29 May 2018

Chapter Four: The Preparation: A Tale of Two Cities with Women

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

Chapter Four: The Preparation 

When the mail got successfully to Dover, in the course of the forenoon, the head drawer at the Royal George Hotel opened the coach-door as her custom was. She did it with some flourish of ceremony, for a mail journey from London in winter was an achievement to congratulate an adventurous traveller upon.

By that time, there was only one adventurous traveller left be congratulated: for the two others had been set down at their respective roadside destinations. The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog-kennel. Ms. Lorry, the passenger, shaking herself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.

“There will be a packet to Calais, tomorrow, drawer?”

“Yes, ma’am, if the weather holds and the wind sets tolerable fair. The tide will serve pretty nicely at about two in the afternoon, ma’am. Bed, ma’am?” “I shall not go to bed till night; but I want a bedroom.” “And then breakfast, ma’am? Yes, ma’am. That way, ma’am, if you please. Show Concord! Lady’s valise and hot water to Concord. Pull off lady’s boots in Concord. (You will find a fine sea-coal fire, ma’am.) Stir about there, now, for Concord!”

The Concord bed-chamber being always assigned to a passenger by the mail, and passengers by the mail being always heavily wrapped up from head to foot, the room had the odd interest for the establishment of the Royal George, that although but one kind of person was seen to go into it, all kinds and varieties of people came out of it. Consequently, another drawer, and two porters, and several maids and the landlady, were all loitering by accident at various points of the road between the Concord and the coffee-room, when a lady of sixty, formally dressed in a brown suit of clothes, pretty well worn, but very well kept, with large square cuffs and large flaps to the pockets, passed along on her way to her breakfast.

The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the lady in brown. Her breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as she sat, with its light shining on her, waiting for the meal, she sat so still, that she might have been sitting for her portrait.

Very orderly and methodical she looked, with a hand on each knee, and a loud watch ticking a sonorous sermon under her flapped waist-coat, as though it pitted its gravity and longevity against the levity and evanescence of the brisk fire. She had a good leg, and was a little vain of it, for her brown stockings fitted sleek and close, and were of a fine texture; her shoes and buckles, too, though plain, were trim. She wore an odd little sleek crisp flaxen wig, setting very close to her head: which wig, it is to be presumed, was made of hair, but which looked far more as though it were spun from filaments of silk or glass. Her linen, though not of a fineness in accordance with her stockings, was as white as the tops of the waves that broke upon the neighbouring beach, or the specks of sail that glinted in the sunlight far at sea. A face habitually suppressed and quieted, was still lighted up under the quaint wig by a pair of moist bright eyes that it must have cost their owner, in years gone by, some pains to drill to the composed and reserved expression of Tellson’s Bank. She had a healthy colour in her cheeks, and her face, though lined, bore few traces of anxiety. But, perhaps the confidential clerks in Tellson’s Bank were principally occupied with the cares of other people; and perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.

Completing her resemblance to a woman who was sitting for her portrait, Ms. Lorry dropped off to sleep. The arrival of her breakfast roused her, and she said to the drawer, as she moved her chair to it:

“I wish accommodation prepared for a young man who may come here at any time to-day. He may ask for Ms. Jeannine Lorry, or he may only ask for a representative from Tellson’s Bank. Please to let me know.”

“Yes, ma’am. Tellson’s Bank in London, ma’am?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, ma’am. We have oftentimes the honour to entertain your representatives in their travelling backwards and forwards betwixt London and Paris, ma’am. A vast deal of travelling, ma’am, in Tellson and Company’s House.”

“Yes. We are quite a French House, as well as an English one.”

“Yes, ma’am. Not much in the habit of such travelling yourself, I think, ma'am?”

“Not of late years. It is fifteen years since we--since I--came last from France.”

“Indeed, ma’am? That was before my time here, ma’am. Before our people’s time here, ma’am. The George was in other hands at that time, ma’am.”

“I believe so.”

“But I would hold a pretty wager, ma’am, that a House like Tellson and Company was flourishing, a matter of fifty, not to speak of fifteen years ago?”

