Book 2 - 7
Monseigneur in Town
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Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his
fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was
in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of
Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite of rooms without.
Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could
swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen
minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his
morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of
Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook.
Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration,
and the Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold
watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set
by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur's lips.
One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence;
a second, milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument
he bore for that function; a third, presented the favoured napkin;
a fourth (he of the two gold watches), poured the chocolate out.
It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these
attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the
admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon
if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he
must have died of two.
Monseigneur had been out at a little supper last night, where the
Comedy and the Grand Opera were charmingly represented. Monseigneur
was out at a little supper most nights, with fascinating company.
So polite and so impressible was Monseigneur, that the Comedy and
the Grand Opera had far more influence with him in the tiresome
articles of state affairs and state secrets, than the needs of all
France. A happy circumstance for France, as the like always is for
all countries similarly favoured!--always was for England (by way of
example), in the regretted days of the merry Stuart who sold it.
Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business,
which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular
public business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it
must all go his way--tend to his own power and pocket. Of his
pleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other truly
noble idea, that the world was made for them. The text of his order
(altered from the original by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran:
"The earth and the fulness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur."
Yet, Monseigneur had slowly found that vulgar embarrassments crept
into his affairs, both private and public; and he had, as to both
classes of affairs, allied himself perforce with a Farmer-General.
As to finances public, because Monseigneur could not make anything
at all of them, and must consequently let them out to somebody who
could; as to finances private, because Farmer-Generals were rich, and
Monseigneur, after generations of great luxury and expense, was
growing poor. Hence Monseigneur had taken his sister from a convent,
while there was yet time to ward off the impending veil, the cheapest
garment she could wear, and had bestowed her as a prize upon a very
rich Farmer-General, poor in family. Which Farmer-General, carrying
an appropriate cane with a golden apple on the top of it, was now
among the company in the outer rooms, much prostrated before by
mankind--always excepting superior mankind of the blood of Monseigneur,
who, his own wife included, looked down upon him with the loftiest
A sumptuous man was the Farmer-General. Thirty horses stood in his
stables, twenty-four male domestics sat in his halls, six body-women
waited on his wife. As one who pretended to do nothing but plunder
and forage where he could, the Farmer-General--howsoever his
matrimonial relations conduced to social morality--was at least the
greatest reality among the personages who attended at the hotel of
Monseigneur that day.
For, the rooms, though a beautiful scene to look at, and adorned with
every device of decoration that the taste and skill of the time could
achieve, were, in truth, not a sound business; considered with any
reference to the scarecrows in the rags and nightcaps elsewhere
(and not so far off, either, but that the watching towers of Notre
Dame, almost equidistant from the two extremes, could see them both),
they would have been an exceedingly uncomfortable business--if that
could have been anybody's business, at the house of Monseigneur.
Military officers destitute of military knowledge; naval officers
with no idea of a ship; civil officers without a notion of affairs;
brazen ecclesiastics, of the worst world worldly, with sensual eyes,
loose tongues, and looser lives; all totally unfit for their several
callings, all lying horribly in pretending to belong to them, but all
nearly or remotely of the order of Monseigneur, and therefore foisted
on all public employments from which anything was to be got; these were
to be told off by the score and the score. People not immediately
connected with Monseigneur or the State, yet equally unconnected with
anything that was real, or with lives passed in travelling by any
straight road to any true earthly end, were no less abundant.
Doctors who made great fortunes out of dainty remedies for imaginary
disorders that never existed, smiled upon their courtly patients in
the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors who had discovered
every kind of remedy for the little evils with which the State was
touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnest to root out
a single sin, poured their distracting babble into any ears they
could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur. Unbelieving
Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words, and making
card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked with Unbelieving
Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, at this
wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur. Exquisite gentlemen
of the finest breeding, which was at that remarkable time--and has
been since--to be known by its fruits of indifference to every
natural subject of human interest, were in the most exemplary state
of exhaustion, at the hotel of Monseigneur. Such homes had these
various notabilities left behind them in the fine world of Paris,
that the spies among the assembled devotees of Monseigneur--forming a
goodly half of the polite company--would have found it hard to
discover among the angels of that sphere one solitary wife, who, in
her manners and appearance, owned to being a Mother. Indeed, except
for the mere act of bringing a troublesome creature into this world--
which does not go far towards the realisation of the name of mother--
there was no such thing known to the fashion. Peasant women kept the
unfashionable babies close, and brought them up, and charming grandmammas
of sixty dressed and supped as at twenty.
