Charles Dickens

Retold by Ralph Mowat

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The Marquis of Evrémonde

The Marquis of Evrémonde was a disappointed man. He had waited for hours at the palace of the King of France, but the King had not spoken to him. Angrily, the Marquis got into his coach and told the driver to take him home. Very soon the coach was driving fast out of Paris, and the people in the narrow streets had to run to get out of the way, if they could. At the corner of a street in Saint Antoine, one of the coach wheels hit something, and the people in the street screamed loudly. The horses were frightened and stopped.
'What has gone wrong?' asked the Marquis calmly, looking out of the window of the coach. A tall man had picked something up from under the feet of the horses and was crying loudly over it.
'Why is that man making that terrible noise?' asked the Marquis impatiently.
'I'm sorry, Monsieur the Marquis. It is his child,' said one of the people.
'Dead! Killed!' screamed the man.
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The people in the street came close to the coach and looked at the Marquis with stony, silent faces. The Marquis looked back at them in bored dislike. To him, they were no more than animals.
'I can't understand,' he said coldly, 'why you people cannot take care of yourselves and your children. I hope my horses are not hurt.' And he threw a gold coin to his driver. 'Give this to that man!'
'Dead!' shouted the father of the child again.
Another man came forward. 'Be brave, Gaspard. Your child has died quickly, and without pain. It is better to die like that than to go on living in these terrible times.'
'You are a sensible man,' said the Marquis from his coach. 'What is your name?'
'They call me Defarge.'
'This is for you,' said the Marquis, and he threw Defarge another gold coin. 'Drive on,' he called to his driver.
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Just as the coach was leaving, a coin was thrown back in through the window. The Marquis looked angrily at the corner where Defarge had been standing. Defarge had gone.
At the corner there now stood a large, dark-haired woman, knitting. She stared long and hard at the face of the Marquis, but he did not look at her, and drove on.
Later that day, as the sun was going down, the same coach stopped in a village near the Marquis's castle. Several villagers, in poor thin clothes, with thin hungry faces, were standing in the village square. The Marquis looked at their faces and then pointed to one of them.
'Bring that man to me,' he said to his driver.
The man came up to the coach, hat in hand, and the other villagers moved closer to listen.
'I passed you on the road just outside the village,' said the Marquis. 'You were looking at my coach in a very strange way. Why was that?'
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'Monsieur, I was looking at the man,' came the reply. 'What man?' asked the Marquis angrily. 'The man who was holding on under your coach,' said the poor man, trembling with fear. 'What was he like?'
'Oh, Monsieur, he was white from head to foot. All covered with dust. Just like a ghost.'
'Where is he now? What happened to him?'
'Oh, he ran away down the hill outside the village.'
The Marquis turned to speak to another man. This was Monsieur Gabelle, the Marquis's official in the village.
'Gabelle,' the Marquis said, 'watch out for this man. If he comes here, put him in prison.'
When the Marquis arrived at his castle, he asked if his nephew, Monsieur Charles, had arrived from England.
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'Not yet, sir,' replied the servant, but as the Marquis was eating his dinner, he heard the sound of a coach outside. Soon his nephew entered the room. In England he was known as Charles Darnay.
'You've been away for a long time,' said the Marquis, with his cold, polite smile.
'I've had many problems in England. Perhaps because of you,' Darnay said to his uncle. 'I was in great danger.'
'No, no, I had nothing to do with your problems,' replied the Marquis coldly. 'Unfortunately, our family no longer has the power that it once had.'
'If it still had that power, one word from you would doubtless send me to prison,' said Darnay.
'Possibly. For the good of our family.'
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'The name of our family is hated everywhere in France. We are hard, cruel landowners. Our miserable people own nothing. They work for us night and day, but they don't even have enough food for themselves and their children. If this land became mine, I would give it away, and go and live somewhere else.'
'You seem to be very fond of England, although you are not a rich man there,' said the Marquis. 'I believe you know another Frenchman who has found a safe home there. A Doctor, I believe?'
'Yes.'
'With a daughter?' 'Yes.'
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'Yes,' said the Marquis with a secret smile on his face. 'So, a new way of life begins. But you are tired. Goodnight, Charles. Sleep well. I shall see you in the morning.' After his nephew had gone to bed, the Marquis went to his room. The castle was surrounded with darkness. In the villages nearby the hungry people dreamt of a better life, with enough good food to eat, and time to rest from their work.
Early in the morning the dreamers awoke and started their day's hard work. The people in the castle did not get up until later, but when they did, why did the great bell start ringing? Why did people run out of the castle to the village as fast as they could?
The answer lay in the bed of the Marquis. He lay there, like stone, with a knife pushed into his heart. On his chest lay a piece of paper with the words:
'Drive him fast to his grave. This is from JACQUES.'


 


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