Up the broad flight of shallow steps, Monsieur the Marquis, flambeaupreceded, went from his carriage, sufficiently disturbing the darknessto elicit loud remonstrance from an owl in the roof of the greatpile of stable building away among the trees. All else was so quiet,that the flambeau carried up the steps, and the other flambeau held atthe 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'svoice there was none, save the falling of a fountain into its stonebasin; for, it was one of those dark nights that hold their breathby the hour together, and then heave a long low sigh, and hold theirbreath again.
The great door clanged behind him, and Monsieur the Marquiscrossed a hall grim with certain old boar-spears, swords, and knivesof the chase; grimmer with certain heavy riding-rods and riding-whips,of which many a peasant, gone to his benefactor Death, had felt theweight when his lord was angry.
Avoiding the larger rooms, which were dark and made fast for thenight, 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: hisbed-chamber and two others. High vaulted rooms with cool uncarpetedfloors, great dogs upon the hearths for the burning of wood inwinter time, and all luxuries befitting the state of a marquis in aluxurious age and country. The fashion of the last Louis but one, ofthe line that was never to break- the fourteenth Louis- wasconspicuous in their rich furniture; but, it was diversified by manyobjects that were illustrations of old pages in the history of France.
A supper-table was laid for two, in the third of the rooms; around room, in one of the chateau's four extinguisher-topped towers. Asmall lofty room, with its window wide open, and the woodenjalousie-blinds closed, so that the dark night only showed in slighthorizontal lines of black, alternating with their broad lines of stonecolour.
"My nephew," said the Marquis, glancing at the supper preparation;"they said he was not arrived."
Nor was he; but, he had been expected with Monseigneur.
"Ah! It is not probable he will arrive to-night; nevertheless, leavethe table as it is. I shall be ready in a quarter of an hour."
In a quarter of an hour Monseigneur was ready, and sat down alone tohis sumptuous and choice supper. His chair was opposite to the window,and he had taken his soup, and was raising his glass of Bordeaux tohis lips, when he put it down.
"What is that?" he calmly asked, looking with attention at thehorizontal lines of black and stone colour.
"Outside the blinds. Open the blinds."
It was done.
"Monseigneur, it is nothing. The trees and the night are all thatare here."
The servant who spoke, had thrown the blinds wide, had looked outinto the vacant darkness, and stood with that blank behind him,looking round for instructions.
"Good," said the imperturbable master. "Close them again."
That was done too, and the Marquis went on with his supper. He washalf 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 thefront of the chateau.
"Ask who is arrived."
It was the nephew of Monseigneur. He had been some few leaguesbehind Monseigneur, early in the afternoon. He had diminished thedistance rapidly, but not so rapidly as to come up with Monseigneur onthe road. He had heard of Monseigneur, at the posting-houses, as beingbefore him.
He was to be told (said Monseigneur) that supper awaited him thenand there, and that he was prayed to come to it. In a little whilehe came. He had been known in England as Charles Darnay.
Monseigneur received him in a courtly manner, but they did not shakehands.
"You left Paris yesterday, sir?" he said to Monseigneur, as hetook his seat at table.
"Yesterday. And you?"
"I come direct."
"You have been a long time coming," said the Marquis, with a smile.
"On the contrary; I come direct."
"Pardon me! I mean, not a long time on the journey; a long timeintending the journey."
"I have been detained by"- the nephew stopped a moment in hisanswer- "various business."
"Without doubt," said the polished uncle.
So long as a servant was present, no other words passed betweenthem. When coffee had been served and they were alone together, thenephew, looking at the uncle and meeting the eyes of the face that waslike a fine mask, opened a conversation.
"I have come back, sir, as you anticipate, pursuing the objectthat 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 itwould have sustained me.
"Not to death," said the uncle; "it is not necessary to say, todeath."
"I doubt, sir," returned the nephew, "whether, if it had carriedme to the utmost brink of death, you would have cared to stop methere."
The deepened marks in the nose, and the lengthening of the finestraight lines in the cruel face, looked ominous as to that; the unclemade a graceful gesture of protest, which was so clearly a slight formof good breeding that it was not reassuring.
"Indeed, sir," pursued the nephew, "for anything I know, you mayhave expressly worked to give a more suspicious appearance to thesuspicious circumstances that surrounded me."
"No, no, no," said the uncle, pleasantly.
"But, however that may be," resumed the nephew, glancing at him withdeep distrust, "I know that your diplomacy would stop me by any means,and would know no scruple as to means."
