FICTION

FICTION

CHRIS CORLEONE's SECRET

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:29:22

(Weekend In Faro, Chapter Eight)
By Stevan V. Nikolic


Michael jumped. It was 5:15 p.m. The train was arriving in Faro at 5:35 p.m. He had to take down his luggage from the overhead compartment and prepare to get off the train. The last three hours passed so quickly. The conversation he had with Carlos made him think about their mutual friend Chris who died ten years ago. He hadn’t thought about him for many years, but he spent the whole train ride thinking about Chris. It upset him that Carlos compared him to Chris.

Chris was a peculiar character. He was in his late forties, with strong, but already completely gray hair and he was always unshaven. He looked much older than he really was. He was of medium height and build, with a belly sticking over his waist line, and a strong eastern European accent. He always wore a black worn-out suit and white shirt without a tie. Upon first sight, everybody would think that he was an Orthodox Jew who came to New York from Russia, but he was Polish, from Gdansk. At least, that’s what he was telling people. His full name was Christopher Antonio Corleone; nothing Polish about his name. But he never bothered explaining the origin of his name. For him, there was nothing unusual about being Polish with an Italian name.

He lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was, at the time, predominantly a poor working class Polish neighborhood. His wife worked at the counter in a local Polish butcher shop. Chris never worked, or at least, nobody knew if he ever worked. Nobody knew his occupation or if he ever had one. Nobody knew what schools he finished or if he ever finished any.

But in the world of antique and rare book collectors in New York, everybody knew Chris. That is where Michael met him. He was one of the most passionate rare book collectors Michael had ever met. Of course, like all rare book collectors he had his special field of interest. Chris was obsessed with antique and rare books on occult subjects.
Being a rare books collector is a very expensive hobby. Very few people have enough money for it. But somehow Chris was able to come into possession of some of the most rare and most expensive titles on the subject. In his collection he had over five hundred books. Many of them were the only remaining copies of books and that is another thing about him that nobody knew; how was he able to do that?

However, for Michael personally, the most fascinating thing about Chris was that he never read any of his books. How did Michael know that? Well, he was the one reading them. Chris would often call him to examine books that he wanted. Michael’s job was to read through the book and tell him in short what it was about and why it was significant. Then, Chris would take the book, hold it in his hands, turn it around, and look at it from all sides, like it was a rare piece of jewelry. It seemed like he was trying to feel the book. Then he would open it slowly, running his fingers softly over the pages, examining illustrations, sometimes, even smelling the paper, and only then would he decide if he was going to buy it. It was a ritual. Michael’s reward was to read books and copy those that he was interested in. So, it worked well for both of them.

There were a few times, Chris gave books to Michael that he didn’t want or he would just buy books that Michael wanted for himself. Once, there was this book dealer offering the rare 1881 edition of Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Cornelius Agrippa. They went together to meet the dealer. The book in itself was insignificant, if not for the notes in it. Originally, Aleister Crowley owned it and he wrote his notes on the margins of the pages. The dealer was offering this book for a very reasonably price of two thousand dollars. Michael was really excited about the notes that Crowley made in the book. Chris took the book, looked at it for a while and then he said, “I don’t want it.” Michael was furious. He told him, “Chris, these are notes by Crowley. Do you know how valuable this is?”

“I don’t care about Crowley,” Chris said. He was ready to leave. Michael was holding that book in his hands and he couldn’t believe what Chris had just said. Then, Chris looked at Michael and asked, “Do you like it?” He answered, “Yes, of course I like it.” Chris put his hand in his pocket, took out a roll of hundred dollar bills bound together with a rubber band, counted two thousand and gave it to the dealer.

“It is sold,” he said. He looked at Michael saying, “It is yours. Are you happy now?”

Michael couldn’t believe what Chris just did, but he didn’t refuse it. He really liked that book.

Everybody in the society of bibliophiles in New York knew about the way Chris was examining books. They all believed that he had some special ability to sense the authenticity of the books. Once in a while some really good copies or fake books would be offered on the market, and dealers, knowing his ability, would call Chris to give an opinion. Of course, he would always use Michael to assist him. Chris would take a book in his hands and hold it for a while. If it was fake, he would tremble with his hands and sometimes with his whole body until he dropped the book. It was a good enough sign. Regardless how many times experts would try to prove the opposite, his feeling was always right. And nobody knew how he did it.

His unique ability to recognize counterfeits didn’t stop people from the bibliophilic community in New York to make fun of Chris. He was, as they used to say, “rough around the edges.” At the regular meetings in the Grolier club, they were usually discussing rare books and the art of bookmaking. Chris was always there, but he would never say anything. He would just sit in the corner of the room. After a few hours, he would look at Michael and say out loud so everybody could hear, “Michael, how can you listen to these idiots. Let’s go to a bar in East Village and find some pussy to fuck. We’ll learn more from them than from these mummies.”

