A Tale of Two Cities/Book the Second/Chapter XIII
If Sydney Carton ever shone anywhere, he certainly never shone in the house of Doctor Manette. He had been there often, during a whole year, and had always been the same moody and morose lounger there. When he cared to talk, he talked well; but, the cloud of caring for nothing, which overshadowed him with such a fatal darkness, was very rarely pierced by the light within him.
And yet he did care something for the streets that environed that house, and for the senseless stones that made their pavements. Many a night he vaguely and unhappily wandered there, when wine had brought no transitory gladness to him; many a dreary daybreak revealed his solitary figure lingering there, and still lingering there when the first beams of the sun brought into strong relief, removed beauties of architecture in spires of churches and lofty buildings, as perhaps the quiet time brought some sense of better things, else forgotten and unattainable, into his mind. Of late, the neglected bed in the Temple Court had known him more scantily than ever; and often when he had thrown himself upon it no longer than a few minutes, he had got up again, and haunted that neighbourhood.
On a day in August, when Mr. Stryver (after notifying to his jackal that “he had thought better of that marrying matter”) had carried his delicacy into Devonshire, and when the sight and scent of flowers in the City streets had some waifs of goodness in them for the worst, of health for the sickliest, and of youth for the oldest, Sydney’s feet still trod those stones. From being irresolute and purposeless, his feet became animated by an intention, and, in the working out of that intention, they took him to the Doctor’s door.
He was shown up-stairs, and found Lucie at her work, alone. She had never been quite at her ease with him, and received him with some little embarrassment as he seated himself near her table. But, looking up at his face in the interchange of the first few common-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 to health. What is to be expected of, or by, such profligates?”
“Is it not—forgive me; I have begun the question on my lips—a pity to 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 see that there were tears in his eyes. There were tears in his voice too, as he answered:
“It is too late for that. I shall never be better than I am. I shall sink 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 knew her to be so, without looking at her, and said:
“Pray forgive me, Miss Manette. I break down before the knowledge of what I want to say to you. Will you hear me?”
“If it will do you any good, Mr. Carton, if it would make you happier, 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. I am like one who died young. All my life might have been.”
“No, Mr. Carton. I am sure that the best part of it might still be; I am sure that you might be much, much worthier of yourself.”
“Say of you, Miss Manette, and although I know better—although in the mystery of my own wretched heart I know better—I shall never forget it!”
She was pale and trembling. He came to her relief with a fixed despair of himself which made the interview unlike any other that could have been holden.
“If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man you see before yourself—flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be—he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful 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 your confidence? I know this is a confidence,” she modestly said, after a little hesitation, and in earnest tears, “I know you would say this to no 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 a very little more, all you can ever do for me is done. I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul. In my degradation I have not been so degraded but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me. Since I knew you, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward, that I thought were silent for ever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know 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 quite undeserving. And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire—a fire, however, inseparable in its nature from myself, quickening nothing, lighting nothing, doing no service, idly burning away.”
“Since it is my misfortune, Mr. Carton, to have made you more unhappy than you were before you knew me—”
“Don’t say that, Miss Manette, for you would have reclaimed me, if anything could. You will not be the cause of my becoming worse.”
“Since the state of your mind that you describe, is, at all events, 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 no power for good, with you, at all?”
“The utmost good that I am capable of now, Miss Manette, I have come here to realise. Let me carry through the rest of my misdirected life, the remembrance that I opened my heart to you, last of all the world; and that there was something left in me at this time which you could deplore and pity.”
“Which I entreated you to believe, again and again, most fervently, with all my heart, was capable of better things, Mr. Carton!”
“Entreat me to believe it no more, Miss Manette. I have proved myself, and I know better. I distress you; I draw fast to an end. Will you let me believe, when I recall this day, that the last confidence of my life was reposed in your pure and innocent breast, and that it lies 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 secret is 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 this conversation by so much as a passing word. I will never refer to it again. If I were dead, that could not be surer than it is henceforth. In the hour of my death, I shall hold sacred the one good remembrance— and shall thank and bless you for it—that my last avowal of myself was made to you, and that my name, and faults, and miseries were gently carried in your heart. May it otherwise be light and happy!”
He was so unlike what he had ever shown himself to be, and it was so sad to think how much he had thrown away, and how much he every day kept down and perverted, that Lucie Manette wept mournfully for him as he 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 I scorn 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, though outwardly I shall be what you have heretofore seen me. The last supplication but one I make to you, is, that you will believe this of me.”
“I will, Mr. Carton.”
“My last supplication of all, is this; and with it, I will relieve you of a visitor with whom I well know you have nothing in unison, and between whom and you there is an impassable space. It is useless to say it, I know, but it rises out of my soul. For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one 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 yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn—the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you. O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”
He said, “Farewell!” said a last “God bless you!” and left her.