A Tale of Two Cities  双城记

Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration, andthe Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watchesin his pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set byMonseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips. Onelacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; asecond, milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument hebore for that function; a third, presented the favoured napkin; afourth (he of the two gold watches), poured the chocolate out. Itwas impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of theseattendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiringHeavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if hischocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must havedied of two.


Monseigneur had been out at a little supper last night, where theComedy and the Grand Opera were charmingly represented. Monseigneurwas out at a little supper most nights, with fascinating company. Sopolite and so impressible was Monseigneur, that the Comedy and theGrand Opera had far more influence with him in the tiresome articlesof state affairs and state secrets, than the needs of all France. Ahappy circumstance for France, as the like always is for all countriessimilarly favoured!- always was for England (by way of example), inthe regretted days of the merry Stuart who sold it.


Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business,which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particularpublic business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that itmust all go his way- tend to his own power and pocket. Of hispleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other trulynoble 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 fulness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur."


Yet, Monseigneur had slowly found that vulgar embarrassments creptinto his affairs, both private and public; and he had, as to bothclasses of affairs, allied himself perforce with a Farmer-General.As to finances public, because Monseigneur could not make anythingat all of them, and must consequently let them out to somebody whocould; as to finances private, because Farmer-Generals were rich,and Monseigneur, after generations of great luxury and expense, wasgrowing poor. Hence Monseigneur had taken his sister from a convent,while there was yet time to ward off the impending veil, thecheapest garment she could wear, and had bestowed her as a prizeupon a very rich Farmer-General, poor in family. Which Farmer-General,carrying an appropriate cane with a golden apple on the top of it, wasnow among the company in the outer rooms, much prostrated before bymankind- always excepting superior mankind of the blood ofMonseigneur, who, his own wife included, looked down upon him with theloftiest contempt.


A sumptuous man was the Farmer-General. Thirty horses stood in hisstables, twenty-four male domestics sat in his halls, six body-womenwaited on his wife. As one who pretended to do nothing but plunder andforage where he could, the Farmer-General- howsoever his matrimonialrelations conduced to social morality- was at least the greatestreality among the personages who attended at the hotel ofMonseigneur that day.


For, the rooms, though a beautiful scene to look at, and adornedwith every device of decoration that the taste and skin of the timecould achieve, were, in truth, not a sound business; considered withany reference to the scarecrows in the rags and nightcaps elsewhere(and not so far off, either, but that the watching towers of NotreDame, almost equidistant from the two extremes, could see themboth), they would have been an exceedingly uncomfortable business-if that could have been anybody's business, at the house ofMonseigneur. Military officers destitute of military knowledge;naval officers with no idea of a ship; civil officers without a notionof affairs; brazen ecclesiastics, of the worst world worldly, withsensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives; all totally unfit fortheir several callings all lying horribly in pretending to belong tothem, but all nearly or remotely of the order of Monseigneur, andtherefore foisted on all public employments from which anything was tobe got; these were to be told off by the score and the score. Peoplenot immediately connected with Monseigneur or the State, yet equallyunconnected with anything that was real, or with lives passed intravelling by any straight road to any true earthly end, were noless abundant. Doctors who made great fortunes out of daintyremedies for imaginary disorders that never existed, smiled upon theircourtly patients in the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors whohad discovered every kind of remedy for the little evils with whichthe State was touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnestto root out a single sin, poured their distracting babble into anyears they could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur.Unbelieving Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words,and making card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked withUnbelieving Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, atthis wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur. Exquisitegentlemen of the finest breeding, which was at that remarkable time-and has been since- to be known by its fruits of indifference to everynatural subject of human interest, were in the most exemplary state ofexhaustion, at the hotel of Monseigneur. Such homes had thesevarious notabilities left behind them in the fine world of Paris, thatthe spies among the assembled devotees of Monseigneur- forming agoodly half of the polite company- would have found it hard todiscover among the angels of that sphere one solitary wife, who, inher manners and appearance, owned to being a Mother. Indeed, exceptfor the mere act of bringing a troublesome creature into this world-which does not go far towards the realisation of the name of mother-there was no such thing known to the fashion. Peasant women kept theunfashionable babies close, and brought them up, and charminggrandmammas of sixty dressed and supped as at twenty.