“You might treble that, and say a hundred and fifty, yet not be far from the truth.”

“Indeed, ma’am!”

Rounding her mouth and both her eyes, as she stepped backward from the table, the waitperson shifted her napkin from her right arm to her left, dropped into a comfortable attitude, and stood surveying the guest while she ate and drank, as from an observatory or watchtower. According to the immemorial usage of waitstaff in all ages.

When Ms. Lorry had finished her breakfast, she went out for a stroll on the beach. The little narrow, crooked town of Dover hid itself away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk cliffs, like a marine ostrich. The beach was a desert of heaps of sea and stones tumbling wildly about, and the sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction. It thundered at the town, and thundered at the cliffs, and brought the coast down, madly. The air among the houses was of so strong a piscatory flavour that one might have supposed sick fish went up to be dipped in it, as sick people went down to be dipped in the sea. A little fishing was done in the port, and a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward: particularly at those times when the tide made, and was near flood. Small tradespersons, who did no business whatever, sometimes unaccountably realised large fortunes, and it was remarkable that nobody in the neighbourhood could endure a lamplighter.

As the day declined into the afternoon, and the air, which had been at intervals clear enough to allow the French coast to be seen, became again charged with mist and vapour, Ms. Lorry’s thoughts seemed to cloud too. When it was dark, and she sat before the coffee-room fire, awaiting her dinner as she had awaited her breakfast, her mind was busily digging, digging, digging, in the live red coals.

A bottle of good claret after dinner does a digger in the red coals no harm, otherwise than as it has a tendency to throw her out of work. Ms. Lorry had been idle a long time, and had just poured out her last glassful of wine with as complete an appearance of satisfaction as is ever to be found in an elderly woman of a fresh complexion who has got to the end of a bottle, when a rattling of wheels came up the narrow street, and rumbled into the inn-yard.

She set down her glass untouched. “This is Monsieur!” said she.

In a very few minutes the waiterperson came in to announce that Mr. Manette had arrived from London, and would be happy to see the representative from Tellson’s.

“So soon?”

Mr. Manette had taken some refreshment on the road, and required none then, and was extremely anxious to see the representative from Tellson’s immediately, if it suited her pleasure and convenience.

The representative from Tellson’s had nothing left for it but to empty her glass with an air of stolid desperation, settle her odd little flaxen wig at the ears, and follow the waiterperson to Mr. Manette’s apartment. It was a large, dark room, furnished in a funereal manner with black horsehair, and loaded with heavy dark tables. These had been oiled and oiled, until the two tall candles on the table in the middle of the room were gloomily reflected on every leaf; as if they were buried, in deep graves of black mahogany, and no light to speak of could be expected from them until they were dug out.

The obscurity was so difficult to penetrate that Ms. Lorry, picking her way over the well-worn Turkey carpet, supposed Mr. Manette to be, for the moment, in some adjacent room, until, having got past the two tall candles, she saw standing to receive her by the table between them and the fire, a young man of not more than seventeen, in a riding-cloak, and still holding his travelling-hat in his hand. As her eyes rested on a short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that met her own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity (remembering how young and smooth it was), of rifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it included all the four expressions--as her eyes rested on these things, a sudden vivid likeness passed before her, of a child whom she had held in her arms on the passage across that very Channel, one cold time, when the hail drifted heavily and the sea ran high. The likeness passed away, like a breath along the surface of the gaunt pier-glass behind him, on the frame of which, a hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering black baskets of Dead Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine gender--and she made her formal bow to Mr. Manette.

“Pray take a seat, ma’am.” In a very clear and pleasant young voice; a little foreign in its accent, but a very little indeed.

“I shake your hand, sir,” said Ms. Lorry, with the manners of an earlier date, as she made her formal bow again, and took her seat.

“I received a letter from the Bank, ma’am, yesterday, informing me that some intelligence--or discovery--”

“The word is not material, sir; either word will do.” “--respecting the small property of my poor mother, whom I never saw--so long dead--”

Ms. Lorry moved in her chair, and cast a troubled look towards the hospital procession of negro cupids. As if they had any help for anybody in their absurd baskets!

