• A Tale of Two Cities: Chapter 8.5: Jacques

    Monsieur the Marquis in his traveling carriage, conducted by four post horses, and two postilions, fagged up a steep hill. The carriage slid down the hill moments later, leaving a trailing cinderous smell at the nose of the man who hitched a ride in a most uncomfortable position. Jacques clung to the bottom of the carriage with his feet hooked on the rear axle as firmly as a cloth pinned to a clothesline. He bore silently with the booming voice of the Monseigneur just above him and locked his arms on the splintered reaches, with the tottering chain wrapped around his pale white wrist rattling lightly. Cocking his head to a side in an owl-like manner, Jacques absorbed the scenery. The destitute landscape spurred his hatred for the aristocracy and he could feel his insides churning, boiling for the sake of the cause and for the sake of the people. How he longed to drive a stake through the heartless hearts of each unfathomably wealthy and cruel member of the aristocracy. How he longed to give them their comeuppance. Jacques relished the thought of what he would bring to the haughty bastards who plagued the world with their wasteful existences and found the dirt in his mouth and the scratches on his skin to be worth the wait for what was to come. For the revolution was coming.

    Jacques instinctively shut his eyes as a wave of dirt threw itself into his face. Somehow, the pale quality of his skin remained clear. When Jacques opened his eyes and peered out from beneath the carriage, he could see the Monseigneur had descended from the carriage and was conversing with peasants. From the awkward angle he hung at from the bottom of the carriage, Jacques could only make out so much of the scene. It looked like an interrogation was proceeding. Jacques let his head tilt slightly out from beneath the carriage, such that he could make listen more intently.

    The scrawny peasant man with his tattered blue cap clutched in his hands, which vibrated all too clearly with fear, spoke. “Monseigneur, I looked at the man,” he sputtered nervously.

    “What man, pig?” the Monseigneur barked. “And why look there?”

    Jacques’ eyes widened as the low thrum of his heart suddenly grew louder. There was no question, that frightened little man had seen him! He had to escape at once! Jacques let himself fall lightly to the ground, flat on his back and quickly rolled to the side of the carriage that the bystanders could not view. Suddenly, he stopped. He could not move any further. Horrified, Jacques turned back towards the carriage, careful to stay behind one of the large wheels such that he could not be seen unless observed from a particular perspective. The chain! How foolish of him. He had forgotten to release himself from the chain. Hurriedly, he unwounded the chain from his wrist and left it to hang from the carriage. On the bloody soles of his elbows and knees scathed by the rough stone covered ground, Jacques crawled like a soldier to the edge of the hill. Excellent! Just below he could see a river flowing not too rapidly downstream. With one elegant leap, he sprung from the ground and plunged himself headfirst into the water. Had the frightened little blue capped man seen that as well, he wondered? All the same, it was only natural that he would have to take such risks considering what he had come with the intent of accomplishing.

    Jacques let the current drag his body every which way. He hadn’t the strength left in him after clinging to the bottom of a carriage for so long. The sound of the Monseigneur’s nauseating voice too rang in ears still. With luck however, the thought of that grotesque and undeserving man was enough to keep Jacques awake. He knew not how many moments had passed since he had thrown himself into the river, but he felt his breath catch short, so he surfaced. It seemed safe enough that no one would recognize him, so he drew nearer to the shore and heaved himself up. How far had he come? He wondered. The scenery had certainly taken on a new appearance. No longer were there patches of poor beans and peas or coarse vegetables that substituted wheat to be seen. It seemed Jacques had gotten himself quite a distance away from the fields. Surely not a soul would be willing to harbor him for fear of what the Monseignur may do to them. Still, he needed someplace to stay for the night. At least until he felt ready to do the job.

    Slowly the tired man trudged along the worn path. After an hour’s time passed, he found himself before a large stone courtyard. Just ahead he could see a massive building with heavy stone balustrades, stone urns, stone flowers, stone faces of men, and stone lions protruding from all sides of it. It was as if the Gorgon’s head had glanced at it and frozen the entire place in time. If so, it must have happened long ago, for the building looked well beyond a century old. Jacques looked at the wide row of stables beside the building as the echo of an owl’s call resonated from the roof. He recognized the building to be the Monseigneur’s. It was very much like a castle. Old and elegant. Truly, it was a waste. The gift of wealth in life should be worthy of the good and no less. Why had God bestowed it upon the arrogant Monseigneur instead? If the Monseigneur was at all deserving of all that he had, surely the world was doomed to a miserable hell.

    Jacques silently drifted towards the fountain in the courtyard like a pale spectre in the night and sipped a handful of water. He considered washing his face but thought twice as he hoped that the dirt might hide his distinct facial features from anyone who might recognize him. Sucking in an air of breath, Jacques prayed that his courage would not fail him. He knew in the very pit of his heart that he would never find peace until the world was rid of people like the Monseigneur. The night that ensued was only the beginning. So many more nights would come he hoped in which the aristocrats would shiver in their soft beds for fear of who might pay them an ever so friendly visit at night.

    Scanning the castle before him, Jacques circled once around the Monseigneur’s home in search of an available entrance. How careless of the fool! Jacques stared up at one of the windows of the building and could see the Monseigneur inside. Conveniently, the castle was missing just enough bricks in the right places and the window had no glass or netting. Jacques climbed up the building with ease and entered the room of the Monseigneur. The Monseigneur had gone downstairs just as Jacques made his entrance. Stealthily Jacques hid between a lovely black marble dressing table and the back of the door. There he sat for a moment and thought to himself.