"My friend, I told you so," said the uncle, with a fine pulsation inthe two marks. "Do me the favour to recall that I told you so, longago."
"I recall it."
"Thank you," said the Marquis- very sweetly indeed.
His tone lingered in the air, almost like the tone of a musicalinstrument.
"In effect, sir," pursued the nephew, "I believe it to be at onceyour bad fortune, and my good fortune, that has kept me out of aprison in France here."
"I do not quite understand," returned the uncle, sipping his coffee."Dare I ask you to explain?"
"I believe that if you were not in disgrace with the Court, andhad not been overshadowed by that cloud for years past, a letter decachet would have sent me to some fortress indefinitely."
"It is possible," said the uncle, with great calmness. "For thehonour of the family, I could even resolve to incommode you to thatextent. Pray excuse me!"
"I perceive that, happily for me, the Reception of the day beforeyesterday was, as usual, a cold one," observed the nephew.
"I would not say happily, my friend," returned the uncle, withrefined politeness; "I would not be sure of that. A good opportunityfor consideration, surrounded by the advantages of solitude, mightinfluence your destiny to far greater advantage than you influenceit for yourself. But it is useless to discuss the question. I am, asyou say, at a disadvantage. These little instruments of correction,these gentle aids to the power and honour of families, these slightfavours that might so incommode you, are only to be obtained now byinterest and importunity. They are sought by so many, and they aregranted (comparatively) to so few! It used not to be so, but France inall such things is changed for the worse. Our not remote ancestorsheld the right of life and death over the surrounding vulgar. Fromthis room, many such dogs have been taken out to be hanged; in thenext room (my bedroom), one fellow, to our knowledge, was poniarded onthe spot for professing some insolent delicacy respecting hisdaughter- his daughter? We have lost many privileges; a new philosophyhas become the mode; and the assertion of our station, in thesedays, might (I do not go so far as to say would, but might) cause usreal inconvenience. All very bad, very bad!"
The Marquis took a gentle little pinch of snuff, and shook his head;as elegantly despondent as he could becomingly be of a country stillcontaining himself, that great means of regeneration.
"We have so asserted our station, both in the old time and in themodern time also," said the nephew, gloomily, "that I believe our nameto be more detested than any name in France."
"Let us hope so," said the uncle. "Detestation of the high is theinvoluntary homage of the low."
"There is not," pursued the nephew, in his former tone, "a face Ican look at, in all this country round about us, which looks at mewith any deference on it but the dark deference of fear and slavery."
"A compliment," said the Marquis, "to the grandeur of the family,merited by the manner in which the family has sustained itsgrandeur. Hah!" And he took another gentle little pinch of snuff,and lightly crossed his legs.
But, when his nephew, leaning an elbow on the table, covered hiseyes thoughtfully and dejectedly with his hand, the fine mask lookedat him sideways with a stronger concentration of keenness,closeness, and dislike, than was comportable with its wearer'sassumption of indifference.
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference offear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep thedogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up to it,"shuts out the sky."
That might not be so long as the Marquis supposed. If a picture ofthe chateau as it was to be a very few years hence, and of fiftylike it as they too were to be a very few years hence, could have beenshown to him that night, he might have been at a loss to claim his ownfrom the ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked ruins. As for the roofhe vaunted, he might have found that shutting out the sky in a newway- to wit, for ever, from the eyes of the bodies into which its leadwas fired, out of the barrels of a hundred thousand muskets.
"Meanwhile," said the Marquis, "I will preserve the honour andrepose of the family. if you will not. But you must be fatigued. Shallwe terminate our conference for the night?"
"A moment more."
"An hour, if you please."
"Sir," said the nephew, "we have done wrong, and are reaping thefruits of wrong."
"We have done wrong?" repeated the Marquis, with an inquiring smile,and delicately pointing, first to his nephew, then to himself.
"Our family; our honourable family, whose honour is of so muchaccount to both of us, in such different ways. Even in my father'stime, we did a world of wrong, injuring every human creature whocame between us and our pleasure, whatever it was. Why need I speak ofmy father's time, when it is equally yours? Can I separate my father'stwin-brother, joint inheritor, and next successor, from himself?"
"Death has done that!" said the Marquis.
"And has left me," answered the nephew, "bound to a system that isfrightful to me, responsible for it, but powerless in it; seeking toexecute the last request of my dear mother's lips, and obey the lastlook of my dear mother's eyes, which implored me to have mercy andto redress; and tortured by seeking assistance and power in vain."
