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Two Promises

Page history last edited by Michael J 12 years, 10 months ago

More months, to the number of twelve, had come and gone, and Mr.

Charles Darnay was established in England as a higher teacher of the

French language who was conversant with French literature. In this

age, he would have been a Professor; in that age, he was a Tutor.

He read with young men who could find any leisure and interest for

the study of a living tongue spoken all over the world, and he

cultivated a taste for its stores of knowledge and fancy. He could

write of them, besides, in sound English, and render them into sound

English. Such masters were not at that time easily found; Princes

that had been, and Kings that were to be, were not yet of the Teacher

class, and no ruined nobility had dropped out of Tellson's ledgers,

to turn cooks and carpenters. As a tutor, whose attainments made the

student's way unusually pleasant and profitable, and as an elegant

translator who brought something to his work besides mere dictionary

knowledge, young Mr. Darnay soon became known and encouraged. He was

well acquainted, more-over, with the circumstances of his country,

and those were of ever-growing interest. So, with great perseverance

and untiring industry, he prospered.

 

In London, he had expected neither to walk on pavements of gold, nor

to lie on beds of roses; if he had had any such exalted expectation,

he would not have prospered. He had expected labour, and he found it,

and did it and made the best of it. In this, his prosperity consisted.

 

A certain portion of his time was passed at Cambridge, where he read

with undergraduates as a sort of tolerated smuggler who drove a

contraband trade in European languages, instead of conveying Greek

and Latin through the Custom-house. The rest of his time he passed

in London.

 

Now, from the days when it was always summer in Eden, to these days

when it is mostly winter in fallen latitudes, the world of a man has

invariably gone one way--Charles Darnay's way--the way of the love of

a woman.

 

He had loved Lucie Manette from the hour of his danger. He had never

heard a sound so sweet and dear as the sound of her compassionate

voice; he had never seen a face so tenderly beautiful, as hers when

it was confronted with his own on the edge of the grave that had been

dug for him. But, he had not yet spoken to her on the subject;

the assassination at the deserted chateau far away beyond the heaving

water and the long, long, dusty roads--the solid stone chateau which

had itself become the mere mist of a dream--had been done a year,

and he had never yet, by so much as a single spoken word, disclosed

to her the state of his heart.

 

That he had his reasons for this, he knew full well. It was again a

summer day when, lately arrived in London from his college occupation,

he turned into the quiet corner in Soho, bent on seeking an opportunity

of opening his mind to Doctor Manette. It was the close of the

summer day, and he knew Lucie to be out with Miss Pross.

 

He found the Doctor reading in his arm-chair at a window. The energy

which had at once supported him under his old sufferings and aggravated

their sharpness, had been gradually restored to him. He was now a

very energetic man indeed, with great firmness of purpose, strength

of resolution, and vigour of action. In his recovered energy he was

sometimes a little fitful and sudden, as he had at first been in the

exercise of his other recovered faculties; but, this had never been

frequently observable, and had grown more and more rare.

 

He studied much, slept little, sustained a great deal of fatigue with

ease, and was equably cheerful. To him, now entered Charles Darnay,

at sight of whom he laid aside his book and held out his hand.

 

"Charles Darnay! I rejoice to see you. We have been counting on your

return these three or four days past. Mr. Stryver and Sydney Carton

were both here yesterday, and both made you out to be more than due."

 

"I am obliged to them for their interest in the matter," he answered,

a little coldly as to them, though very warmly as to the Doctor.

"Miss Manette--"

 

"Is well," said the Doctor, as he stopped short, "and your return

will delight us all. She has gone out on some household matters,

but will soon be home."

 

"Doctor Manette, I knew she was from home. I took the opportunity of

her being from home, to beg to speak to you."

 

There was a blank silence.

 

"Yes?" said the Doctor, with evident constraint. "Bring your chair here,

and speak on."

 

He complied as to the chair, but appeared to find the speaking on

less easy.

 

"I have had the happiness, Doctor Manette, of being so intimate

here," so he at length began, "for some year and a half, that I hope

the topic on which I am about to touch may not--"

 

He was stayed by the Doctor's putting out his hand to stop him.

When he had kept it so a little while, he said, drawing it back:

 

"Is Lucie the topic?"

 

"She is."

 

"It is hard for me to speak of her at any time. It is very hard for

me to hear her spoken of in that tone of yours, Charles Darnay."

 

"It is a tone of fervent admiration, true homage, and deep love,

Doctor Manette!" he said deferentially.

 

There was another blank silence before her father rejoined:

 

"I believe it. I do you justice; I believe it."