The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance
upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozen exceptional
people who had had, for a few years, some vague misgiving in them
that things in general were going rather wrong. As a promising way
of setting them right, half of the half-dozen had become members of a
fantastic sect of Convulsionists, and were even then considering within
themselves whether they should foam, rage, roar, and turn cataleptic
on the spot--thereby setting up a highly intelligible finger-post to
the Future, for Monseigneur's guidance. Besides these Dervishes,
were other three who had rushed into another sect, which mended
matters with a jargon about "the Centre of Truth:" holding that Man
had got out of the Centre of Truth--which did not need much
demonstration--but had not got out of the Circumference, and that he
was to be kept from flying out of the Circumference, and was even to
be shoved back into the Centre, by fasting and seeing of spirits.
Among these, accordingly, much discoursing with spirits went on--and
it did a world of good which never became manifest.
But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of
Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only
been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been
eternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of
hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended,
such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense
of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever.
The exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding wore little pendent
trinkets that chinked as they languidly moved; these golden fetters
rang like precious little bells; and what with that ringing, and with
the rustle of silk and brocade and fine linen, there was a flutter in
the air that fanned Saint Antoine and his devouring hunger far away.
Dress was the one unfailing talisman and charm used for keeping all
things in their places. Everybody was dressed for a Fancy Ball that
was never to leave off. From the Palace of the Tuileries, through
Monseigneur and the whole Court, through the Chambers, the Tribunals
of Justice, and all society (except the scarecrows), the Fancy Ball
descended to the Common Executioner: who, in pursuance of the charm,
was required to officiate "frizzled, powdered, in a gold-laced coat,
pumps, and white silk stockings." At the gallows and the wheel--the
axe was a rarity--Monsieur Paris, as it was the episcopal mode among
his brother Professors of the provinces, Monsieur Orleans, and the
rest, to call him, presided in this dainty dress. And who among the
company at Monseigneur's reception in that seventeen hundred and
eightieth year of our Lord, could possibly doubt, that a system
rooted in a frizzled hangman, powdered, gold-laced, pumped, and
white-silk stockinged, would see the very stars out!
Monseigneur having eased his four men of their burdens and taken his
chocolate, caused the doors of the Holiest of Holiests to be thrown
open, and issued forth. Then, what submission, what cringing and
fawning, what servility, what abject humiliation! As to bowing down
in body and spirit, nothing in that way was left for Heaven--which
may have been one among other reasons why the worshippers of
Monseigneur never troubled it.
Bestowing a word of promise here and a smile there, a whisper on one
happy slave and a wave of the hand on another, Monseigneur affably
passed through his rooms to the remote region of the Circumference of
Truth. There, Monseigneur turned, and came back again, and so in due
course of time got himself shut up in his sanctuary by the chocolate
sprites, and was seen no more.
The show being over, the flutter in the air became quite a little
storm, and the precious little bells went ringing downstairs.
There was soon but one person left of all the crowd, and he, with his
hat under his arm and his snuff-box in his hand, slowly passed among
the mirrors on his way out.
"I devote you," said this person, stopping at the last door on his
way, and turning in the direction of the sanctuary, "to the Devil!"
With that, he shook the snuff from his fingers as if he had shaken
the dust from his feet, and quietly walked downstairs.
He was a man of about sixty, handsomely dressed, haughty in manner,
and with a face like a fine mask. A face of a transparent paleness;
every feature in it clearly defined; one set expression on it.
The nose, beautifully formed otherwise, was very slightly pinched at
the top of each nostril. In those two compressions, or dints, the
only little change that the face ever showed, resided. They persisted
in changing colour sometimes, and they would be occasionally dilated
and contracted by something like a faint pulsation; then, they gave a
look of treachery, and cruelty, to the whole countenance. Examined
with attention, its capacity of helping such a look was to be found
in the line of the mouth, and the lines of the orbits of the eyes,
being much too horizontal and thin; still, in the effect of the face
made, it was a handsome face, and a remarkable one.
Its owner went downstairs into the courtyard, got into his carriage,
and drove away. Not many people had talked with him at the reception;
he had stood in a little space apart, and Monseigneur might have been
warmer in his manner. It appeared, under the circumstances, rather
agreeable to him to see the common people dispersed before his horses,
and often barely escaping from being run down. His man drove as if
he were charging an enemy, and the furious recklessness of the man
brought no check into the face, or to the lips, of the master. The
complaint had sometimes made itself audible, even in that deaf city
and dumb age, that, in the narrow streets without footways, the fierce
patrician custom of hard driving endangered and maimed the mere vulgar
in a barbarous manner. But, few cared enough for that to think of it
a second time, and, in this matter, as in all others, the common
wretches were left to get out of their difficulties as they could.
With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of
consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage
dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming
before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of
its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of
its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry
from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.