The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature inattendance upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozenexceptional people who had had, for a few years, some vaguemisgiving in them that things in general were going rather wrong. As apromising way of setting them right, half of the half-dozen had becomemembers of a fantastic sect of Convulsionists, and were even thenconsidering within themselves whether they should foam, rage, roar,and turn cataleptic on the spot- thereby setting up a highlyintelligible finger-post to the Future, for Monseigneur's guidance.Besides these Dervishes, were other three who had rushed intoanother sect, which mended matters with a jargon about "the Centreof Truth:" holding that Man had got out of the Centre of Truth-which did not need much demonstration- but had not got out of theCircumference, and that he was to be kept from flying out of theCircumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre, byfasting and seeing of spirits. Among these, accordingly, muchdiscoursing with spirits went on- and it did a world of good whichnever became manifest.


But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel ofMonseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had onlybeen ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have beeneternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up ofhair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended,such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to thesense of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever.The exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding wore little pendenttrinkets that chinked as they languidly moved; these golden fettersrang like precious little bells; and what with that ringing, andwith the rustle of silk and brocade and fine linen, there was aflutter in the air that fanned Saint Antoine and his devouringhunger far away.


Dress was the one unfailing talisman and charm used for keepingall things in their places. Everybody was dressed for a Fancy Ballthat was never to leave off. From the Palace of the Tuileries, throughMonseigneur and the whole Court, through the Chambers, the Tribunalsof Justice, and all society (except the scarecrows), the Fancy Balldescended 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 axewas a rarity- Monsieur Paris, as it was the episcopal mode among hisbrother Professors of the provinces, Monsieur Orleans, and the rest,to call him, presided in this dainty dress. And who among thecompany at Monseigneur's reception in that seventeen hundred andeightieth year of our Lord, could possibly doubt, that a system rootedin a frizzled hangman, powdered, gold-laced, pumped, and white-silkstockinged, would see the very stars out!


Monseigneur having eased his four men of their burdens and taken hischocolate, caused the doors of the Holiest of Holiests to be thrownopen, and issued forth. Then, what submission, what cringing andfawning, what servility, what abject humiliation! As to bowing down inbody and spirit, nothing in that way was left for Heaven- which mayhave been one among other reasons why the worshippers of Monseigneurnever troubled it.


Bestowing a word of promise here and a smile there, a whisper on onehappy slave and a wave of the hand on another, Monseigneur affablypassed through his rooms to the remote region of the Circumferenceof Truth. There, Monseigneur turned, and came back again, and so indue course of time got himself shut up in his sanctuary by thechocolate sprites, and was seen no more.


The show being over, the flutter in the air became quite a littlestorm, and the precious little bells went ringing down-stairs. Therewas soon but one person left of all the crowd, and he, with his hatunder his arm and his snuff-box in his hand, slowly passed among themirrors on his way out.


"I devote you," said this person, stopping at the last door on hisway, and turning in the direction of the sanctuary, "to the Devil!"


With that, he shook the snuff from his fingers as if he had shakenthe dust from his feet, and quietly walked down-stairs.


He was a man of about sixty, handsomely dressed, haughty inmanner, and with a face like a fine mask. A face of a transparentpaleness; every feature in it clearly defined; one set expression onit. The nose, beautifully formed otherwise, was very slightlypinched at the top of each nostril. In those two compressions, ordints, the only little change that the face ever showed, resided. Theypersisted in changing colour sometimes, and they would be occasionallydilated and contracted by something like a faint pulsation; then, theygave a look of treachery, and cruelty, to the whole countenance.Examined with attention, its capacity of helping such a look was to befound in the line of the mouth, and the lines of the orbits of theeyes, being much too horizontal and thin; still, in the effect ofthe face made, it was a handsome face, and a remarkable one.


Its owner went down-stairs into the courtyard, got into hiscarriage, and drove away. Not many people had talked with him at thereception; he had stood in a little space apart, and Monseigneur mighthave been warmer in his manner. It appeared, under thecircumstances, rather agreeable to him to see the common peopledispersed before his horses, and often barely escaping from beingrun down. His man drove as if he were charging an enemy, and thefurious recklessness of the man brought no check into the face, orto the lips, of the master. The complaint had sometimes made itselfaudible, even in that deaf city and dumb age, that, in the narrowstreets without footways, the fierce patrician custom of harddriving endangered and maimed the mere vulgar in a barbarous manner.But, few cared enough for that to think of it a second time, and, inthis matter, as in all others, the common wretches were left to getout of their difficulties as they could.


With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment ofconsideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriagedashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screamingbefore it, and men clutching each other and clutching children outof its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one ofits wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cryfrom a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.