 

His constraint was so manifest, and it was so manifest, too, that it

originated in an unwillingness to approach the subject, that Charles

Darnay hesitated.

 

"Shall I go on, sir?"

 

Another blank.

 

"Yes, go on."

 

"You anticipate what I would say, though you cannot know how earnestly

I say it, how earnestly I feel it, without knowing my secret heart,

and the hopes and fears and anxieties with which it has long been

laden. Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly,

disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world,

I love her. You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!"

 

The Doctor sat with his face turned away, and his eyes bent on the

ground. At the last words, he stretched out his hand again, hurriedly,

and cried:

 

"Not that, sir! Let that be! I adjure you, do not recall that!"

 

His cry was so like a cry of actual pain, that it rang in Charles

Darnay's ears long after he had ceased. He motioned with the hand he

had extended, and it seemed to be an appeal to Darnay to pause.

The latter so received it, and remained silent.

 

"I ask your pardon," said the Doctor, in a subdued tone, after some

moments. "I do not doubt your loving Lucie; you may be satisfied of it."

 

He turned towards him in his chair, but did not look at him, or raise

his eyes. His chin dropped upon his hand, and his white hair

overshadowed his face:

 

"Have you spoken to Lucie?"

 

"No."

 

"Nor written?"

 

"Never."

 

"It would be ungenerous to affect not to know that your self-denial

is to be referred to your consideration for her father. Her father

thanks you."

 

He offered his hand; but his eyes did not go with it.

 

"I know," said Darnay, respectfully, "how can I fail to know,

Doctor Manette, I who have seen you together from day to day,

that between you and Miss Manette there is an affection so unusual,

so touching, so belonging to the circumstances in which it has been

nurtured, that it can have few parallels, even in the tenderness

between a father and child. I know, Doctor Manette--how can I fail

to know--that, mingled with the affection and duty of a daughter who

has become a woman, there is, in her heart, towards you, all the love

and reliance of infancy itself. I know that, as in her childhood she

had no parent, so she is now devoted to you with all the constancy

and fervour of her present years and character, united to the

trustfulness and attachment of the early days in which you were lost

to her. I know perfectly well that if you had been restored to her

from the world beyond this life, you could hardly be invested, in her

sight, with a more sacred character than that in which you are always

with her. I know that when she is clinging to you, the hands of baby,

girl, and woman, all in one, are round your neck. I know that in

loving you she sees and loves her mother at her own age, sees and

loves you at my age, loves her mother broken-hearted, loves you

through your dreadful trial and in your blessed restoration. I have

known this, night and day, since I have known you in your home."

 

Her father sat silent, with his face bent down. His breathing was a

little quickened; but he repressed all other signs of agitation.

 

"Dear Doctor Manette, always knowing this, always seeing her and you

with this hallowed light about you, I have forborne, and forborne,

as long as it was in the nature of man to do it. I have felt, and do

even now feel, that to bring my love--even mine--between you, is to

touch your history with something not quite so good as itself.

But I love her. Heaven is my witness that I love her!"

 

"I believe it," answered her father, mournfully. "I have thought so

before now. I believe it."

 

"But, do not believe," said Darnay, upon whose ear the mournful voice

struck with a reproachful sound, "that if my fortune were so cast as

that, being one day so happy as to make her my wife, I must at any

time put any separation between her and you, I could or would breathe

a word of what I now say. Besides that I should know it to be

hopeless, I should know it to be a baseness. If I had any such

possibility, even at a remote distance of years, harboured in my

thoughts, and hidden in my heart--if it ever had been there--if it

ever could be there--I could not now touch this honoured hand."

 

He laid his own upon it as he spoke.

 

"No, dear Doctor Manette. Like you, a voluntary exile from France;

like you, driven from it by its distractions, oppressions, and

miseries; like you, striving to live away from it by my own exertions,

and trusting in a happier future; I look only to sharing your fortunes,

sharing your life and home, and being faithful to you to the death.

Not to divide with Lucie her privilege as your child, companion, and

friend; but to come in aid of it, and bind her closer to you, if such

a thing can be."

 

His touch still lingered on her father's hand. Answering the touch

for a moment, but not coldly, her father rested his hands upon the

arms of his chair, and looked up for the first time since the

beginning of the conference. A struggle was evidently in his face;

a struggle with that occasional look which had a tendency in it to

dark doubt and dread.

 

"You speak so feelingly and so manfully, Charles Darnay, that I thank

you with all my heart, and will open all my heart--or nearly so.

Have you any reason to believe that Lucie loves you?"

 

"None. As yet, none."

 

"Is it the immediate object of this confidence, that you may at once

ascertain that, with my knowledge?"

