And yet he did care something for the streets that environed thathouse, and for the senseless stones that made their pavements. Manya night he vaguely and unhappily wandered there, when wine had broughtno transitory gladness to him; many a dreary daybreak revealed hissolitary figure lingering there, and still lingering there when thefirst beams of the sun brought into strong relief, removed beauties ofarchitecture in spires of churches and lofty buildings, as perhaps thequiet time brought some sense of better things, else forgotten andunattainable, into his mind. Of late, the neglected bed in theTemple Court had known him more scantily than ever; and often whenhe had thrown himself upon it no longer than a few minutes, he had gotup again, and haunted that neighbourhood.
On a day in August, when Mr. Stryver (after notifying to hisjackal that "he had thought better of that marrying matter") hadcarried his delicacy into Devonshire, and when the sight and scentof flowers in the City streets had some waifs of goodness in themfor the worst, of health for the sickliest, and of youth for theoldest, Sydney's feet still trod those stones. From being irresoluteand purposeless, his feet became animated by an intention, and, in theworking out of that intention, they took him to the Doctor's door.
He was shown up-stairs, and found Lucie at her work, alone. Shehad never been quite at her ease with him, and received him withsome little embarrassment as he seated himself near her table. But,looking up at his face in the interchange of the first fewcommon-places, she observed a change in it.
"I fear you are not well, Mr. Carton!"
"No. But the life I lead, Miss Manette, is not conducive tohealth. What is to be expected of, or by, such profligates?"
"Is it not- forgive me; I have begun the question on my lips- a pityto live no better life?"
"God knows it is a shame!"
"Then why not change it?"
Looking gently at him again, she was surprised and saddened to seethat there were tears in his eyes. There were tears in his voicetoo, as he answered:
"It is too late for that. I shall never be better than I am. I shallsink lower, and be worse."
He leaned an elbow on her table, and covered his eyes with his hand.The table trembled in the silence that followed.
She had never seen him softened, and was much distressed. He knewher to be so, without looking at her, and said:
"Pray forgive me, Miss Manette. I break down before the knowledge ofwhat I want to say to you. Will you hear me?"
"If it will do you any good, Mr. Carton, if it would make youhappier, it would make me very glad!"
"God bless you for your sweet compassion!"
He unshaded his face after a little while, and spoke steadily.
"Don't be afraid to hear me. Don't shrink from anything I say. Iam like one who died young. All my life might have been."
"No, Mr. Carton. I am sure that the best part of it might stillbe; I am sure that you might be much, much worthier of yourself."
"Say of you, Miss Manette, and although I know better- although inthe mystery of my own wretched heart I know better- I shall neverforget it!"
She was pale and trembling. He came to her relief with a fixeddespair of himself which made the interview unlike any other thatcould have been holden.
"If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returnedthe love of the man you see before you- self-flung away, wasted,drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be- he wouldhave been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, thathe would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance,blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very wellthat you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am eventhankful that it cannot be."
"Without it, can I not save you, Mr. Carton? Can I not recall you-forgive me again!- to a better course? Can I in no way repay yourconfidence? I know this is a confidence," she modestly said, after alittle hesitation, and in earnest tears, "I know you would say this tono one else. Can I turn it to no good account for yourself, Mr.Carton?"
He shook his head.
"To none. No, Miss Manette, to none. If you will hear me through avery little more, all you can ever do for me is done. I wish you toknow that you have been the last dream of my soul. In my degradation Ihave not been so degraded but that the sight of you with yourfather, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred oldshadows that I thought had died out of me. Since I knew you, I havebeen troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach meagain, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward,that I thought were silent for ever. I have had unformed ideas ofstriving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, andfighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends innothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you toknow that you inspired it."
"Will nothing of it remain? O Mr. Carton, think again! Try again!"
"No, Miss Manette; all through it, I have known myself to be quiteundeserving. And yet I have had the weakness, and have still theweakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindledme, heap of ashes that I am, into fire- a fire, however, inseparablein its nature from myself, quickening nothing, lighting nothing, doingno service, idly burning away."
"Since it is my misfortune, Mr. Carton, to have made you moreunhappy than you were before you knew me--"
"Don't say that, Miss Manette, for you would have reclaimed me, ifanything could. You will not be the cause of my becoming worse."
"Since the state of your mind that you describe, is, at allevents, attributable to some influence of mine- this is what I mean,if I can make it plain- can I use no influence to serve you? Have I nopower for good, with you, at all?"
"The utmost good that I am capable of now, Miss Manette, I have comehere to realise. Let me carry through the rest of my misdirected life,the remembrance that I opened my heart to you, last of all theworld; and that there was something left in me at this time whichyou could deplore and pity."
"Which I entreated you to believe, again and again, mostfervently, with all my heart, was capable of better things, Mr.Carton!"
"Entreat me to believe it no more, Miss Manette. I have provedmyself, and I know better. I distress you; I draw fast to an end. Willyou let me believe, when I recall this day, that the last confidenceof my life was reposed in your pure and innocent breast, and that itlies there alone, and will be shared by no one?"
"If that will be a consolation to you, yes."
"Not even by the dearest one ever to be known to you?"
"Mr. Carton," she answered, after an agitated pause, "the secretis yours, not mine; and I promise to respect it."
"Thank you. And again, God bless you."
He put her hand to his lips, and moved towards the door.
"Be under no apprehension, Miss Manette, of my ever resuming thisconversation by so much as a passing word. I will never refer to itagain. If I were dead, that could not be surer than it ishenceforth. In the hour of my death, I shall hold sacred the onegood remembrance- and shall thank and bless you for it- that my lastavowal of myself was made to you, and that my name, and faults, andmiseries were gently carried in your heart. May it otherwise belight and happy!"
He was so unlike what he had ever shown himself to be, and it was sosad to think how much he had thrown away, and how much he every daykept down and perverted, that Lucie Manette wept mournfully for him ashe stood looking back at her.
"Be comforted!" he said, "I am not worth such feeling, Miss Manette.An hour or two hence, and the low companions and low habits that Iscorn but yield to, will render me less worth such tears as those,than any wretch who creeps along the streets. Be comforted! But,within myself, I shall always be, towards you, what I am now, thoughoutwardly I shall be what you have heretofore seen me. The lastsupplication but one I make to you, is, that you will believe thisof me."
"I will, Mr. Carton."
"My last supplication of all, is this; and with it, I will relieveyou of a visitor with whom I well know you have nothing in unison, andbetween whom and you there is an impassable space. It is useless tosay it, I know, but it rises out of my soul. For you, and for any dearto you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kindthat there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I wouldembrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to holdme in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in thisone thing. The time will come, the time will not be long in coming,when new ties will be formed about you- ties that will bind you yetmore tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn- the dearestties that will ever grace and gladden you. O Miss Manette, when thelittle picture of a happy father's face looks up in yours, when yousee your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think nowand then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a lifeyou love beside you!"
He said, "Farewell!" said a last "God bless you!" and left her.