"Seeking them from me, my nephew," said the Marquis, touching him onthe breast with his forefinger- they were now standing by thehearth- "you will for ever seek them in vain, be assured."
Every fine straight line in the clear whiteness of his face, wascruelly, craftily, and closely compressed, while he stood lookingquietly at his nephew, with his snuff-box in his hand. Once again hetouched him on the breast, as though his finger were the fine point ofa small sword, with which, in delicate finesse, he ran him through thebody, and said,
"My friend, I will die, perpetuating the system under which I havelived."
When he had said it, he took a culminating pinch of snuff, and puthis box in his pocket.
"Better to be a rational creature," he added then, after ringing asmall bell on the table, "and accept your natural destiny. But you arelost, Monsieur Charles, I see."
"This property and France are lost to me," said the nephew, sadly;"I renounce them."
"Are they both yours to renounce? France may be, but is theproperty? It is scarcely worth mentioning; but, is it yet?"
"I had no intention, in the words I used, to claim it yet. If itpassed to me from you, to-morrow--"
"Which I have the vanity to hope is not probable."
"-or twenty years hence--"
"You do me too much honour," said the Marquis; "still, I prefer thatsupposition."
"-I would abandon it, and live otherwise and elsewhere. It is littleto relinquish. What is it but a wilderness of misery and ruin!"
"Hah!" said the Marquis, glancing round the luxurious room.
"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 ofwaste, mismanagement, extortion, debt, mortgage, oppression, hunger,nakedness, and suffering."
"Hah!" said the Marquis again, in a well-satisfied manner.
"If it ever becomes mine, it shall be put into some hands betterqualified to free it slowly (if such a thing is possible) from theweight that drags it down, so that the miserable people who cannotleave it and who have been long wrung to the last point ofendurance, may, in another generation, suffer less; but it is notfor me. There is a curse on it, and on all this land."
"And you?" said the uncle. "Forgive my curiosity; do you, under yournew philosophy, graciously intend to live?"
"I must do, to live, what others of my countrymen, even withnobility at their backs, may have to do some day- work."
"In England, for example?"
"Yes. The family honour, sir, is safe from me in this country. Thefamily name can suffer from me in no other, for I bear it in noother."
The ringing of the bell had caused the adjoining bed-chamber to belighted. It now shone brightly, through the door of communication. TheMarquis looked that way, and listened for the retreating step of hisvalet.
"England is very attractive to you, seeing how indifferently youhave prospered there," he observed then, turning his calm face tohis nephew with a smile.
"I have already said, that for my prospering there, I am sensibleI may be indebted to you, sir. For the rest, it is my Refuge."
"They say, those boastful English, that it is the Refuge of many.You know a compatriot who has found a Refuge there? A Doctor?"
"With a daughter?"
"Yes," said the Marquis. "You are fatigued. Good night!"
As he bent his head in his most courtly manner, there was asecrecy in his smiling face, and he conveyed an air of mystery tothose words, which struck the eyes and ears of his nephew forcibly. Atthe same time, the thin straight lines of the setting of the eyes, andthe thin straight lips, and the markings in the nose, curved with asarcasm that looked handsomely diabolic.
"Yes," repeated the Marquis. "A Doctor with a daughter. Yes. Socommences the new philosophy! You are fatigued. Good night!"
It would have been of as much avail to interrogate any stone faceoutside the chateau as to interrogate that face of his. The nephewlooked at him, in vain, in passing on to the door.
"Good night!" said the uncle. "I look to the pleasure of seeingyou again in the morning. Good repose! Light Monsieur my nephew to hischamber there!- And burn Monsieur my nephew in his bed, if youwill," he added to himself, before he rang his little bell again,and summoned his valet to his own bedroom.
The valet come and gone, Monsieur the Marquis walked to and fro inhis loose chamber-robe, to prepare himself gently for sleep, thathot still night. Rustling about the room, his softly-slippered feetmaking no noise on the floor, he moved like a refined tiger:- lookedlike 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.
He moved from end to end of his voluptuous bedroom, looking again atthe 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, themill, the prison on the crag, the little village in the hollow, thepeasants at the fountain, and the mender of roads with his blue cappointing out the chain under the carriage. That fountain suggested theParis fountain, the little bundle lying on the step, the women bendingover it, and the tall man with his arms up, crying, "Dead!"
"I am cool now," said Monsieur the Marquis, "and may go to bed."
So, leaving only one light burning on the large hearth, he let histhin gauze curtains fall around him, and heard the night break itssilence with a long sigh as he composed himself to sleep.
