A favourite at the Old Bailey, and eke at the Sessions, Mr.Stryver had begun cautiously to hew away the lower staves of theladder on which he mounted. Sessions and Old Bailey had now tosummon their favourite, specially, to their longing arms; andshouldering itself towards the visage of the Lord Chief Justice in theCourt of King's Bench, the florid countenance of Mr. Stryver mightbe daily seen, bursting out of the bed of wigs, like a great sunflowerpushing its way at the sun from among a rank garden-full of flaringcompanions.
It had once been noted at the Bar, that while Mr. Stryver was a glibman, and an unscrupulous, and a ready, and a bold, he had not thatfaculty of extracting the essence from a heap of statements, whichis among the most striking and necessary of the advocate'saccomplishments. But, a remarkable improvement came upon him as tothis. The more business he got, the greater his power seemed to growof getting at its pith and marrow; and however late at night he satcarousing with Sydney Carton, he always had his points at his fingers'ends in the morning.
Sydney Carton, idlest and most unpromising of men, was Stryver'sgreat ally. What the two drank together, between Hilary Term andMichaelmas, might have floated a king's ship. Stryver never had a casein hand, anywhere, but Carton was there, with his hands in hispockets, staring at the ceiling of the court; they went the sameCircuit, and even there they prolonged their usual orgies late intothe night, and Carton was rumoured to be seen at broad day, going homestealthily and unsteadily to his lodgings, like a dissipated cat. Atlast, it began to get about, among such as were interested in thematter, that although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was anamazingly good jackal, and that he rendered suit and service toStryver in that humble capacity.
"Ten o'clock, sir," said the man at the tavern, whom he hadcharged to wake him- "ten o'clock, sir."
"What's the matter?"
"Ten o'clock, sir."
"What do you mean? Ten o'clock at night?"
"Yes, sir. Your honour told me to call you."
"Oh! I remember. Very well, very well."
After a few dull efforts to get to sleep again, which the mandexterously combated by stirring the fire continuously for fiveminutes, he got up, tossed his hat on, and walked out. He turnedinto the Temple, and, having revived himself by twice pacing thepavements of King's Bench-walk and Paper-buildings, turned into theStryver chambers.
The Stryver clerk, who never assisted at these conferences, had gonehome, and the Stryver principal opened the door. He had his slipperson, and a loose bed-gown, and his throat was bare for his greaterease. He had that rather wild, strained, seared marking about theeyes, which may be observed in all free livers of his class, fromthe portrait of Jeffries downward, and which can be traced, undervarious disguises of Art, through the portraits of every Drinking Age.
"You are a little late, Memory," said Stryver.
"About the usual time; it may be a quarter of an hour later."
They went into a dingy room lined with books and littered withpapers, where there was a blazing fire. A kettle steamed upon the hob,and in the midst of the wreck of papers a table shone, with plentyof wine upon it, and brandy, and rum, and sugar, and lemons.
"You have had your bottle, I perceive, Sydney."
"Two to-night, I think. I have been dining with the day's client; orseeing him dine- it's all one!"
"That was a rare point, Sydney, that you brought to bear upon theidentification. How did you come by it? When did it strike you?"
"I thought he was rather a handsome fellow, and I thought I shouldhave been much the same sort of fellow, if I had had any luck."
Mr. Stryver laughed till he shook his precocious paunch.
"You and your luck, Sydney! Get to work, get to work."
Sullenly enough, the jackal loosened his dress, went into anadjoining room, and came back with a large jug of cold water, a basin,and a towel or two. Steeping the towels in the water, and partiallywringing them out, he folded them on his head in a manner hideous tobehold, sat down at the table, and said, "Now I am ready!"
"Not much boiling down to be done to-night, Memory," said Mr.Stryver, gaily, as he looked among his papers.
"Only two sets of them."
"Give me the worst first."
"There they are, Sydney. Fire away!"
The lion then composed himself on his back on a sofa on one sideof the drinking-table, while the jackal sat at his ownpaper-bestrewn table proper, on the other side of it, with the bottlesand glasses ready to his hand. Both resorted to the drinking-tablewithout stint, but each in a different way; the lion for the most partreclining with his hands in his waistband, looking at the fire, oroccasionally flirting with some lighter document; the jackal, withknitted brows and intent face, so deep in his task, that his eyesdid not even follow the hand he stretched out for his glass- whichoften groped about, for a minute or more, before it found the glassfor his lips. Two or three times, the matter in hand became so knotty,that the jackal found it imperative on him to get up, and steep histowels anew. From these pilgrimages to the jug and basin, hereturned with such eccentricities of damp headgear as no words candescribe; which were made the more ludicrous by his anxious gravity.
