A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

10. Two Promises

More months, to the number of twelve, had come and gone, and Mr. Charles Darnay was established in England as a higher teacher of the French language who was conversant with French literature. In this age, he would have been a Professor; in that age, he was a Tutor. He read with young men who could find any leisure and interest for the study of a living tongue spoken all over the world, and he cultivated a taste for its stores of knowledge and fancy. He could write of them, besides, in sound English, and render them into sound English. Such masters were not at that time easily found; Princes that had been, and Kings that were to be, were not yet of the Teacher class, and no ruined nobility had dropped out of Tellson’s ledgers, to turn cooks and carpenters. As a tutor, whose attainments made the student’s way unusually pleasant and profitable, and as an elegant translator who brought something to his work besides mere dictionary knowledge, young Mr. Darnay soon became known and encouraged. He was well acquainted, more-over, with the circumstances of his country, and those were of ever-growing interest. So, with great perseverance and untiring industry, he prospered.

In London, he had expected neither to walk on pavements of gold, nor to lie on beds of roses; if he had had any such exalted expectation, he would not have prospered. He had expected labour, and he found it, and did it and made the best of it. In this, his prosperity consisted.

A certain portion of his time was passed at Cambridge, where he read with undergraduates as a sort of tolerated smuggler who drove a contraband trade in European languages, instead of conveying Greek and Latin through the Custom-house. The rest of his time he passed in London.

Now, from the days when it was always summer in Eden, to these days when it is mostly winter in fallen latitudes, the world of a man has invariably gone one way — Charles Darnay’s way — the way of the love of a woman.

He had loved Lucie Manette from the hour of his danger. He had never heard a sound so sweet and dear as the sound of her compassionate voice; he had never seen a face so tenderly beautiful, as hers when it was confronted with his own on the edge of the grave that had been dug for him. But, he had not yet spoken to her on the subject; the assassination at the deserted chateau far away beyond the heaving water and the long, tong, dusty roads — the solid stone chateau which had itself become the mere mist of a dream — had been done a year, and he had never yet, by so much as a single spoken word, disclosed to her the state of his heart.

That he had his reasons for this, he knew full well. It was again a summer day when, lately arrived in London from his college occupation, he turned into the quiet corner in Soho, bent on seeking an opportunity of opening his mind to Doctor Manette. It was the close of the summer day, and he knew Lucie to be out with Miss Pross.

He found the Doctor reading in his arm-chair at a window. The energy which had at once supported him under his old sufferings and aggravated their sharpness, had been gradually restored to him. He was now a very energetic man indeed, with great firmness of purpose, strength of resolution, and vigour of action. In his recovered energy he was sometimes a little fitful and sudden, as he had at first been in the exercise of his other recovered faculties; but, this had never been frequently observable, and had grown more and more rare.

He studied much, slept little, sustained a great deal of fatigue with ease, and was equably cheerful. To him, now entered Charles Darnay, at sight of whom he laid aside his book and held out his hand.

“Charles Darnay! I rejoice to see you. We have been counting on your return these three or four days past. Mr. Stryver and Sydney Carton were both here yesterday, and both made you out to be more than due.”

“I am obliged to them for their interest in the matter,” he answered, a little coldly as to them, though very warmly as to the Doctor. “Miss Manette —”

“Is well,” said the Doctor, as he stopped short, “and your return will delight us all. She has gone out on some household matters, but will soon be home.”

“Doctor Manette, I knew she was from home. I took the opportunity of her being from home, to beg to speak to you.”

There was a blank silence.

“Yes?” said the Doctor, with evident constraint. “Bring your chair here, and speak on.”

He complied as to the chair, but appeared to find the speaking on less easy.

“I have had the happiness, Doctor Manette, of being so intimate here,” so he at length began, “for some year and a half, that I hope the topic on which I am about to touch may not —”

He was stayed by the Doctor’s putting out his hand to stop him. When he had kept it so a little while, he said, drawing it back:

“Is Lucie the topic?”

“She is.”

“It is hard for me to speak of her at any time. It is very hard for me to hear her spoken of in that tone of yours, Charles Darnay.”

“It is a tone of fervent admiration, true homage, and deep love, Doctor Manette!” he said deferentially.

There was another blank silence before her father rejoined:

“I believe it. I do you justice; I believe it.”

His constraint was so manifest, and it was so manifest, too, that it originated in an unwillingness to approach the subject, that Charles Darnay hesitated.