Michael didn’t know why he liked Chris, but he did. Chris was nothing like him. Michael had been researching metaphysics and esoteric teachings for many years. Books that Chris collected were a great source of knowledge for Michael. For Chris it was different. Michael didn’t see that as unusual. People collect all kinds of things. There are stamp collectors, coin collectors, and they don’t spend that much time thinking about what is behind the things they collect. They just like it. So, for Michael, it was the same with Chris—it was just that he collected books. A few times he asked Chris about what it meant for him to have those books. He knew that Chris wasn’t reading them. Chris would just look at him and say, “Michael, these books have their own integrity, their own identity. It is not about the words in there. You don’t need to read these books. Words are there to confuse you. They are just messing around with your mind. You have to look beyond words. There is a big secret somewhere in these books and I am going to find it. And you know that, but you are afraid to admit it. It is dangerous.”

Well, Michael heard many times this statement from people interested in esoteric teachings, so he didn’t pay much attention to these words. In the world of those searching for a deeper meaning of life, there is always a secret that they are after, and it always seems within their reach. He thought Chris is just one of those lost souls trying to find himself. That is to say, he thought that until one October night nearly ten years ago.

It was just past midnight when Michael’s phone rang. It was Chris. He was very excited. “Michael, I found it,” he said. “I know the secret.”

“What are you talking about?” Michael asked.

“Michael, it is all here. It is clear. And you are here. You know that you are at the top, don’t you? You are the King, man. The King! Ha, ha, I knew there was a reason I was hanging out with you.” He was laughing.

“Chris, I don’t understand a word you are saying,” Michael said.

“Oh, you know, you know. Listen, I am calling you to tell you I have to go home now. It is time for me.”

“Where are you going? Are you going to Poland?” Michael asked.

“No, man, no. I am going home, my true home. Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry I won’t be with you when you go through. But remember, the trick is in the eighth door. It is glass door, the one before the last. You will get out on seventh door tired and you will see the ninth door through the glass of the eight. You will think it was an easy step. But the eighth door is a revolving door. If you get there and think about words, you will get caught, and roll around forever until your mind gets completely lost. Just close your eyes and go straight through. Don’t think about words. Remember!”

Michael was holding the phone thinking, What just happened? Too much polish vodka, he thought. But he never saw Chris drunk before. He thought about calling him back, but he didn’t. Then he went to sleep.
Next morning, Michael was in his office already having his second cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was John Robinson from the Grolier Club.

“Michael, did you hear about Chris?” he asked.

“No. What about Chris?”

“Chris was on the news. He jumped off the roof of his building early this morning.”

“Chris? You mean Chris Corleone?” Michael asked.

“Yes, man. Your buddy, he killed himself,” John said.

Michael couldn’t say anything for a minute. He was thinking about that phone call the night before.

“Michael, are you there?” John asked.

“Yes, I am just shocked. I spoke to him late last night. He was excited about something, but he didn’t sound depressed.”

“Well, whatever happened, happened. It was unfortunate. He always seemed strange and unstable to me. God knows what brought him to the edge.” John kept talking. “But he had a valuable collection. Dealers are going to rush there to get whatever they can. He was your friend. Maybe you should help his wife handle it.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Michael said. But he was still thinking of his words from last night. He just didn’t know what it was that Chris was talking about. “Yes, I will go to his home today. I have his address. Thank you for calling, John.” Then he hung up.

Michael took a cab to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He knew where Chris lived, but he had never been in Chris’s house. When the cab arrived there, Michael looked at the building with surprise. It was not a house, it was a rundown four-story brownstone. In front of the building on the left side of the entrance there was still yellow police tape around the spot where Chris fell. That part of the sidewalk was covered with blue plastic. Michael walked to the entrance and looked at the buzzers. It was supposed to be apartment 2A, but the name on it wasn’t Corleone. The name was polish: Wojchek. He pressed the buzzer anyway. The doors sounded and he pushed them open just enough to find himself in the dark hallway with just one light bulb working. It was the kind of building that he would never walk into if he didn’t have to. As he was walking up the stairs to the second floor he was thinking how ironic life was. Chris’s book collection was probably worth much more than the whole building Chris lived in. He walked to the door of the apartment. It was wide open and he could hear voices.

He walked in. The living room was full of Polish people whispering. The room was very simple and poorly furnished. The only piece of furniture that was sticking out was a huge wooden book cabinet with tight glass doors and the cooling unit next to it that was maintaining the temperature and humidity of the cabinet. Chris’s collection was there.
At the far end of the room four women were seated on the sofa. The woman seated in the middle was crying while trembling and talking in Polish to herself. She must be his wife, Michael thought. He felt confused. He couldn’t say good morning. There was nothing good about the morning. He didn’t know how to start.

“I am a friend of Christopher’s.” Everybody stopped talking. The woman raised her head and looked at him. He will never forget that look. It was full of hate.

Then, she screamed at Michael with a broken voice, “I know who you are. You are a devil! You came to get my Andrushka’s books! Take them! I don’t want them in my house! They killed him! They killed my Andrushka! You killed him! Get out! Get out!”

