gentleman."

 

"I understand how to put _you_ in a corner, Mr. Darnay," said Bully

Stryver, "and I'll do it. If this fellow is a gentleman, I _don't_

understand him. You may tell him so, with my compliments. You may

also tell him, from me, that after abandoning his worldly goods and

position to this butcherly mob, I wonder he is not at the head of them.

But, no, gentlemen," said Stryver, looking all round, and snapping his

fingers, "I know something of human nature, and I tell you that you'll

never find a fellow like this fellow, trusting himself to the mercies

of such precious _protégés_. No, gentlemen; he'll always show 'em

a clean pair of heels very early in the scuffle, and sneak away."

 

With those words, and a final snap of his fingers, Mr. Stryver

shouldered himself into Fleet-street, amidst the general approbation

of his hearers. Mr. Lorry and Charles Darnay were left alone at the

desk, in the general departure from the Bank.

 

"Will you take charge of the letter?" said Mr. Lorry. "You know

where to deliver it?"

 

"I do."

 

"Will you undertake to explain, that we suppose it to have been

addressed here, on the chance of our knowing where to forward it,

and that it has been here some time?"

 

"I will do so. Do you start for Paris from here?"

 

"From here, at eight."

 

"I will come back, to see you off."

 

Very ill at ease with himself, and with Stryver and most other men,

Darnay made the best of his way into the quiet of the Temple,

opened the letter, and read it. These were its contents:

 

 

"Prison of the Abbaye, Paris.

 

"June 21, 1792.

"MONSIEUR HERETOFORE THE MARQUIS.

 

"After having long been in danger of my life at the hands of the

village, I have been seized, with great violence and indignity, and

brought a long journey on foot to Paris. On the road I have suffered

a great deal. Nor is that all; my house has been destroyed--razed

to the ground.

 

"The crime for which I am imprisoned, Monsieur heretofore the

Marquis, and for which I shall be summoned before the tribunal, and

shall lose my life (without your so generous help), is, they tell me,

treason against the majesty of the people, in that I have acted

against them for an emigrant. It is in vain I represent that I have

acted for them, and not against, according to your commands. It is

in vain I represent that, before the sequestration of emigrant

property, I had remitted the imposts they had ceased to pay; that I

had collected no rent; that I had had recourse to no process. The

only response is, that I have acted for an emigrant, and where is

that emigrant?

 

"Ah! most gracious Monsieur heretofore the Marquis, where is that

emigrant? I cry in my sleep where is he? I demand of Heaven, will

he not come to deliver me? No answer. Ah Monsieur heretofore the

Marquis, I send my desolate cry across the sea, hoping it may perhaps

reach your ears through the great bank of Tilson known at Paris!

 

"For the love of Heaven, of justice, of generosity, of the honour of

your noble name, I supplicate you, Monsieur heretofore the Marquis,

to succour and release me. My fault is, that I have been true to you.

Oh Monsieur heretofore the Marquis, I pray you be you true to me!

 

"From this prison here of horror, whence I every hour tend nearer

and nearer to destruction, I send you, Monsieur heretofore the Marquis,

the assurance of my dolorous and unhappy service.

 

"Your afflicted,

 

"Gabelle."

 

 

The latent uneasiness in Darnay's mind was roused to vigourous life

by this letter. The peril of an old servant and a good one, whose

only crime was fidelity to himself and his family, stared him so

reproachfully in the face, that, as he walked to and fro in the Temple

considering what to do, he almost hid his face from the passersby.

 

He knew very well, that in his horror of the deed which had culminated

the bad deeds and bad reputation of the old family house, in his

resentful suspicions of his uncle, and in the aversion with which his

conscience regarded the crumbling fabric that he was supposed to

uphold, he had acted imperfectly. He knew very well, that in his love

for Lucie, his renunciation of his social place, though by no means

new to his own mind, had been hurried and incomplete. He knew that

he ought to have systematically worked it out and supervised it, and

that he had meant to do it, and that it had never been done.

 

The happiness of his own chosen English home, the necessity of being

always actively employed, the swift changes and troubles of the time

which had followed on one another so fast, that the events of this

week annihilated the immature plans of last week, and the events of

the week following made all new again; he knew very well, that to the

force of these circumstances he had yielded:--not without disquiet,

but still without continuous and accumulating resistance. That he

had watched the times for a time of action, and that they had shifted

and struggled until the time had gone by, and the nobility were

trooping from France by every highway and byway, and their property

was in course of confiscation and destruction, and their very names

were blotting out, was as well known to himself as it could be to any

new authority in France that might impeach him for it.

 

But, he had oppressed no man, he had imprisoned no man; he was so far

from having harshly exacted payment of his dues, that he had

relinquished them of his own will, thrown himself on a world with no

favour in it, won his own private place there, and earned his own

bread. Monsieur Gabelle had held the impoverished and involved estate

on written instructions, to spare the people, to give them what little

there was to give--such fuel as the heavy creditors would let them

have in the winter, and such produce as could be saved from the same

grip in the summer--and no doubt he had put the fact in plea and proof,

for his own safety, so that it could not but appear now.