The stone faces on the outer walls stared blindly at the black nightfor three heavy hours; for three heavy hours, the horses in thestables rattled at their racks, the dogs barked, and the owl made anoise with very little resemblance in it to the noise conventionallyassigned to the owl by men-poets. But it is the obstinate custom ofsuch creatures hardly ever to say what is set down for them.
For three heavy hours, the stone faces of the chateau, lion andhuman, stared blindly at the night. Dead darkness lay on all thelandscape, dead darkness added its own hush to the hushing dust on allthe roads. The burial-place had got to the pass that its littleheaps of poor grass were undistinguishable from one another; thefigure on the Cross might have come down, for anything that could beseen of it. In the village, taxers and taxed were fast asleep.Dreaming, perhaps, of banquets, as the starved usually do, and of easeand rest, as the driven slave and the yoked ox may, its leaninhabitants slept soundly, and were fed and freed.
The fountain in the village flowed unseen and unheard, and thefountain at the chateau dropped unseen and unheard- both melting away,like the minutes that were falling from the spring of Time- throughthree dark hours. Then, the grey water of both began to be ghostlyin the light, and the eyes of the stone faces of the chateau wereopened.
Lighter and lighter, until at last the sun touched the tops of thestill trees, and poured its radiance over the hill. In the glow, thewater of the chateau fountain seemed to turn to blood, and the stonefaces crimsoned. The carol of the birds was loud and high, and, on theweather-beaten sill of the great window of the bed-chamber of Monsieurthe Marquis, one little bird sang its sweetest song with all itsmight. At this, the nearest stone face seemed to stare amazed, and,with open mouth and dropped under-jaw, looked awe-stricken.
Now, the sun was full up, and movement began in the village.Casement windows opened, crazy doors were unbarred, and people cameforth shivering- chilled, as yet, by the new sweet air. Then began therarely lightened toil of the day among the village population. Some,to the fountain; some, to the fields; men and women here, to dig anddelve; men and women there, to see to the poor live stock, and leadthe bony cows out, to such pasture as could be found by theroadside. In the church and at the Cross, a kneeling figure or two;attendant on the latter prayers, the led cow, trying for a breakfastamong the weeds at its foot.
The chateau awoke later, as became its quality, but awokegradually and surely. First, the lonely boar-spears and knives ofthe chase had been reddened as of old; then, had gleamed trenchantin the morning sunshine; now, doors and windows were thrown open,horses in their stables looked round over their shoulders at the lightand freshness pouring in at doorways, leaves sparkled and rustled atiron-grated windows, dogs pulled hard at their chains, and rearedimpatient to be loosed.
All these trivial incidents belonged to the routine of life, and thereturn of morning. Surely, not so the ringing of the great bell of thechateau, nor the running up and down the stairs; nor the hurriedfigures on the terrace; nor the booting and tramping here and thereand everywhere, nor the quick saddling of horses and riding away?
What winds conveyed this hurry to the grizzled mender of roads,already at work on the hill-top beyond the village, with his day'sdinner (not much to carry) lying in a bundle that it was worth nocrow'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 theysow chance seeds? Whether or no, the mender of roads ran, on thesultry morning, as if for his life, down the hill, knee-high indust, and never stopped till he got to the fountain.
All the people of the village were at the fountain, standing aboutin their depressed manner, and whispering low, but showing no otheremotions than grim curiosity and surprise. The led cows, hastilybrought in and tethered to anything that would hold them, were lookingstupidly on, or lying down chewing the cud of nothing particularlyrepaying their trouble, which they had picked up in theirinterrupted saunter. Some of the people of the chateau, and some ofthose of the posting-house, and all the taxing authorities, were armedmore or less, and were crowded on the other side of the littlestreet in a purposeless way, that was highly fraught with nothing.Already, the mender of roads had penetrated into the midst of agroup of fifty particular friends, and was smiting himself in thebreast with his blue cap. What did all this portend, and whatportended the swift hoisting-up of Monsieur Gabelle behind a servanton horseback, and the conveying away of the said Gabelle (double-ladenthough the horse was), at a gallop, like a new version of the Germanballad of Leonora?
It portended that there was one stone face too many, up at thechateau.
The Gorgon had surveyed the building again in the night, and hadadded the one stone face wanting; the stone face for which it hadwaited through about two hundred years.
It lay back on the pillow of Monsieur the Marquis. It was like afine mask, suddenly startled, made angry, and petrified. Driven homeinto the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife.Round its hilt was a frill of paper, on which was scrawled:
"Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from JACQUES."