Michael was standing there not knowing what to say. He didn’t know why she was calling Chris, “Andrushka.” He didn’t know why she was referring to him as a devil. Then, an older man in his sixties approached Michael.
“You are Michael Nicolau, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” Michael answered.

“Chris was telling me about you. Come with me into the next room.” He pulled Michael to a bedroom. It was the only other room in the apartment. A queen size bed, wardrobe closet, two night tables and a chair were the only furniture in the bedroom. A big crucifix hung on the wall over the bed and a wedding picture on the opposite wall. The bed was still not made and there was an open book on one side of the bed.

“Mister Nicolau, please forgive my sister. Lena is still in shock. We all are. We are all trying to understand,” the man said.

“But what happened? Can you tell me, please?” Michael asked.

“Well, he was sitting all night in the bed with this book that is still here.” He pointed at the open book on the bed. “And this morning, around six, when Lena woke up to get ready for work, he was still in the same position, siting with the book. She went to the bathroom and when she came back, he wasn’t here. Then she heard screams from the street. She looked through the window and she saw him lying on the sidewalk in his pajamas in a pool of blood. Witnesses who saw him told police that he just walked off the roof. He didn’t jump. He just walked off. Nobody knows why.”

“I am so sorry,” Michael said. “I never thought that Chris would do anything like that. He always seemed very stable and full of life.”

“Mister Nicolau, it is kind of you to say that, but there is no need. Chris was a troubled man. It is tragic to say this, but maybe Lena will have some peace now.”

Michael didn’t expect a comment like this. He didn’t know how to answer. Then he looked at the book. He recognized it. He was with Chris when he bought it. It was a good buy. It was Gabriel Rolenhagen’s, Selectorum Emblematum Centuria Secunda from 1613. Original edition, very rare. It was open on the page with one of Michael’s favorite emblems, called “In se sue per vestigia volvitur.”

“And you say he was reading this book all night?” Michael asked.

“Reading?” Man asked, surprised. “No, Sir. He was staring at this picture all night. Chris didn’t know how to read or write. He was illiterate. He and Lena came from the small village near Gdansk thirty years ago. He never went to school. Chris signed his citizenship papers with the print of his palm. But he never wanted anybody to know that, especially not your rich friends. He always wanted to be different. He came here as Andrey Wojchek. At the beginning, things were ok. But then he started with these books. Nobody knew why. Then he legally changed his name. When I asked him why, he yelled at me that it was his true name. He tried to work different jobs, but he could never hold to them for more than a month or two. Most of the time they were living off of Lena’s paycheck from week to week. Any money that he would get, he was spending on books. When he had no money, he was borrowing around until he couldn’t borrow anymore. Then he would sell some of the books, repay a little bit of debt and buy more books and then he would borrow again. It was a nightmare. If I could only tell you how many times they were evicted from apartments from not paying rent, or how many times the electricity or phone was cut off, you wouldn’t believe it, Sir. And now, Lena doesn’t have money even for a funeral and he left her with so much debt.”

Michael looked at him trying to understand if they were talking about the same man. But again, many things about Chris were becoming clearer to him, many details that he didn’t pay attention to before. But the fact that one of the most passionate rare book collectors in New York was actually illiterate was mindboggling to him. How could he not see that in all those years he spent with Chris?

In the following days, Michael helped Lena’s brother sell Chris’s book collection to a Madison Avenue Rare Book Dealer. He even included books that Chris gave to him—even the one with Crowley’s notes.

Lena got enough money to pay for the funeral and pay back all of Chris’s debts. There was enough money left for her to put her life together.

A year later, Michael stopped by the butcher shop she was working in to say hello, but she didn’t want to talk to him. She just turned her face. Michael walked out. He never saw her again.

Soon after, Michael got divorced. To settle with his ex-wife he sold his own book collection to a book collector in Iceland. In turn, the buyer donated his collection to the local library under the condition that all of the books always stay together catalogued under the name “Michael Nicolau Library.” The buyer was a man who respected Michael’s work in the field of esoteric sciences and he wanted to honor Michael with this gesture. On other hand, Michael was pleased that his work would be remembered and preserved somewhere. That was the end of Michael’s antique book collecting career. He never went back to the Grolier Club.

He forgot about Chris almost all together. Life went on. He worked in publishing with ups and downs, but at least, he was working with books.

A GIGANTE

Short storiesPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Sun, September 13, 2015 19:46:05

Era uma vez, num pequeno vale escondido no Monte Ararat, uma diminuta raça de gigantes que ali existia desde o princípio dos tempos. As altas falésias que rodeavam aquele vale fechado tinham impedido que o resto da humanidade ali se aventurasse.

Um desses gigantes era o bom pastor Osías, pai de Lilit, linda moça montanhesa de vários metros de altura. A jovem, que até era baixa para o seu povo, vivia só com o seu viúvo pai, senhor de um rebanho de centos de ovelhas.

O velho Osías sempre avisara sua filha para que nunca tivesse curiosidade pelo mundo, pois aqueles que se tinham atrevido a galgar aqueles penhascos íngremes, nunca tinham regressado, sabia-o o velho Mithi, que tinha o conhecimento dos antigos. Talvez que no princípio do mundo todos os homens fossem assim, e tivessem povoado aquele vale.