“--rendered it necessary that I should go to Paris, there to communicate with a representative of the Bank, so good as to be despatched to Paris for the purpose.”

“Myself.”

“As I was prepared to hear, ma’am.”

He bowed to her, with a pretty desire to convey to her that he felt how much older and wiser she was than he. She made him another bow.

“I replied to the Bank, ma’am, that as it was considered necessary, by those who know, and who are so kind as to advise me, that I should go to France, and that as I am an orphan and have no friend who could go with me, I should esteem it highly if I might be permitted to place myself, during the journey, under that worthy representative’s protection. The representative had left London, but I think a messenger was sent after her to beg the favour of her waiting for me here.”

“I was happy,” said Ms. Lorry, “to be entrusted with the charge. I shall be more happy to execute it.”

“Ma’am, I thank you indeed. I thank you very gratefully. It was told me by the Bank that the representative would explain to me the details of the business, and that I must prepare myself to find them of a surprising nature. I have done my best to prepare myself, and I naturally have a strong and eager interest to know what they are.”

“Naturally,” said Ms. Lorry. “Yes--I--”

After a pause, she added, again settling the crisp flaxen wig at the ears, “It is very difficult to begin.”

She did not begin, but, in her indecision, met his glance. The young forehead lifted itself into that singular expression--but it was pretty and characteristic, besides being singular--and he raised his hand, as if with an involuntary action he caught at, or stayed some passing shadow.

“Are you quite a stranger to me, ma’am?”

“Am I not?” Ms. Lorry opened her hands, and extended them outwards with an argumentative smile.

Between the eyebrows and just over the little feminine nose, the line of which was as delicate and fine as it was possible to be, the expression deepened itself as he took his seat thoughtfully in the chair by which he had hitherto remained standing. She watched him as he mused, and the moment he raised his eyes again, went on:

“In your adopted country, I presume, I cannot do better than address you as a young English man, Mr. Manette?”

“If you please, ma’am.”

“Mr. Manette, I am a woman of business. I have a business charge to acquit myself of. In your reception of it, don’t heed me any more than if I was a speaking machine--truly, I am not much else. I will, with your leave, relate to you, sir, the story of one of our customers.”

“Story!”

She seemed wilfully to mistake the word he had repeated, when she added, in a hurry, “Yes, customers; in the banking business we usually call our connection our customers. She was a French woman; a scientific woman; a woman of great acquirements--a Doctor.”

“Not of Beauvais?”

“Why, yes, of Beauvais. Like Madame Manette, your mother, the woman was of Beauvais. Like Madame Manette, your mother, the woman was of repute in Paris. I had the honour of knowing her there. Our relations were business relations, but confidential. I was at that time in our French House, and had been--oh! twenty years.”

“At that time--I may ask, at what time, ma’am?”

“I speak, sir, of twenty years ago. She married--an English gentleman--and I was one of the trustees. Her affairs, like the affairs of many other French gentlemen and ladies and French families, were entirely in Tellson’s hands. In a similar way I am, or I have been, trustee of one kind or other for scores of our customers. These are mere business relations, sir; there is no friendship in them, no particular interest, nothing like sentiment. I have passed from one to another, in the course of my business life, just as I pass from one of our customers to another in the course of my business day; in short, I have no feelings; I am a mere machine. To go on--”

“But this is my mother’s story, ma’am; and I begin to think”--the curiously roughened forehead was very intent upon her --“that when I was left an orphan through my father’s surviving my mother only two years, it was you who brought me to England. I am almost sure it was you.”

Ms. Lorry took the hesitating little hand that confidingly advanced to take hers, and she put it with some ceremony to her lips. She then conducted the young man straightway to his chair again, and, holding the chair-back with her left hand, and using her right by turns to rub her chin, pull her wig at the ears, or point what she said, stood looking down into his face while he sat looking up into hers.