But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would not
have stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their
wounded behind, and why not? But the frightened valet had got down in
a hurry, and there were twenty hands at the horses' bridles.
"What has gone wrong?" said Monsieur, calmly looking out.
A tall man in a nightcap had caught up a bundle from among the feet
of the horses, and had laid it on the basement of the fountain,
and was down in the mud and wet, howling over it like a wild animal.
"Pardon, Monsieur the Marquis!" said a ragged and submissive man,
"it is a child."
"Why does he make that abominable noise? Is it his child?"
"Excuse me, Monsieur the Marquis--it is a pity--yes."
The fountain was a little removed; for the street opened, where it
was, into a space some ten or twelve yards square. As the tall man
suddenly got up from the ground, and came running at the carriage,
Monsieur the Marquis clapped his hand for an instant on his sword-hilt.
"Killed!" shrieked the man, in wild desperation, extending both arms
at their length above his head, and staring at him. "Dead!"
The people closed round, and looked at Monsieur the Marquis.
There was nothing revealed by the many eyes that looked at him but
watchfulness and eagerness; there was no visible menacing or anger.
Neither did the people say anything; after the first cry, they had
been silent, and they remained so. The voice of the submissive man
who had spoken, was flat and tame in its extreme submission.
Monsieur the Marquis ran his eyes over them all, as if they had been
mere rats come out of their holes.
He took out his purse.
"It is extraordinary to me," said he, "that you people cannot take
care of yourselves and your children. One or the other of you is for
ever in the, way. How do I know what injury you have done my horses.
See! Give him that."
He threw out a gold coin for the valet to pick up, and all the heads
craned forward that all the eyes might look down at it as it fell.
The tall man called out again with a most unearthly cry, "Dead!"
He was arrested by the quick arrival of another man, for whom the
rest made way. On seeing him, the miserable creature fell upon his
shoulder, sobbing and crying, and pointing to the fountain, where
some women were stooping over the motionless bundle, and moving
gently about it. They were as silent, however, as the men.
"I know all, I know all," said the last comer. "Be a brave man, my
Gaspard! It is better for the poor little plaything to die so, than
to live. It has died in a moment without pain. Could it have lived
an hour as happily?"
"You are a philosopher, you there," said the, Marquis, smiling.
"How do they call you?"
"They call me Defarge."
"Of what trade?"
"Monsieur the Marquis, vendor of wine."
"Pick up that, philosopher and vendor of wine," said the Marquis,
throwing him another gold coin, "and spend it as you will.
The horses there; are they right?"
Without deigning to look at the assemblage a second time, Monsieur
the Marquis leaned back in his seat, and was just being driven away
with the air of a gentleman who had accidentally broke some common
thing, and had paid for it, and could afford to pay for it; when his
ease was suddenly disturbed by a coin flying into his carriage,
and ringing on its floor.
"Hold!" said Monsieur the Marquis. "Hold the horses! Who threw that?"
He looked to the spot where Defarge the vendor of wine had stood,
a moment before; but the wretched father was grovelling on his face
on the pavement in that spot, and the figure that stood beside him
was the figure of a dark stout woman, knitting.
"You dogs!" said the Marquis, but smoothly, and with an unchanged front,
except as to the spots on his nose: "I would ride over any of you
very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth. If I knew which
rascal threw at the carriage, and if that brigand were sufficiently
near it, he should be crushed under the wheels."
So cowed was their condition, and so long and hard their experience
of what such a man could do to them, within the law and beyond it,
that not a voice, or a hand, or even an eye was raised. Among the
men, not one. But the woman who stood knitting looked up steadily,
and looked the Marquis in the face. It was not for his dignity to
notice it; his contemptuous eyes passed over her, and over all the
other rats; and he leaned back in his seat again, and gave the word
He was driven on, and other carriages came whirling by in quick
succession; the Minister, the State-Projector, the Farmer-General,
the Doctor, the Lawyer, the Ecclesiastic, the Grand Opera, the
Comedy, the whole Fancy Ball in a bright continuous flow, came
whirling by. The rats had crept out of their holes to look on,
and they remained looking on for hours; soldiers and police often
passing between them and the spectacle, and making a barrier behind
which they slunk, and through which they peeped. The father had long
ago taken up his bundle and bidden himself away with it, when the
women who had tended the bundle while it lay on the base of the
fountain, sat there watching the running of the water and the rolling
of the Fancy Ball--when the one woman who had stood conspicuous,
knitting, still knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate. The water
of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran into evening,
so much life in the city ran into death according to rule, time and
tide waited for no man, the rats were sleeping close together in
their dark holes again, the Fancy Ball was lighted up at supper,
all things ran their course.