O vale era muito fértil e não era tão frio como ao princípio a grande altitude poderia fazer supor. Pontilhado aqui e ali de salgueiros e bétulas, era quase todo ele constituído por moreia, a qual dava pasto aos vastos rebanhos de ovelhas do povo de Lilit e albergava alguns coelhos, bem como perdizes e tetrazes. Não havia o costume de trabalhar a terra, e os gigantes viviam da carne e leite das ovelhas, de alguma caça e das bagas e morangos selvagens que colhiam.

Ora, mal o pai morreu, a jovem e linda Lilit começou a ser atormentada por desejos de deixar para trás o mundo limitado em que vivia, e saber o que existia para além das montanhas que cercavam o seu vale. Sem dizer nada a ninguém, carregou com bagas e linguiças um saco de pele de ovelha que colocou às costas e, numa noite de luar, começou a escalar de forma lenta, mas persistente um dos lados do vale, um que lhe pareceu mais baixo. Demorou horas a alcançar o topo, e depois começou a descer, percorrendo com a vista, pela primeira vez, um novo mundo.

Com medo do que pudesse encontrar, a jovem dormia de noite nas clareiras das florestas, que por vezes mal a ocultavam, e de noite corria, corria sem destino, fazendo tremer a terra por onde passava.

Andou assim até perder a noção do tempo. Sabia que estava cada vez mais quente e sentia o sol aquecê-la de uma forma agradável e terna. Muitas vezes passava fome, e via que os animais daquelas terras para pouco mais davam do que para uma refeição. Sentia-se cansada, e para aquela noite acoitou-se numa larga clareira, que havia num bosque. Contudo, nem o nascer do Sol a acordou, e quis o destino que dois caçadores, que andavam em busca de javalis a avistassem! Ficaram espantados com o tamanho daquela beldade, mas logo um deles, Archelocus, disse ao seu companheiro Diocles:

-Se capturassemos esta gigante, como seríamos bem recebidos na cidade!

-Ah, sim?-gozou o outro.-E como pensas capturar esta colossal criatura?

-Tu verás! Vamos rápido a minha casa, matar aquele carneiro que estava a guardar para a festa.

Os dois jovens homens afastaram-se num ápice, e em breve se atarefavam ali perto a derrubar o muro de um velho poço seco, que cobriram depois com ramagens de cedro e de oliveira. Junto ao poço, foi colocado o malogrado carneiro a assar no espeto. Quando Lilit finalmente despertou, logo sentiu com as suas grandes narinas o aroma do carneiro que assava, e sem cuidar de tomar grandes precauções, encaminhou-se, gulosa, na direcção do assado, acabando por tombar, com um grito ensurdecedor, dentro do poço, que o esperto Archelocus tinha utilizado como armadilha. A jovem só sofreu algumas escoriações, mas ficou um pouco atordoada com a queda.

Deixando Diocles a vigiar a jovem, Archelocus diriguiu-se à cidade de Megara, capital de Megaris, para chamar todos os que quisessem vir apreciar aquele espéctaculo.

Sempre amantes de uma boa confusão, em breve muitos cidadãos o seguiam, excitados. De regresso ao local onde a gigante estava aprisionada, acompanhavam-no também alguns soldados e políticos da República. Também lá ia o velho Eurykrates, que julgava prever grande fortuna para Mégara com a chegada daquela colossal mulher. Lilit continuava desfalecida, mas todos tiveram grande espanto ao contemplar aquela jovem de tão corpulentas dimensões. O velho sábio logo disse:

-Temos de construir uma gigantesca gaiola de ferro para aprisionar a gigante!

-E como fazemos para tirá-la do poço quando ela despertar?-perguntaram alguns.

-Damos-lhe comida com um forte soporífero e içamo-la à força dos braços dos nossos escravos, com uma roldana!

-Bem pensado!-exclamaram os que ali estavam.

A gigante por fim despertou. Soltava gritos e urros de desespero que eram ensurdecedores para os que ali estavam. Na situação em que se encontrava, Lilit não conseguia sequer mexer os braços. Todos admiravam a beleza da jovem, que tinha só o pescoço e a cabeça fora do velho poço. Os seus longos cabelos louros encaracolados espraiavam-se ao redor do poço, lançando centelhas douradas à luz do sol da manhã. Os seus olhos verdes eram como duas grandes esmeraldas que faiascavam de medo e raiva contra aquelas pequenas criaturas que a atormentavam. Já se sentia um pouco arrependida por não ter seguido os conselhos do seu falecido pai e o medo começava a invadi-la.

Concluída a gaiola de ferro, Lilit foi alimentada com um porco recheado com soporífero, e sem dar por isso caiu num sono muito profundo. Foram instaladas perto do poço uma alta trave e uma roldana para conseguirem içar a jovem de dentro do poço e colocá-la na jaula.