“Shall I go on, sir?”

Another blank.

“Yes, go on.”

“You anticipate what I would say, though you cannot know how earnestly I say it, how earnestly I feel it, without knowing my secret heart, and the hopes and fears and anxieties with which it has long been laden. Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her. You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!”

The Doctor sat with his face turned away, and his eyes bent on the ground. At the last words, he stretched out his hand again, hurriedly, and cried:

“Not that, sir! Let that be! I adjure you, do not recall that!”

His cry was so like a cry of actual pain, that it rang in Charles Darnay’s ears long after he had ceased. He motioned with the hand he had extended, and it seemed to be an appeal to Darnay to pause. The latter so received it, and remained silent.

“I ask your pardon,” said the Doctor, in a subdued tone, after some moments. “I do not doubt your loving Lucie; you may be satisfied of it.”

He turned towards him in his chair, but did not look at him, or raise his eyes. His chin dropped upon his hand, and his white hair overshadowed his face:

“Have you spoken to Lucie?”

“No.”

“Nor written?”

“Never.”

“It would be ungenerous to affect not to know that your self-denial is to be referred to your consideration for her father. Her father thanks you.

He offered his hand; but his eyes did not go with it.

“I know,” said Darnay, respectfully, “how can I fail to know, Doctor Manette, I who have seen you together from day to day, that between you and Miss Manette there is an affection so unusual, so touching, so belonging to the circumstances in which it has been nurtured, that it can have few parallels, even in the tenderness between a father and child. I know, Doctor Manette — how can I fail to know — that, mingled with the affection and duty of a daughter who has become a woman, there is, in her heart, towards you, all the love and reliance of infancy itself. I know that, as in her childhood she had no parent, so she is now devoted to you with all the constancy and fervour of her present years and character, united to the trustfulness and attachment of the early days in which you were lost to her. I know perfectly well that if you had been restored to her from the world beyond this life, you could hardly be invested, in her sight, with a more sacred character than that in which you are always with her. I know that when she is clinging to you, the hands of baby, girl, and woman, all in one, are round your neck. I know that in loving you she sees and loves her mother at her own age, sees and loves you at my age, loves her mother broken-hearted, loves you through your dreadful trial and in your blessed restoration. I have known this, night and day, since I have known you in your home.”

Her father sat silent, with his face bent down. His breathing was a little quickened; but he repressed all other signs of agitation.

“Dear Doctor Manette, always knowing this, always seeing her and you with this hallowed light about you, I have forborne, and forborne, as long as it was in the nature of man to do it. I have felt, and do even now feel, that to bring my love — even mine — between you, is to touch your history with something not quite so good as itself. But I love her. Heaven is my witness that I love her!”

“I believe it,” answered her father, mournfully. “I have thought so before now. I believe it.”

“But, do not believe,” said Darnay, upon whose ear the mournful voice struck with a reproachful sound, “that if my fortune were so cast as that, being one day so happy as to make her my wife, I must at any time put any separation between her and you, I could or would breathe a word of what I now say. Besides that I should know it to be hopeless, I should know it to be a baseness. If I had any such possibility, even at a remote distance of years, harboured in my thoughts, and hidden in my heart — if it ever had been there — if it ever could be there — I could not now touch this honoured hand.”

He laid his own upon it as he spoke.

“No, dear Doctor Manette. Like you, a voluntary exile from France; like you, driven from it by its distractions, oppressions, and miseries; like you, striving to live away from it by my own exertions, and trusting in a happier future; I look only to sharing your fortunes, sharing your life and home, and being faithful to you to the death. Not to divide with Lucie her privilege as your child, companion, and friend; but to come in aid of it, and bind her closer to you, if such a thing can be.”

His touch still lingered on her father’s hand. Answering the touch for a moment, but not coldly, her father rested his hands upon the arms of his chair, and looked up for the first time since the beginning of the conference. A struggle was evidently in his face; a struggle with that occasional look which had a tendency in it to dark doubt and dread.

“You speak so feelingly and so manfully, Charles Darnay, that I thank you with all my heart, and will open all my heart — or nearly so. Have you any reason to believe that Lucie loves you?”

“None. As yet, none.”

“Is it the immediate object of this confidence, that you may at once ascertain that, with my knowledge?”

