Sea mist and a Dragon?

Well know we know, London and Paris, a girl who thinks she is an orphan, a man unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years and a rescue bid. So much about the plot line, what about the people?

In this chapter Dickens begins to unpack his characters, in the case of Mr Lorry, literally. A huge bundle of clothing looking much like a shaggy dog Mr Lorry descends from the night mail to be met by the drawer to whom he issues a stream of orders which are instantly obeyed. The servants and proprietor place themselves around the inn to observe what man might emerge from the dirty swathing of travelling clothes.

What does emerge isn’t a bright butterfly, more of a moth dressed in old fashioned brown, neat and symmetrical but pretty well worn. Though he is comparatively elderly, at sixty he has a good leg for knee breeches and stockings complete with buckled shoes and a sonorous watch, the whole topped off by white linen and an odd, short flaxen wig. A picture of solidity one might expect from a senior member of a long established bank.

Inside this solidity there is however a mystery. Mr Lorry projects himself as ‘Mechanical Man’, an exemplar of Brunell’s description of an engineer, someone who can do but is not required to think. He is a “speaking machine,” “I pass my whole life, miss, in turning an immense pecuniary mangle.” ”..all the relations I hold……are mere business relations” “I have no feelings” All of this to prove he is detached from the situation of Miss Manette, but he isn’t and In several vignettes we find a disturbed man

Whilst the pace of the story seems to have slowed the shades of the previous night’s shadows are still with him as he waits to be served breakfast and gazes into the fire. The solidity of his watch is contrasted with “evanescence and levity of the brisk fire.” Whilst he is Mechanical on the outside, inside he is suffering the pangs of hell and the pain that he has gone through with his eyes in order to ” drill [them] to the composed and reserved expression of Tellson’s Bank”

His linen and wig reflect the waves of the sea and the white sails of passing ships which become enshrouded in mist. Stones on the beach roll and move under the pressure of the tide and undermine the cliffs in which Dover, ostrich-like, tries to bury its head.

From the beach he returns to the coffee room fire and once more he is “digging, digging, digging, in the live red coals.”

Whatever he is digging he tries to forget at the end of the evening: “A bottle of good claret after dinner does a digger in the red coals no harm, otherwise than as it has a tendency to throw him out of work. Mr. Lorry had been idle a long time, and had just poured out his last glassful of wine with as complete an appearance of satisfaction as is ever to be found in an elderly gentleman of a fresh complexion who has got to the end of a bottle,”

Whatever he might be trying to forget the waiter is sure that he knows why an elderly respectable gent who last saw France fifteen years before would be awaiting a young lady and booking a passage on the next mail packet..

Rounding his mouth and both his eyes, as he stepped backward from the table, the waiter shifted his napkin from his right arm to his left, dropped into a comfortable attitude, and stood surveying the guest while he ate and drank, as from an observatory or watch-tower.” (Much better than a nudge or a wink.)

Putting to one side the waiter’s ideas (Brighton hotels didn’t exist at the time) why is Lorry so concerned, what is he thinking ?

The thought of being buried alive for eighteen years is quite frightening but for a man with no feeling for customers why should he obsess about it? Possibly there is more to this journey than a recall to life and there is more mystery to follow.

There is plenty of mystery when he meets M’selle in a funereal room done out in black furniture where shadows are seen in the pier glass and the polished tabletop and M’selle herself is at first unseen. Both have recollections of one another but recognition is a fleeting shadow and Lorry settles to business in his inimitable mechanical way telling the story of father’s imprisonment, the subsequent death of her mother and her removal from France by none other than Lorry himself.

His mode of conveying his information affects Miss Manette violently as he tries to explain that he is only the messenger who has no attachment to her beyond that of business but the fact that he has to recover his equanimity by asking for arithmetical sums indicates that there is some deep emotion at work within him.

Can it be that that Lorry is feeling guilty and his cosy banking world is being undermined by the recall of Dr Manette. Certainly there is a suggestion of that in the first part of the chapter. Lorry is wearing well worn clothes of a style that had been out of fashion for twenty years. As a banker he would be expected to be sober and solid but not to the extent of being so far out of line with the world he worked in where appearance counts for a great deal. Were these the clothes he wore when he brought the baby back from France and he is reliving an exciting experience in an otherwise monotonous life. Perhaps he became attached to the child and rued that he had handed her over to the bank to dispose of and is struggling to control; his feelings at meeting her once again.

Again could it be that he has an even more horrendous guilt to atone. After twenty years in what he calls the French house he must have made many contacts among the great and good of the time. Did he covet Mrs Manette, ask for a favour and have the good doctor put away so that he could pursue her. Alarming thought, is Miss Manette his daughter. Any of these would explain why Lorry is so confused and his world is being undermined by the past. Has he had his head in the sand for eighteen years, are the shadows and mists indicative of his trying to hide his guilt, are rolling waves and stones an indication that a mechanical mind is being forced to think and changing his mind to something more organic? Who knows?

Having made a mess of explaining her history to M’selle and left her in a frozen panic some deus ex machina is needed and Dickens introduces a rather fiery dragon in the form of a servant, red faced, red-haired with an enormous tall bonnet and tight dress who descends on the scene in a fury, tossing Lorry to one side and taking complete charge of the situation.

Miss Manette is secured to the bosom of a defender whom the reader suspects will prove to be essential to the denoument of the story (servants and faithful followers are often the unlockers of secrets) She puts Lorry in his place with a couple of confusing questions under the weight of which he gracefully retires and we won’t know the rest until next week when a new instalment comes out.


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