Assim que terminaram esta tarefa, todos se puseram a caminho dos arredores da cidade, onde contavam exibir a jovem para deleite dos cidadãos e dos viajantes que percorressem a cidade.

Mas a jovem Lilit tinha um grande apetite e devorava ao pequeno almoço dez pães molhados em vinho. Ao almoço era capaz de comer um porco inteiro nos dias de maior apetite e não era demais! Uvas eram aos cestos, para matarem o seu apetite galopante, e vinho aos dez litros por dia!

Eurykrates, o sagaz e sábio ancião, reuniu-se com os dirigentes da cidade e fez-lhes uma espantosa comunicação: tinha ido de propósito, correndo perigos e sofrendo canseiras, ao óraculo de Delfos e confirmara os seus presságios: a gigante traria grande sorte e prosperidade à cidade e devia mesmo ser coroada rainha de Megaris! Thyrsos logo se levantou aos berros, bem como outros dos que dirigiam a República. Não estavam dispostos a perder os elevados lugares que ocupavam.

-Mas,-disse-lhes Eurykrates-o que é que têm a perder? Se correr bem todos ficamos a ganhar e manobramos na sombra o que se passar em termos de política; se correr mal, pomos as culpas em cima dela e retomamos os nossos lugares!

-És na verdade, avisado!-disseram-lhe os dirigentes.

-Proponho que em primeiro lugar se construa um palácio para abrigar condignamente a nossa rainha, mas um de onde ela não possa sair, sem ser por nossa vontade! Tenho mais uma ideia a germinar, mas ainda é cedo para revelá-la!

Os dirigentes da cidade resolveram confiar na sagacidade do velho sábio e confiar nos seus conselhos. A jovem Lilit, que inteligente, já começava a aprender o grego, foi levada na sua gaiola para uma grande clareira, junto às muralhas onde principiavam a ter lugar as obras de construção do seu futuro palácio. Escravos aos milhares circulavam por ali, e iam-se gastar muitos e muitos talentos na construção de tal obra. Afirmando que era para sua segurança, mantiveram Lilit presa e à sua volta o palácio ia crescendo a ritmo acelerado. Quando ficasse construído teria muitas portas, mas de pequena dimensão, apenas para os escravos, guardas e cidadãos de Megara poderem passar. A rainha seria prisioneira no seu próprio reino! No lado mais afastado do palácio existiria uma gigante porta de pedra de dez metros de altura, por onde poderia passar a rainha, mas para abri-la seriam necessários muitos escravos a manusear as roldanas.

Apesar de tudo, Thyrsos não estava pelos ajustes. Considerava tudo aquilo um desperdício de dinheiro e de tempo! Não via que utilidade poderia ter aquela gigante como rainha, mas o povo estava entusiasmado, pois os videntes e magos às ordens de Eurykrates tinham cumprido o seu papel de difundir os melhores boatos acerca da rainha e do que os óraculos previam para a cidade.

Archelocus e Diocles também não tinham razão de queixa: o primeiro tinha recebido duzentos dracmas e vinte porcos e o segundo cem dracmas e dez porcos como recompensa do seu serviço prestado a Megara. Mais do que satisfeitos, tinham dissipado os porcos em festins com os amigos nas tardes quentes de Verão, e em generosas ofertas a um dos muitos templos que Apolo tinha na cidade. O dinheiro tinha sido gasto com hetaerae, das mais belas e inteligentes que havia em toda a Grécia, e que muito deslumbraram os dois jovens homens.

Quase todos na cidade já tinham visto a bonita gigante, que os deuses pareciam destinar ao governo de Mégaris, mas o jovem Timon, guerreiro regressado há pouco de um posto na ilha de Salamís, quando ficou a par das novidades, quis ir admirar tão espantosa mulher e quando a viu o seu coração pôs-se a correr acelerado como uma corça. Sentiu como se lhe dessem com um cacete na cabeça e compreendeu de imediato que estava apaixonado pela bela gigante. A rainha conseguiu descortinar o rosto daquele mancebo no meio da multidão que todos os dias a ia mirar de boca aberta! Sentiu uma forte atracção por aquele jovem que assim lhe surgia, mas muito triste dada a grande disparidade de tamanhos entre eles, que impossibilitavam qualquer relacionamento amoroso, que não fosse platónico.

Graças aos esforços dos numerosos escravos, não tardou a que o palácio estivesse concluído, resplandecente no mármore branco que tornara Megara famosa, e Lilit pôde enfim ser libertada da sua gaiola de ferro, apenas para se encontrar noutra gaiola metafórica, uma gaiola dourada da qual não tinha a chave, apesar de ser rainha. Vivia os seus dias confinada naquele palácio, visitada com assiduidade por Timon. Agora Lilit ansiava por aquelas visitas, eram a sua única alegria. Até sonhava que fugia dali com o mancebo e que viviam felizes. Nunca se esquecia de fazer as oferendas a Apolo e longas filas de escravas suas levavam-lhe ovelhas, porcos e vinho para saciar os seus apetites e apaziguar a sua ira.