At length the jackal had got together a compact repast for the lion,and proceeded to offer it to him. The lion took it with care andcaution, made his selections from it, and his remarks upon it, and thejackal assisted both. When the repast was fully discussed, the lionput his hands in his waistband again, and lay down to mediate. Thejackal then invigorated himself with a bumper for his throttle, anda fresh application to his head, and applied himself to the collectionof a second meal; this was administered to the lion in the samemanner, and was not disposed of until the clocks struck three in themorning.
"And now we have done, Sydney, fill a bumper of punch," said Mr.Stryver.
The jackal removed the towels from his head, which had been steamingagain, shook himself, yawned, shivered, and complied.
"You were very sound, Sydney, in the matter of those crown witnessesto-day. Every question told."
"I always am sound; am I not?"
"I don't gainsay it. What has roughened your temper? Put somepunch to it and smooth it again."
With a deprecatory grunt, the jackal again complied.
"The old Sydney Carton of old Shrewsbury School," said Stryver,nodding his head over him as he reviewed him in the present and thepast, "the old seesaw Sydney. Up one minute and down the next; nowin spirits and now in despondency!"
"Ah!" returned the other, sighing: "yes! The same Sydney, with thesame luck. Even then, I did exercises for other boys, and seldom didmy own."
"And why not?"
"God knows. It was my way, I suppose."
He sat, with his hands in his pockets and his legs stretched outbefore him, looking at the fire.
"Carton," said his friend, squaring himself at him with a bullyingair, as if the fire-grate had been the furnace in which sustainedendeavour was forged, and the one delicate thing to be done for theold Sydney Carton of old Shrewsbury School was to shoulder him intoit, "your way is, and always was, a lame way. You summon no energy andpurpose. Look at me."
"Oh, botheration!" returned Sydney, with a lighter and moregood-humoured laugh, "don't you be moral!"
"How have I done what I have done?" said Stryver; "how do I dowhat I do?"
"Partly through paying me to help you, I suppose. But it's not worthyour while to apostrophise me, or the air, about it; what you wantto do, you do. You were always in the front rank, and I was alwaysbehind."
"I had to get into the front rank; I was not born there, was I?"
"I was not present at the ceremony; but my opinion is you were,"said Carton. At this, he laughed again, and they both laughed.
"Before Shrewsbury, and at Shrewsbury, and ever since Shrewsbury,"pursued Carton, "you have fallen into your rank, and I have falleninto mine. Even when we were fellow-students in the Student-Quarter ofParis, picking up French, and French law, and other French crumbs thatwe didn't get much good of, you were always somewhere, and I wasalways- nowhere."
"And whose fault was that?"
"Upon my soul, I am not sure that it was not yours. You werealways driving and riving and shouldering and passing, to thatrestless degree that I had no chance for my life but in rust andrepose. It's a gloomy thing, however, to talk about one's own past,with the day breaking. Turn me in some other direction before I go."
"Well then! Pledge me to the pretty witness," said Stryver,holding up his glass. "Are you turned in a pleasant direction?"
Apparently not, for he became gloomy again.
"Pretty witness," he muttered, looking down into his glass. "Ihave had enough of witnesses to-day and to-night; who's your prettywitness?"
"The picturesque doctor's daughter, Miss Manette."
"Is she not?"
"Why, man alive, she was the admiration of the whole Court!"
"Rot the admiration of the whole Court! Who made the Old Bailey ajudge of beauty? She was a golden-haired doll!"
"Do you know, Sydney," said Mr. Stryver, looking at him with sharpeyes, and slowly drawing a hand across his florid face: "do youknow, I rather thought, at the time, that you sympathised with thegolden-haired doll, and were quick to see what happened to thegolden-haired doll?"
"Quick to see what happened! If a girl, doll or no doll, swoonswithin a yard or two of a man's nose, he can see it without aperspective-glass. I pledge you, but I deny the beauty. And now I'llhave no more drink; I'll get to bed."
When his host followed him out on the staircase with a candle, tolight him down the stairs, the day was coldly looking in through itsgrimy windows. When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad,the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene likea lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and roundbefore the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away,and the first spray of it in its advance had begun to overwhelm thecity.
Waste forces within him. and a desert all around, this man stoodstill on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment,lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage honourable ambition,self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision,there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces lookedupon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters ofHope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbingto a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in hisclothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than theman of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directedexercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible ofthe blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.