 

"Not even so. I might not have the hopefulness to do it for weeks;

I might (mistaken or not mistaken) have that hopefulness to-morrow."

 

"Do you seek any guidance from me?"

 

"I ask none, sir. But I have thought it possible that you might have

it in your power, if you should deem it right, to give me some."

 

"Do you seek any promise from me?"

 

"I do seek that."

 

"What is it?"

 

"I well understand that, without you, I could have no hope. I well

understand that, even if Miss Manette held me at this moment in her

innocent heart--do not think I have the presumption to assume so much--

I could retain no place in it against her love for her father."

 

"If that be so, do you see what, on the other hand, is involved in it?"

 

"I understand equally well, that a word from her father in any suitor's

favour, would outweigh herself and all the world. For which reason,

Doctor Manette," said Darnay, modestly but firmly, "I would not ask

that word, to save my life."

 

"I am sure of it. Charles Darnay, mysteries arise out of close love,

as well as out of wide division; in the former case, they are subtle

and delicate, and difficult to penetrate. My daughter Lucie is, in

this one respect, such a mystery to me; I can make no guess at the

state of her heart."

 

"May I ask, sir, if you think she is--" As he hesitated, her father

supplied the rest.

 

"Is sought by any other suitor?"

 

"It is what I meant to say."

 

Her father considered a little before he answered:

 

"You have seen Mr. Carton here, yourself. Mr. Stryver is here too,

occasionally. If it be at all, it can only be by one of these."

 

"Or both," said Darnay.

 

"I had not thought of both; I should not think either, likely.

You want a promise from me. Tell me what it is."

 

"It is, that if Miss Manette should bring to you at any time, on her

own part, such a confidence as I have ventured to lay before you,

you will bear testimony to what I have said, and to your belief in it.

I hope you may be able to think so well of me, as to urge no influence

against me. I say nothing more of my stake in this; this is what I ask.

The condition on which I ask it, and which you have an undoubted right

to require, I will observe immediately."

 

"I give the promise," said the Doctor, "without any condition.

I believe your object to be, purely and truthfully, as you have

stated it. I believe your intention is to perpetuate, and not to

weaken, the ties between me and my other and far dearer self. If she

should ever tell me that you are essential to her perfect happiness,

I will give her to you. If there were--Charles Darnay, if there were--"

 

The young man had taken his hand gratefully; their hands were joined

as the Doctor spoke:

 

"--any fancies, any reasons, any apprehensions, anything whatsoever,

new or old, against the man she really loved--the direct responsibility

thereof not lying on his head--they should all be obliterated for her

sake. She is everything to me; more to me than suffering, more to me

than wrong, more to me--Well! This is idle talk."

 

So strange was the way in which he faded into silence, and so strange

his fixed look when he had ceased to speak, that Darnay felt his own

hand turn cold in the hand that slowly released and dropped it.

 

"You said something to me," said Doctor Manette, breaking into a smile.

"What was it you said to me?"

 

He was at a loss how to answer, until he remembered having spoken of

a condition. Relieved as his mind reverted to that, he answered:

 

"Your confidence in me ought to be returned with full confidence on

my part. My present name, though but slightly changed from my

mother's, is not, as you will remember, my own. I wish to tell you

what that is, and why I am in England."

 

"Stop!" said the Doctor of Beauvais.

 

"I wish it, that I may the better deserve your confidence, and have

no secret from you."

 

"Stop!"

 

For an instant, the Doctor even had his two hands at his ears; for

another instant, even had his two hands laid on Darnay's lips.

 

"Tell me when I ask you, not now. If your suit should prosper, if

Lucie should love you, you shall tell me on your marriage morning.

Do you promise?"

 

"Willingly.

 

"Give me your hand. She will be home directly, and it is better she

should not see us together to-night. Go! God bless you!"

 

It was dark when Charles Darnay left him, and it was an hour later

and darker when Lucie came home; she hurried into the room alone--

for Miss Pross had gone straight up-stairs--and was surprised to find

his reading-chair empty.

 

"My father!" she called to him. "Father dear!"

 

Nothing was said in answer, but she heard a low hammering sound in

his bedroom. Passing lightly across the intermediate room, she

looked in at his door and came running back frightened, crying to

herself, with her blood all chilled, "What shall I do! What shall I do!"

 

Her uncertainty lasted but a moment; she hurried back, and tapped at

his door, and softly called to him. The noise ceased at the sound of

her voice, and he presently came out to her, and they walked up and

down together for a long time.

 

She came down from her bed, to look at him in his sleep that night.

He slept heavily, and his tray of shoemaking tools, and his old

unfinished work, were all as usual.

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