Um belo dia, Eurykrates apresentou por fim a sua ideia aos dirigentes da República. Numerosos escravos transportavam um armadura gigante, que a rainha deveria vestir.

-Estou certo que a rainha por si só vale por um exército, e com ela a combater podemos forçar outras cidades a pagar-nos tributo!-disse o velho.

-És tonto!-replicou-lhe o viperino Thyrsos-Assim que se apanhar fora do palácio ninguém mais lhe põe a vista em cima!

-Pensei nisso!-redargiu Eurykrates com um sorriso matreiro-para impedi-lo é necessário que tomemos como prisioneiro um certo jovem que muito visita a rainha e que parece ser a causa dos seus suspiros-verbalizou o sábio com velhacaria na voz.-Se quiser voltar a ver o seu amado, sabe que tem de regressar para o palácio.

-Bem pensado!-felicitou-o Olus, outro dos dirigentes da República.

O infeliz Timon foi conduzido à prisão, sujeito a uma dieta de pão e água e a rainha murchou com a sua ausência, como uma papoila arrancada da terra. Foi visitada passados alguns dias por uma delegação de políticos, que lhe expuseram a sua descarada chantagem, à qual ela não ousou resistir. Assim, e tendo em vista uma expedição que se organizava contra a cidade de Corinto, a gigante porta do palácio foi pela primeira vez aberta por uma multidão de escravos e a rainha equipada com a sua armadura. Os soldados de Megaris marcharam em direcção à vizinha Corinto, com a rainha na rectaguarda.

Os coríntios nem queriam acreditar quando viram aquela gigante que, com a sua espada, começava a abrir grandes clareiras nas suas fileiras! Não houve general que conseguisse segurá-los e em breve debandaram em pânico. Entusiasmados por aquele sucedido decidiram-se então a marchar sobre Tessália, com o intuito de forçá-la a pagar tributo. Mais uma vez o contributo da rainha foi preponderante e nem as flechas que a atingiram conseguiram quebrar-lhe o ânimo, pois queria voltar a ver o seu Timon.

De regresso a Megara, as tropas foram recebidas em festa e os templos de Apolo foram enfeitados de flores e recheados das carnes gordurosas do porco e do carneiro. Lilit foi reconduzida ao palácio prisão, e teve permissão de ver o jovem Timon, passando junto da prisão onde continuou encarcerado. Tinham descoberto enfim um método de garantir a obediência cega da rainha e estavam finalmente a colher os frutos da sua perfídia. Confirmados os boatos da eficácia em combate da rainha gigante, as cidades derrotadas de Corinto e Tessália, bem como muitas outras, incluindo Atenas, enviavam os seus tributos de rebanhos, varas, prata e ouro para garantir a paz. Claro que quem beneficiava com estes tesouros não era nem a rainha, nem o povo, mas os políticos que enriqueciam e doavam a Eurykrates generosas fatias.

Lilit tinha caído numa melancolia tristonha e até tinha perdido o seu proverbial apetite. Contudo, num sonho, tinha-lhe aparecido um corvo que a enchera de esperança, ao dizer-lhe que a sua liberdade estava para breve.

Quando chegou a Lua Nova, a rainha teve um pesadelo confuso e doloroso, em que se misturavam os políticos da República, o corvo, o seu vale perdido nas montanhas, o seu amado Timon e sentia no seu corpo as dores da tortura! Despertou coberta de suor e não soube dizer onde estava. Tudo à sua volta lhe parecia gigante e só passados alguns minutos compreendeu que já não era a gigante, como lhe tinham chamado.

Vislumbrou na penumbra do seu quarto o voar negro de um corvo que partia e sabendo que o deus Apolo por vezes assumia essa forma, logo lhe agradeceu mentalmente, jurando dar-lhe todos os anos naquele dia, uma ovelha em sacrifício. Doida de contente, engendrou logo um plano para salvar Timon. Sujando as suas roupas com cinza da lareira para se parecer mais com uma escrava, saiu do quarto e na cozinha deserta agarrou uma vasilha de vinho, que colocou à cabeça. Aos guardas da porta, mentiu e disse-lhes que era vinho que a rainha mandava ao seu amado, que devia ter sede naquela noite quente. Os guardas riram-se mas deixaram-na passar. Caminhando o mais rápido que pôde, em breve estava junto da prisão.

Os guardas interpelaram-na e ela disse-lhes que o vinho que levava à cabeça era uma oferta do grande Thyrsos! Partiu e aguardou escondida ali perto. Como ela esperava em breve os dois homens estavam muitíssimo bêbados e não tardaram a adormecer com um ressonar barulhento. Lilit roubou-lhes as chaves da cadeia e em breve estava junto de Timon. Este dormia no chão da sua cela e quando ela o chamou nem queria acreditar no que os seus olhos viam.

-És mesmo tu, minha rainha?!-disse-lhe incrédulo.

-Sim, sou a tua Lilit, tua para sempre!-disse ela-Agora partamos desta cidade! Trouxe comigo uma bolsa de moedas e podemos arranjar um barco na costa.