 

This favoured the desperate resolution Charles Darnay had begun to make,

that he would go to Paris.

 

Yes. Like the mariner in the old story, the winds and streams had

driven him within the influence of the Loadstone Rock, and it was

drawing him to itself, and he must go. Everything that arose before

his mind drifted him on, faster and faster, more and more steadily,

to the terrible attraction. His latent uneasiness had been, that bad

aims were being worked out in his own unhappy land by bad instruments,

and that he who could not fail to know that he was better than they,

was not there, trying to do something to stay bloodshed, and assert

the claims of mercy and humanity. With this uneasiness half stifled,

and half reproaching him, he had been brought to the pointed comparison

of himself with the brave old gentleman in whom duty was so strong;

upon that comparison (injurious to himself) had instantly followed

the sneers of Monseigneur, which had stung him bitterly, and those of

Stryver, which above all were coarse and galling, for old reasons.

Upon those, had followed Gabelle's letter: the appeal of an innocent

prisoner, in danger of death, to his justice, honour, and good name.

 

His resolution was made. He must go to Paris.

 

Yes. The Loadstone Rock was drawing him, and he must sail on, until

he struck. He knew of no rock; he saw hardly any danger. The

intention with which he had done what he had done, even although he

had left it incomplete, presented it before him in an aspect that

would be gratefully acknowledged in France on his presenting himself

to assert it. Then, that glorious vision of doing good, which is so

often the sanguine mirage of so many good minds, arose before him,

and he even saw himself in the illusion with some influence to guide

this raging Revolution that was running so fearfully wild.

 

As he walked to and fro with his resolution made, he considered that

neither Lucie nor her father must know of it until he was gone.

Lucie should be spared the pain of separation; and her father, always

reluctant to turn his thoughts towards the dangerous ground of old,

should come to the knowledge of the step, as a step taken, and not in

the balance of suspense and doubt. How much of the incompleteness of

his situation was referable to her father, through the painful

anxiety to avoid reviving old associations of France in his mind, he

did not discuss with himself. But, that circumstance too,

had had its influence in his course.

 

He walked to and fro, with thoughts very busy, until it was time to

return to Tellson's and take leave of Mr. Lorry. As soon as he

arrived in Paris he would present himself to this old friend, but he

must say nothing of his intention now.

 

A carriage with post-horses was ready at the Bank door, and Jerry

was booted and equipped.

 

"I have delivered that letter," said Charles Darnay to Mr. Lorry.

"I would not consent to your being charged with any written answer,

but perhaps you will take a verbal one?"

 

"That I will, and readily," said Mr. Lorry, "if it is not dangerous."

 

"Not at all. Though it is to a prisoner in the Abbaye."

 

"What is his name?" said Mr. Lorry, with his open pocket-book in his hand.

 

"Gabelle."

 

"Gabelle. And what is the message to the unfortunate Gabelle in prison?"

 

"Simply, `that he has received the letter, and will come.'"

 

"Any time mentioned?"

 

"He will start upon his journey to-morrow night."

 

"Any person mentioned?"

 

"No."

 

He helped Mr. Lorry to wrap himself in a number of coats and cloaks,

and went out with him from the warm atmosphere of the old Bank, into

the misty air of Fleet-street. "My love to Lucie, and to little

Lucie," said Mr. Lorry at parting, "and take precious care of them

till I come back." Charles Darnay shook his head and doubtfully smiled,

as the carriage rolled away.

 

That night--it was the fourteenth of August--he sat up late, and

wrote two fervent letters; one was to Lucie, explaining the strong

obligation he was under to go to Paris, and showing her, at length,

the reasons that he had, for feeling confident that he could become

involved in no personal danger there; the other was to the Doctor,

confiding Lucie and their dear child to his care, and dwelling on

the same topics with the strongest assurances. To both, he wrote

that he would despatch letters in proof of his safety, immediately

after his arrival.

 

It was a hard day, that day of being among them, with the first

reservation of their joint lives on his mind. It was a hard matter

to preserve the innocent deceit of which they were profoundly

unsuspicious. But, an affectionate glance at his wife, so happy and

busy, made him resolute not to tell her what impended (he had been

half moved to do it, so strange it was to him to act in anything

without her quiet aid), and the day passed quickly. Early in the

evening he embraced her, and her scarcely less dear namesake, pretending

that he would return by-and-bye (an imaginary engagement took him out,

and he had secreted a valise of clothes ready), and so he emerged

into the heavy mist of the heavy streets, with a heavier heart.

 

The unseen force was drawing him fast to itself, now, and all the

tides and winds were setting straight and strong towards it. He left

his two letters with a trusty porter, to be delivered half an hour

before midnight, and no sooner; took horse for Dover; and began his

journey. "For the love of Heaven, of justice, of generosity, of the

honour of your noble name!" was the poor prisoner's cry with which

he strengthened his sinking heart, as he left all that was dear on

earth behind him, and floated away for the Loadstone Rock.

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