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IV. The Preparation – 3

Charles DickensMar 01, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“Pray,” said Mr. Lorry, in a soothing tone, bringing his left hand from the back of the chair to lay it on the supplicatory fingers that clasped him in so violent a tremble: “pray control your agitation—a matter of business. As I was saying—”

Her look so discomposed him that he stopped, wandered, and began anew:

“As I was saying; if Monsieur Manette had not died; if he had suddenly and silently disappeared; if he had been spirited away; if it had not been difficult to guess to what dreadful place, though no art could trace him; if he had an enemy in some compatriot who could exercise a privilege that I in my own time have known the boldest people afraid to speak of in a whisper, across the water there; for instance, the privilege of filling up blank forms for the consignment of any one to the oblivion of a prison for any length of time; if his wife had implored the king, the queen, the court, the clergy, for any tidings of him, and all quite in vain;—then the history of your father would have been the history of this unfortunate gentleman, the Doctor of Beauvais.”

“I entreat you to tell me more, sir.”

“I will. I am going to. You can bear it?”

“I can bear anything but the uncertainty you leave me in at this moment.”

“You speak collectedly, and you—are collected. That’s good!” (Though his manner was less satisfied than his words.) “A matter of business. Regard it as a matter of business—business that must be done. Now if this doctor’s wife, though a lady of great courage and spirit, had suffered so intensely from this cause before her little child was born—”

“The little child was a daughter, sir.”

“A daughter. A-a-matter of business—don’t be distressed. Miss, if the poor lady had suffered so intensely before her little child was born, that she came to the determination of sparing the poor child the inheritance of any part of the agony she had known the pains of, by rearing her in the belief that her father was dead—No, don’t kneel! In Heaven’s name why should you kneel to me!”

“For the truth. O dear, good, compassionate sir, for the truth!”

“A—a matter of business. You confuse me, and how can I transact business if I am confused? Let us be clear-headed. If you could kindly mention now, for instance, what nine times ninepence are, or how many shillings in twenty guineas, it would be so encouraging. I should be so much more at my ease about your state of mind.”

Without directly answering to this appeal, she sat so still when he had very gently raised her, and the hands that had not ceased to clasp his wrists were so much more steady than they had been, that she communicated some reassurance to Mr. Jarvis Lorry.

“That’s right, that’s right. Courage! Business! You have business before you; useful business. Miss Manette, your mother took this course with you. And when she died—I believe broken-hearted—having never slackened her unavailing search for your father, she left you, at two years old, to grow to be blooming, beautiful, and happy, without the dark cloud upon you of living in uncertainty whether your father soon wore his heart out in prison, or wasted there through many lingering years.”

As he said the words he looked down, with an admiring pity, on the flowing golden hair; as if he pictured to himself that it might have been already tinged with grey.

“You know that your parents had no great possession, and that what they had was secured to your mother and to you. There has been no new discovery, of money, or of any other property; but—”

He felt his wrist held closer, and he stopped. The expression in the forehead, which had so particularly attracted his notice, and which was now immovable, had deepened into one of pain and horror.

“But he has been—been found. He is alive. Greatly changed, it is too probable; almost a wreck, it is possible; though we will hope the best. Still, alive. Your father has been taken to the house of an old servant in Paris, and we are going there: I, to identify him if I can: you, to restore him to life, love, duty, rest, comfort.”

A shiver ran through her frame, and from it through his. She said, in a low, distinct, awe-stricken voice, as if she were saying it in a dream,

“I am going to see his Ghost! It will be his Ghost—not him!”

Mr. Lorry quietly chafed the hands that held his arm. “There, there, there! See now, see now! The best and the worst are known to you, now. You are well on your way to the poor wronged gentleman, and, with a fair sea voyage, and a fair land journey, you will be soon at his dear side.”

She repeated in the same tone, sunk to a whisper, “I have been free, I have been happy, yet his Ghost has never haunted me!”

“Only one thing more,” said Mr. Lorry, laying stress upon it as a wholesome means of enforcing her attention: “he has been found under another name; his own, long forgotten or long concealed. It would be worse than useless now to inquire which; worse than useless to seek to know whether he has been for years overlooked, or always designedly held prisoner. It would be worse than useless now to make any inquiries, because it would be dangerous. Better not to mention the subject, anywhere or in any way, and to remove him—for a while at all events—out of France. Even I, safe as an Englishman, and even Tellson’s, important as they are to French credit, avoid all naming of the matter. I carry about me, not a scrap of writing openly referring to it. This is a secret service altogether. My credentials, entries, and memoranda, are all comprehended in the one line, ‘Recalled to Life;’ which may mean anything. But what is the matter! She doesn’t notice a word! Miss Manette!”

Perfectly still and silent, and not even fallen back in her chair, she sat under his hand, utterly insensible; with her eyes open and fixed upon him, and with that last expression looking as if it were carved or branded into her forehead. So close was her hold upon his arm, that he feared to detach himself lest he should hurt her; therefore he called out loudly for assistance without moving.

A wild-looking woman, whom even in his agitation, Mr. Lorry observed to be all of a red colour, and to have red hair, and to be dressed in some extraordinary tight-fitting fashion, and to have on her head a most wonderful bonnet like a Grenadier wooden measure, and good measure too, or a great Stilton cheese, came running into the room in advance of the inn servants, and soon settled the question of his detachment from the poor young lady, by laying a brawny hand upon his chest, and sending him flying back against the nearest wall.

(“I really think this must be a man!” was Mr. Lorry’s breathless reflection, simultaneously with his coming against the wall.)

“Why, look at you all!” bawled this figure, addressing the inn servants. “Why don’t you go and fetch things, instead of standing there staring at me? I am not so much to look at, am I? Why don’t you go and fetch things? I’ll let you know, if you don’t bring smelling-salts, cold water, and vinegar, quick, I will.”

There was an immediate dispersal for these restoratives, and she softly laid the patient on a sofa, and tended her with great skill and gentleness: calling her “my precious!” and “my bird!” and spreading her golden hair aside over her shoulders with great pride and care.

“And you in brown!” she said, indignantly turning to Mr. Lorry; “couldn’t you tell her what you had to tell her, without frightening her to death? Look at her, with her pretty pale face and her cold hands. Do you call that being a Banker?”

Mr. Lorry was so exceedingly disconcerted by a question so hard to answer, that he could only look on, at a distance, with much feebler sympathy and humility, while the strong woman, having banished the inn servants under the mysterious penalty of “letting them know” something not mentioned if they stayed there, staring, recovered her charge by a regular series of gradations, and coaxed her to lay her drooping head upon her shoulder.

“I hope she will do well now,” said Mr. Lorry.

“No thanks to you in brown, if she does. My darling pretty!”

“I hope,” said Mr. Lorry, after another pause of feeble sympathy and humility, “that you accompany Miss Manette to France?”

“A likely thing, too!” replied the strong woman. “If it was ever intended that I should go across salt water, do you suppose Providence would have cast my lot in an island?”

This being another question hard to answer, Mr. Jarvis Lorry withdrew to consider it.

 

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