Os dois jovens partiram em passo acelerado e com o auxílio de uma corda improvisada conseguiram descer as muralhas da cidade, deixando para trás uma sentinela atordoada. Caminharam aquela noite e mais um dia, com breves períodos de descanso e quando anoiteceu de novo, Timon roubou um barco de pesca e partiram os dois para o Sul em direcção à ilha de Amorgos.

João Franco (n. 1977 em Lisboa), é licenciado em Relações Internacionais e pós-graduado em Estratégia pela Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. Publicou dois poemas na colectânea Poiesis, vol. XVI (2008), a colectânea poética Azul Profundo (2012) avançando depois para a prosa com o conto O teu semblante pálido, na Revista Lusitânia (2013). No campo da não-ficção é autor do livro Sun Tzu e Mao Zedong-Dois estrategas chineses (2012) e tem artigos publicados em periódicos como Finis Mundi, Revista Intellector, Revista de Geopolítica, Nova Águia, Boletim Meridiano 47, O Dia



A TALE OF TWO CITIES

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Sat, September 12, 2015 23:42:01

A Story of the French Revolution By Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks amongst the most famous works in the history of literary fiction. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralised by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several characters through these events. The 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly instalments in Dickens's new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. From April 1859 to November 1859, Dickens also republished the chapters as eight monthly sections in green covers. All but three of Dickens's previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. The first weekly instalment of A Tale of Two Cities ran in the first issue of All the Year Round on 30 April 1859. The last ran thirty weeks later, on 26 November.

It was the time of the French Revolution — a time of great change and great danger. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens' great story of unsurpassed adventure and courage unfolds.

Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer's clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once. Brilliantly plotted, the novel is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

Here you can read the first three chapters of the book I – Recalled to Life. To read more click here. To read this book as ePub or Kindle book, please visit Project Gutenberg.

Book the First - Recalled to Life

I. The Period

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way--

in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness downhill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognized and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, "in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:" after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures--the creatures of this chronicle among the rest--along the roads that lay before them.

II. The Mail

It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter's Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary "Wo-ho! so-ho-then!" the near leader violently shook his head and everything upon it--like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coach could be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, the passenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbed in mind.

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the years, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travelers were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in "the Captain's" pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter's Hill, as he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlass.

The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.

"Wo-ho!" said the coachman. "So, then! One more pull and you're at the top and be damned to you, for I have had trouble enough to get you to it!--Joe!"

"Halloa!" the guard replied.

"What o'clock do you make it, Joe?"

"Ten minutes, good, past eleven."

"My blood!" ejaculated the vexed coachman, "and not atop of Shooter's yet! Tst! Yah! Get on with you!"

The emphatic horse, cut short by the whip in a most decided negative, made a decided scramble for it, and the three other horses followed suit. Once more, the Dover mail struggled on, with the jack-boots of its passengers squashing along by its side. They had stopped when the coach stopped, and they kept close company with it. If any one of the three had had the hardihood to propose to another to walk on a little ahead into the mist and darkness, he would have put himself in a fair way of getting shot instantly as a highwayman.

The last burst carried the mail to the summit of the hill. The horses stopped to breathe again, and the guard got down to skid the wheel for the descent, and open the coach-door to let the passengers in.

"Tst! Joe!" cried the coachman in a warning voice, looking down from his box.

"What do you say, Tom?"

They both listened.

"I say a horse at a canter coming up, Joe."

"I say a horse at a gallop, Tom," returned the guard, leaving his hold of the door, and mounting nimbly to his place. "Gentlemen! In the king's name, all of you!"

With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stood on the offensive. The passenger booked by this history, was on the coach-step, getting in; the two other passengers were close behind him, and about to follow. He remained on the step, half in the coach and half out of; they remained in the road below him. They all looked from the coachman to the guard, and from the guard to the coachman, and listened. The coachman looked back and the guard looked back, and even the emphatic leader pricked up his ears and looked back, without contradicting. The stillness consequent on the cessation of the rumbling and laboring of the coach, added to the stillness of the night, made it very quiet indeed. The panting of the horses communicated a tremulous motion to the coach, as if it were in a state of agitation. The hearts of the passengers beat loud enough perhaps to be heard; but at any rate, the quiet pause was audibly expressive of people out of breath, and holding the breath, and having the pulses quickened by expectation.

The sound of a horse at a gallop came fast and furiously up the hill.
"So-ho!" the guard sang out, as loud as he could roar. "Yo there! Stand! I shall fire!"

The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing and floundering, a man's voice called from the mist, "Is that the Dover mail?"

"Never you mind what it is!" the guard retorted. "What are you?"

"Is that the Dover mail?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I want a passenger, if it is."

"What passenger?"

"Mr. Jarvis Lorry."

Our booked passenger showed in a moment that it was his name. The guard, the coachman, and the two other passengers eyed him distrustfully.

"Keep where you are," the guard called to the voice in the mist, "because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime. Gentleman of the name of Lorry answer straight."