But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would nothave stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leavetheir wounded behind, and why not? But the frightened valet had gotdown in a hurry, and there were twenty hands at the horses' bridles.


"What has gone wrong?" said Monsieur, calmly looking out.


A tall man in a nightcap had caught up a bundle from among thefeet 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.


"Pardon, Monsieur the Marquis!" said a ragged and submissive man,"it is a child."


"Why does he make that abominable noise? Is it his child?"


"Excuse me, Monsieur the Marquis- it is a pity- yes."


The fountain was a little removed; for the street opened, where itwas, into a space some ten or twelve yards square. As the tall mansuddenly got up from the ground, and came running at the carriage,Monsieur the Marquis clapped his hand for an instant on hissword-hilt.


"Killed!" shrieked the man, in wild desperation, extending both armsat their length above his head, and staring at him. "Dead!"


The people closed round, and looked at Monsieur the Marquis. Therewas nothing revealed by the many eyes that looked at him butwatchfulness and eagerness; there was no visible menacing or anger.Neither did the people say anything; after the first cry, they hadbeen silent, and they remained so. The voice of the submissive man whohad spoken, was flat and tame in its extreme submission. Monsieurthe Marquis ran his eyes over them all, as if they had been mererats come out of their holes.


He took out his purse.


"It is extraordinary to me," said he, "that you people cannot takecare 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."


He threw out a gold coin for the valet to pick up, and all the headscraned forward that all the eyes might look down at it as it fell. Thetall man called out again with a most unearthly cry, "Dead!"


He was arrested by the quick arrival of another man, for whom therest made way. On seeing him, the miserable creature fell upon hisshoulder, sobbing and crying, and pointing to the fountain, where somewomen were stooping over the motionless bundle, and moving gentlyabout it. They were as silent, however, as the men.


"I know all, I know all," said the last comer. "Be a brave man, myGaspard! It is better for the poor little plaything to die so, than tolive. It has died in a moment without pain. Could it have lived anhour as happily?"


"You are a philosopher, you there," said the Marquis, smiling."How do they call you?"


"They call me Defarge."


"Of what trade?"


"Monsieur the Marquis, vendor of wine."


"Pick up that, philosopher and vendor of wine," said the Marquis,throwing him another gold coin, "and spend it as you will. Thehorses there; are they right?"


Without deigning to look at the assemblage a second time, Monsieurthe Marquis leaned back in his seat, and was just being driven awaywith the air of a gentleman who had accidentally broke some commonthing, and had paid for it, and could afford to pay for it; when hisease was suddenly disturbed by a coin flying into his carriage, andringing on its floor.


"Hold!" said Monsieur the Marquis. "Hold the horses! Who threwthat?"


He looked to the spot where Defarge the vendor of wine had stood,a moment before; but the wretched father was grovelling on his face onthe pavement in that spot, and the figure that stood beside him wasthe figure of a dark stout woman, knitting.


"You dogs!" said the Marquis, but smoothly, and with an unchangedfront, except as to the spots on his nose: "I would ride over any ofyou very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth. If I knewwhich rascal threw at the carriage, and if that brigand weresufficiently near it, he should be crushed under the wheels."


So cowed was their condition, and so long and hard theirexperience of what such a man could do to them, within the law andbeyond 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 upsteadily, and looked the Marquis in the face. It was not for hisdignity to notice it; his contemptuous eyes passed over her, andover all the other rats; and he leaned back in his seat again, andgave the word "Go on!"


He was driven on, and other carriages came whirling by in quicksuccession; the Minister, the State-Projector, the Farmer-General, theDoctor, the Lawyer, the Ecclesiastic, the Grand Opera, the Comedy, thewhole Fancy Ball in a bright continuous flow, came whirling by. Therats had crept out of their holes to look on, and they remainedlooking on for hours; soldiers and police often passing between themand the spectacle, and making a barrier behind which they slunk, andthrough which they peeped. The father had long ago taken up his bundleand hidden himself away with it, when the women who had tended thebundle while it lay on the base of the fountain, sat there watchingthe running of the water and the rolling of the Fancy Ball- when theone woman who had stood conspicuous, knitting, still knitted on withthe steadfastness of Fate. The water of the fountain ran, the swiftriver ran, the day ran into evening, so much life in the city ran intodeath according to rule, time and tide waited for no man, the ratswere sleeping close together in their dark holes again, the Fancy Ballwas lighted up at supper, all things ran their course.