    Despite being only inches away from success, he could feel guilt welling up in his chest. He could not fathom why he was having second thoughts now. This was the road to freedom, was it not? He had come so far for this moment. He had come so far to put an end to the Monseigneur’s ways. He had come so far for the sake of all others like himself, and yet something felt almost unbearably unfair. Why was it he who had to dirty his hands by killing the Monseigneur? Why was it he, and not those frightened oppressed little peasants of the village? Why was it only he whose hands and soul would be stained by blood on this night, while others shed piteous tears for fear of what might become of their own pathetic lives? How unfair. He could not even reveal his pride in what would soon be his deed nor could he see the results of his doings. The moment at hand would forever be a secret. He had come for but one purpose and that was to kill the Monseigneur. And yet, he was hesitant.

    Where was that driven part of himself that longed for freedom and justice? Where was the sad part of himself that longed to see his dear younger brother lead a better life? His parents had long since died from illnesses that the rich doctors of the town hadn’t had the time or patience to concern their busy hardworking selves with. As much as his situation in life had infuriated him, Jacques hadn’t the chance or ability to change a single aspect of it. His brother worked hard day in and day out on the fields that their father had left them, but lately there hadn’t been success with the crops for anyone in his town. He and his brother had nothing. What were families to do? The aristocrats on the other hand had all they needed and plenty more, which they were not hesitant to waste, especially when the peasants were watching.

    In fact, it was just this that had brought Jacques to hate the Monseigneur in the first place. One hot evening day some time ago, his young and energetic brother had worked a long day’s work by his side when the Monseigneur had come riding into the town upon his fancy carriage. Then as he saw the young man, the Monseigneur stopped his carriage and descended from his high and mighty throne to greet the young peasant. Jacques had not been far off in the fields watching his brother and had curiously made his way towards the two when he suddenly saw a scorching blaze of fire sizzling towards him. The crops had been set aflame! Jacques had escaped safely, but it was the crops and his brother who suffered. His brother suffered a severe injury to his right arm that rendered it useless and left him unable to work the fields for quite some time.

    When Jacques asked his brother what had happened, he explained that it was the Monseigneur who had set the crops on fire. “He demanded,” the brother said softly through his shallow breaths, “that we sell our land to him for an unbelievably cheap price so that he may build himself a second house of luxury for his summer stay. Naturally, I refused. Honestly, I explained to the man in the kindest manner that you and I, my kin, had nothing and nowhere else to go! But something I said must have angered the man, for he lit a branch on the floor with his thick black cigarette and tossed it into the fields.

    “Why!” Jacques had asked in despair, as he sat at his brother’s bed so many nights ago questioning God. “For what reason?”

    The brother shook his head. “After I refused, he simply laughed and said that he didn’t really need the place anyway. I’m sure he must have meant only to litter his cigar on our fields. I’m not sure that he expected to burn down our entire fields. But what has come to pass has come to pass. As that aristocrat said, ‘how unfortunate’ life is for our folk.”

    “Don’t accept it so easily!” Jacques had berated his younger brother. Since that very moment he had resolved to bring the wretched aristocracy down.

    It was mere coincidence that his name happened to be that of every other revolutionary, but at this moment he was quite proud. Having been temporarily disheartened, Jacques spurred himself forward for the sake of his brother. So what if he killed a man? What a man or two to the many the Monseigneur had surely caused the deaths of? Surely the world would be a better place in the end.

    Having made his resolve, Jacques snatched a piece of paper from the dressing table beside him along with a quill in the Monseigneur’s room. How convenient that all he needed was right before him. Dabbing the quill in the bottle of deep red ink beside it, Jacques wrote a note:

    “Drive him fast to his tomb. This from, JACQUES.”

    It was then that he heard the Monseigneur making his way back upstairs. The old fool mumbled to himself as he entered his bedroom and lazily slumped onto his bed.

    Jacques wrinkled his nose and grimaced. Hadn’t the old fool washed himself before bed? Surely the wealthy were able enough to do that much for themselves. “Charles,” he heard the Monseigneur mumble. “What a foolish boy you are.” A moment later the Monseigneur broke out into laughter and soon after he began to snore.

    Jacques bided his time patiently and wrapped the note around the hilt of his knife, which was tucked safely away in his pocket. The Monseigneur had to be asleep for sure when he struck. When Jacques was certain that the Monseigneur was asleep, he crept up from behind the door and dressing table and crawled towards the bed. Silently he crawled atop the bed and settled over the Monseignur, as sly as a predator in the wilderness. He drew his knife out from the pocket of his tattered coat and whispered into the Monseignur’s ear, “How unfortunate.”

    Just as Jacques drove his knife into the Monseignur’s chest, the Monseignur’s eyes shot open. He grasped the knife and struggled to pull it out. Jacques slapped his hand away and let the man’s red blood stain the silk white bed sheets.

    “Who---?” the Monseignur managed to ask as his life escaped him.

    “Jacques,” Jacques replied. “Remember the name.” He beamed a satisfied grin at the dead Monseignur’s wide eyes and made his way back out the window.

    ~ by Irene~