“Mr. Manette, it was I. And you will see how truly I spoke of myself just now, in saying I had no feelings, and that all the relations I hold with my fellow-creatures are mere business relations, when you reflect that I have never seen you since. No; you have been the ward of Tellson’s House since, and I have been busy with the other business of Tellson’s House since. Feelings! I have no time for them, no chance of them. I pass my whole life, sir, in turning an immense pecuniary Mangle.”

After this odd description of her daily routine of employment, Ms. Lorry flattened her flaxen wig upon her head with both hands (which was most unnecessary, for nothing could be flatter than its shining surface was before), and resumed her former attitude.

“So far, sir (as you have remarked), this is the story of your regretted mother. Now comes the difference. If your mother had not died when she did--Don’t be frightened! How you start!”

He did, indeed, start. And he caught her wrist with both his hands.

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

His look so discomposed her that she stopped, wandered, and began anew:

“As I was saying; if Madame Manette had not died; if she had suddenly and silently disappeared; if she had been spirited away; if it had not been difficult to guess to what dreadful place, though no art could trace her; if she 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 her husband had implored the king, the queen, the court, the clergy, for any tidings of her, and all quite in vain;--then the history of your mother would have been the history of this unfortunate woman, the Doctor of Beauvais.”

“I entreat you to tell me more, ma’am.”

“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 her manner was less satisfied than her words.) “A matter of business. Regard it as a matter of business--business that must be done. Now if this doctor’s husband, though a man of great courage and spirit, had suffered so intensely from this cause before his little child was born--”

“The little child was a son, ma’am.”

“A son. A-a-matter of business--don’t be distressed. Sir, if the poor man had suffered so intensely before his little child was born, that he came to the determination of sparing the poor child the inheritance of any part of the agony he had known the pains of, by rearing him in the belief that his mother was dead--No, don’t kneel! In Heaven’s name why should you kneel to me!”

“For the truth. O dear, good, compassionate ma’am, 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, he sat so still when she had very gently raised him, and the hands that had not ceased to clasp her wrists were so much more steady than they had been, that he communicated some reassurance to Ms. Jeannine Lorry.

“That’s right, that’s right. Courage! Business! You have business before you; useful business. Mr. Manette, your father took this course with you. And when he died--I believe broken-hearted--having never slackened his unavailing search for your mother, he 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 mother soon wore her heart out in prison, or wasted there through many lingering years.”

As she said the words she looked down, with an admiring pity, on the flowing golden hair; as if she pictured to herself 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 father and to you. There has been no new discovery, of money, or of any other property; but--”

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

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

A shiver ran through his frame, and from it through hers. He said, in a low, distinct, awe-stricken voice, as if he were saying it in a dream, “I am going to see her Ghost! It will be her Ghost--not her!”

Ms. Lorry quietly chafed the hands that held her 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 woman, and, with a fair sea voyage, and a fair land journey, you will be soon at her dear side.”

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

“Only one thing more,” said Ms. Lorry, laying stress upon it as a wholesome means of enforcing his attention: “she has been found under another name; her own, long forgotten or long concealed. It would be worse than useless now to inquire which; worse than useless to seek to know whether she 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 her--for a while at all events--out of France. Even I, safe as an Englishwoman, 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! He doesn’t notice a word! Mr. Manette!”

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

A wild-looking man, whom even in her agitation, Ms. 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 his head a most wonderful cap 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 her detachment from the poor young man, by laying a brawny hand upon her chest, and sending her flying back against the nearest wall.

(“I really think this must be a woman!” was Ms. Lorry’s breathless reflection, simultaneously with her 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 he softly laid the patient on a sofa, and tended him with great skill and gentleness: calling him “my precious!” and “my bird!” and spreading his golden hair aside over his shoulders with great pride and care.

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

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

“I hope he will do well now,” said Ms. Lorry.

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

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

“A likely thing, too!” replied the strong man. “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, Ms. Jeannine Lorry withdrew to consider it.

I really like Ms. Lorry being the unemotional businessperson in this chapter. And changing Lucy Manette to a young man highlights how women were thought of as helpless and weak. I don't know if a young man would have had such a chaperone, and making the chaperone a man I think adds a comic touch to the scene. Which again shows how tied we are to stereotypical characterizations of male and female characters. 

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