16 April 2018

Chapter Three: The Night Shadows: A Tale of Two Cities with Women

I have the next chapter ready and I think instead of waiting for Wednesdays to roll around I will post chapters as I finish them. 

For background on the project and to see all the chapters at once, go to the tag A Tale of Two Cities Project.

Chapter Three: The Night Shadows

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

As to this, her natural and not to be alienated inheritance, the messenger on horseback had exactly the same possessions as the Queen, the first Minister of State, or the richest merchant in London. So with the three passengers shut up in the narrow compass of one lumbering old mail coach; they were mysteries to one another, as complete as if each had been in her own coach and six, or her own coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between them and the next.

The messenger rode back at an easy trot, stopping pretty often at ale-houses by the way to drink, but evincing a tendency to keep her own counsel, and to keep her hat cocked over her eyes. She had eyes that assorted very well with that decoration, being of a surface black, with no depth in the colour or form, and much too near together--as if they were afraid of being found out in something, singly, if they kept too far apart. They had a sinister expression, under an old cocked-hat like a three-cornered spittoon, and over a great muffler for the chin and throat, which descended nearly to the wearer’s knees. When she stopped for drink, she moved this muffler with her left hand, only while she poured her liquor in with her right; as soon as that was done, she muffled again.

“No, Jerry, no!” said the messenger, harping on one theme as she rode. “It wouldn’t do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradeswoman, it wouldn’t suit your line of business! Recalled--! Bust me if I don’t think she’d been a drinking!”

Her message perplexed her mind to that degree that she was fain, several times, to take off her hat to scratch her head. She had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over, and growing down hill almost to her broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined her, as the most dangerous woman in the world to go over.

While she trotted back with the message she was to deliver to the night guard in her box at the door of Tellson’s Bank, by Temple Bar, who was to deliver it to greater authorities within, the shadows of the night took such shapes to her as arose out of the message, and took such shapes to the mare as arose out of her private topics of uneasiness. They seemed to be numerous, for she shied at every shadow on the road.

What time, the mail-coach lumbered, jolted, rattled, and bumped upon its tedious way, with its three fellow-inscrutables inside. To whom, likewise, the shadows of the night revealed themselves, in the forms their dozing eyes and wandering thoughts suggested. Tellson’s Bank had a run upon it in the mail. As the bank passenger--with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep her from pounding against the next passenger, and driving her into her corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt--nodded in her place, with half-shut eyes, the little coach-windows, and the coach-lamp dimly gleaming through them, and the bulky bundle of opposite passenger, became the bank, and did a great stroke of business. The rattle of the harness was the chink of money, and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson’s, with all its foreign and home connection, ever paid in thrice the time. Then the strong-rooms underground, at Tellson’s, with such of their valuable stores and secrets as were known to the passenger (and it was not a little that she knew about them), opened before her, and she went in among them with the great keys and the feebly-burning candle, and found them safe, and strong, and sound, and still, just as she had last seen them.

But, though the bank was almost always with her, and though the coach (in a confused way, like the presence of pain under an opiate) was always with her, there was another current of impression that never ceased to run, all through the night. She was on her way to dig some one out of a grave.

Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before her was the true face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; but they were all the faces of a woman of five-and-forty by years, and they differed principally in the passions they expressed, and in the ghastliness of their worn and wasted state. Pride, contempt, defiance, stubbornness, submission, lamentation, succeeded one another; so did varieties of sunken cheek, cadaverous colour, emaciated hands and figures. But the face was in the main one face, and every head was prematurely white. A hundred times the dozing passenger inquired of this spectre:

“Buried how long?”

The answer was always the same: “Almost eighteen years.”

“You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”

“Long ago.”

“You know that you are recalled to life?”

“They tell me so.”

“I hope you care to live?”

“I can’t say.”

“Shall I show him to you? Will you come and see him?”

The answers to this question were various and contradictory. Sometimes the broken reply was, “Wait! It would kill me if I saw him too soon.” Sometimes, it was given in a tender rain of tears, and then it was, “Take me to him.” Sometimes it was staring and bewildered, and then it was, “I don’t know him. I don’t understand.”

After such imaginary discourse, the passenger in her fancy would dig, and dig, dig--now with a spade, now with a great key, now with her hands--to dig this wretched creature out. Got out at last, with earth hanging about her face and hair, she would suddenly fan away to dust. The passenger would then start to herself, and lower the window, to get the reality of mist and rain on her cheek.

Yet even when her eyes were opened on the mist and rain, on the moving patch of light from the lamps, and the hedge at the roadside retreating by jerks, the night shadows outside the coach would fall into the train of the night shadows within. The real Banking-house by Temple Bar, the real business of the past day, the real strong rooms, the real express sent after her, and the real message returned, would all be there. Out of the midst of them, the ghostly face would rise, and she would accost it again.

“Buried how long?”

“Almost eighteen years.”

“I hope you care to live?”

“I can’t say.”

Dig--dig--dig--until an impatient movement from one of the two passengers would admonish her to pull up the window, draw her arm securely through the leathern strap, and speculate upon the two slumbering forms, until her mind lost its hold of them, and they again slid away into the bank and the grave.

“Buried how long?”

“Almost eighteen years.”

“You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”

“Long ago.”

The words were still in her hearing as just spoken--distinctly in her hearing as ever spoken words had been in her life--when the weary passenger started to the consciousness of daylight, and found that the shadows of the night were gone.

She lowered the window, and looked out at the rising sun. There was a ridge of ploughed land, with a plough upon it where it had been left last night when the horses were unyoked; beyond, a quiet coppice-wood, in which many leaves of burning red and golden yellow still remained upon the trees. Though the earth was cold and wet, the sky was clear, and the sun rose bright, placid, and beautiful.

“Eighteen years!” said the passenger, looking at the sun. “Gracious Creator of day! To be buried alive for eighteen years!”

This chapter is when I made the conscious decision to keep the name Jerry Cruncher, but make the messenger an unattractive woman rather than pretty her up. I did give her a tad more hair than Mr. Jerry Cruncher, however. Changing pronouns around was the easy party. The decisions about the minutia are what hold me up. 

I have two more chapters that are near complete so they will be along within a few days.

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