“Not even so. I might not have the hopefulness to do it for weeks; I might (mistaken or not mistaken) have that hopefulness to-morrow.”

“Do you seek any guidance from me?”

“I ask none, sir. But I have thought it possible that you might have it in your power, if you should deem it right, to give me some.”

“Do you seek any promise from me?”

“I do seek that.”

“What is it?”

“I well understand that, without you, I could have no hope. I well understand that, even if Miss Manette held me at this moment in her innocent heart-do not think I have the presumption to assume so much — I could retain no place in it against her love for her father.”

“If that be so, do you see what, on the other hand, is involved in it?”

“I understand equally well, that a word from her father in any suitor’s favour, would outweigh herself and all the world. For which reason, Doctor Manette,” said Darnay, modestly but firmly, “I would not ask that word, to save my life.”

“I am sure of it. Charles Darnay, mysteries arise out of close love, as well as out of wide division; in the former case, they are subtle and delicate, and difficult to penetrate. My daughter Lucie is, in this one respect, such a mystery to me; I can make no guess at the state of her heart.”

“May I ask, sir, if you think she is —” As he hesitated, her father supplied the rest.

“Is sought by any other suitor?”

“It is what I meant to say.”

Her father considered a little before he answered:

“You have seen Mr. Carton here, yourself. Mr. Stryver is here too, occasionally. If it be at all, it can only be by one of these.”

“Or both,” said Darnay.

“I had not thought of both; I should not think either, likely. You want a promise from me. Tell me what it is.”

“It is, that if Miss Manette should bring to you at any time, on her own part, such a confidence as I have ventured to lay before you, you will bear testimony to what I have said, and to your belief in it. I hope you may be able to think so well of me, as to urge no influence against me. I say nothing more of my stake in this; this is what I ask. The condition on which I ask it, and which you have an undoubted right to require, I will observe immediately.”

“I give the promise,” said the Doctor, “without any condition. I believe your object to be, purely and truthfully, as you have stated it. I believe your intention is to perpetuate, and not to weaken, the ties between me and my other and far dearer self. If she should ever tell me that you are essential to her perfect happiness, I will give her to you. If there were — Charles Darnay, if there were —”

The young man had taken his hand gratefully; their hands were joined as the Doctor spoke:

“— any fancies, any reasons, any apprehensions, anything whatsoever, new or old, against the man she really loved — the direct responsibility thereof not lying on his head — they should all be obliterated for her sake. She is everything to me; more to me than suffering, more to me than wrong, more to me — Well! This is idle talk.”

So strange was the way in which he faded into silence, and so strange his fixed look when he had ceased to speak, that Darnay felt his own hand turn cold in the hand that slowly released and dropped it.

“You said something to me,” said Doctor Manette, breaking into a smile. “What was it you said to me?”

He was at a loss how to answer, until he remembered having spoken of a condition. Relieved as his mind reverted to that, he answered:

“Your confidence in me ought to be returned with full confidence on my part. My present name, though but slightly changed from my mother’s, is not, as you will remember, my own. I wish to tell you what that is, and why I am in England.”

“Stop!” said the Doctor of Beauvais.

“I wish it, that I may the better deserve your confidence, and have no secret from you.”

“Stop!”

For an instant, the Doctor even had his two hands at his ears; for another instant, even had his two hands laid on Darnay’s lips.

“Tell me when I ask you, not now. If your suit should prosper, if Lucie should love you, you shall tell me on your marriage morning. Do you promise?”

“Willingly.

“Give me your hand. She will be home directly, and it is better she should not see us together to-night. Go! God bless you!”

It was dark when Charles Darnay left him, and it was an hour later and darker when Lucie came home; she hurried into the room alone — for Miss Pross had gone straight up-stairs — and was surprised to find his reading-chair empty.

“My father!” she called to him. “Father dear!”

Nothing was said in answer, but she heard a low hammering sound in his bedroom. Passing lightly across the intermediate room, she looked in at his door and came running back frightened, crying to herself, with her blood all chilled, “What shall I do! What shall I do!”

Her uncertainty lasted but a moment; she hurried back, and tapped at his door, and softly called to him. The noise ceased at the sound of her voice, and he presently came out to her, and they walked up and down together for a long time.

She came down from her bed, to look at him in his sleep that night. He slept heavily, and his tray of shoemaking tools, and his old unfinished work, were all as usual.

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Last updated Friday, July 4, 2014 at 15:33