"What is the matter?" asked the passenger, then, with mildly quavering speech. "Who wants me? Is it Jerry?"

("I don't like Jerry's voice, if it is Jerry," growled the guard to himself. "He's hoarser than suits me, is Jerry.")

"Yes, Mr. Lorry."

"What is the matter?"

"A despatch sent after you from over yonder. T. and Co."

"I know this messenger, guard," said Mr. Lorry, getting down into the road--assisted from behind more swiftly than politely by the other two passengers, who immediately scrambled into the coach, shut the door, and pulled up the window. "He may come close; there's nothing wrong."

"I hope there ain't, but I can't make so 'Nation sure of that," said the guard, in gruff soliloquy. "Hallo you!"

"Well! And hallo you!" said Jerry, more hoarsely than before.

"Come on at a footpace! d'ye mind me? And if you've got holsters to that saddle o' yourn, don't let me see your hand go nigh 'em. For I'm a devil at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead. So now let's look at you."

The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddying mist, and came to the side of the mail, where the passenger stood. The rider stooped, and, casting up his eyes at the guard, handed the passenger a small folded paper. The rider's horse was blown, and both horse and rider were covered with mud, from the hoofs of the horse to the hat of the man.

"Guard!" said the passenger, in a tone of quiet business confidence.

The watchful guard, with his right hand at the stock of his raised blunderbuss, his left at the barrel, and his eye on the horseman, answered curtly, "Sir."

"There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellson's Bank. You must know Tellson's Bank in London. I am going to Paris on business. A crown to drink. I may read this?"

"If so be as you're quick, sir."

He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side, and read--first to himself and then aloud: "'Wait at Dover for Mam'selle.' It's not long, you see, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, RECALLED TO LIFE."

Jerry started in his saddle. "That's a Blazing strange answer, too," said he, at his hoarsest.

"Take that message back, and they will know that I received this, as well as if I wrote. Make the best of your way. Good night."

With those words the passenger opened the coach-door and got in; not at all assisted by his fellow-passengers, who had expeditiously secreted their watches and purses in their boots, and were now making a general pretence of being asleep. With no more definite purpose than to escape the hazard of originating any other kind of action.

The coach lumbered on again, with heavier wreaths of mist closing round it as it began the descent. The guard soon replaced his blunderbuss in his arm-chest, and, having looked to the rest of its contents, and having looked to the supplementary pistols that he wore in his belt, looked to a smaller chest beneath his seat, in which there were a few smith's tools, a couple of torches, and a tinder-box. For he was furnished with that completeness that if the coach-lamps had been blown and stormed out, which did occasionally happen, he had only to shut himself up inside, keep the flint and steel sparks well off the straw, and get a light with tolerable safety and ease (if he were lucky) in five minutes.

"Tom!" softly over the coach roof.
"Hallo, Joe."

"Did you hear the message?"

"I did, Joe."

"What did you make of it, Tom?"

"Nothing at all, Joe."

"That's a coincidence, too," the guard mused, "for I made the same of it myself."

Jerry, left alone in the mist and darkness, dismounted meanwhile, not only to ease his spent horse, but to wipe the mud from his face, and shake the wet out of his hat-brim, which might be capable of holding about half a gallon. After standing with the bridle over his heavily-splashed arm, until the wheels of the mail were no longer within hearing and the night was quite still again, he turned to walk down the hill.

"After that there gallop from Temple Bar, old lady, I won't trust your fore-legs till I get you on the level," said this hoarse messenger, glancing at his mare. "'Recalled to life.' That's a Blazing strange message. Much of that wouldn't do for you, Jerry! I say, Jerry! You'd be in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!"

III. 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, his natural and not to be alienated inheritance, the messenger on horseback had exactly the same possessions as the King, 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 his own coach and six, or his own coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between him 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 his own counsel, and to keep his hat cocked over his eyes. He 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 he stopped for drink, he moved this muffler with his left hand, only while he poured his liquor in with his right; as soon as that was done, he muffled again.

"No, Jerry, no!" said the messenger, harping on one theme as he rode.

"It wouldn't do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradesman, it wouldn't suit your line of business! Recalled--! Bust me if I don't think he'd been a drinking!"

His message perplexed his mind to that degree that he was fain, several times, to take off his hat to scratch his head. Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing down hill almost to his 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 him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.

While he trotted back with the message he was to deliver to the night watchman in his 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 him 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 him from pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt--nodded in his 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 he knew about them), opened before him, and he 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 he had last seen them.

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

Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before him was the true face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; but they were all the faces of a man 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 her to you? Will you come and see her?"

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

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

Yet even when his 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 him, and the real message returned, would all be there. Out of the midst of them, the ghostly face would rise, and he 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 him to pull up the window, draw his arm securely through the leathern strap, and speculate upon the two slumbering forms, until his 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 his hearing as just spoken--distinctly in his hearing as ever spoken words had been in his life--when the weary passenger started to the consciousness of daylight, and found that the shadows of the night were gone.

He 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!"

Read more at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm



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