The Celestial City by Emma Orczy

The Celestial City


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subjects: Historical Fiction

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Historical adventure novel set during the French Revolution On the rare occasions when Lady Chartley was “at home,” the whole of the élite of Cannes society and of the neighbourhood got into its motors and drove over to the beautiful Château de Pertuis. These were memorable afternoons. There had only been three in the last two years; but whatever other engagement one had, it had to be put aside for the sake of this one important social event. It would have been terrible indeed to be asked, “Are you going to the Château this afternoon?” and obliged to answer, “No, I have promised to go over to Nice to see So-and-so, an old friend,” etc. Nobody would have believed in the old friend: the conclusion would inevitably be, “Poor things! they haven’t been asked.” And there would be a kind of commiserating little lifting of the eyebrows and a gentle query, “You don’t know the Chartleys, perhaps.” And one either knew the Chartleys or one did not. And that was all there was to it.

324 pages, with a reading time of ~5.0 hours (81,115 words), and first published in 1926. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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It was very cold and very wet; a thin drizzle that was neither rain nor snow, but that partook of the unpleasant qualities of both, defied every overcoat and the stoutest of boots, penetrated to the marrow of every bone, and, incidentally, blurred the ugly outlines of the houses in Shaston Street as well as the tall, grim stone walls against which the man leaned in the intervals of tramping up and down to keep himself warm.

Now and again a passer-by spoke to him:

“Hello, Bill!”

And he, chawing the end of an excellent cigar, would murmur a surly “Hello!” in reply.

An excellent cigar and an expensive one, although he, the man, wore a coat over which age had thrown a greenish hue, trousers that had not seen a tailor’s goose for years, a woollen scarf that hid the absence of a collar, and a battered bowler that would have shamed a street musician.

He had been waiting here for over an hour, sometimes tramping up and down, sometimes leaning against the wall, ever since eight o’clock. She had let him know that it would be eight o’clock, but it was past nine now. The shops in Shaston Street were taking down their shutters, preparing for the business of the day. Through the frosty mist one or two lights blinked like lazy eyes just wakened from sleep.

Those that hailed the man as they passed did not stop to make conversation, though one of them did supplement the “Hello, Bill!” with a sympathetic query: “Been here long?” to which the man vouchsafed no reply. It was pretty obvious that he had been here long, for his coat, the one-time velvet collar of which was turned up to his ears, was covered all over with moisture that glistened in the grey morning light like myriads of minute strass.

It was nearly half-past nine before the big wooden doors swung open. The two bobbies at the gate did no more than glance up and hoist their massive chests by inserting their thumbs more firmly in their belts. From where the man stood he couldn’t see the gates, nor could he hear the heavy doors swinging on their well-oiled hinges, but some mysterious instinct warned him that they were now open and that she would come in a minute or two.

He threw away the stump of his cigar and turned back the collar of his coat. He even set his battered hat at a more jaunty angle, and finally passed his hand meditatively over his shaggy beard.

The next moment she came out, dressed as he had last seen her in that neat navy-blue coat and skirt, the thin stockings and patent shoes and the smart little hat that made her look just like a lady. She carried the small suit-case which he had given her the day she got engaged to Jim.

The two bobbies hardly looked at her. Silly fools! not often did they see such a pretty sight as she presented—even now.

Turning out of the gate, she stopped on the pavement and looked to right and left. Presently she saw the man through the mist and the rain and the cold, and, just for a second, her little face lit up. It had been so very sullen, so rebellious before; and, sure enough, the light faded out of it again in a moment, and left it frowning, with drooping mouth and lips set tightly together.

“Hello, kid!” the man said with a vague attempt at cheerfulness.

“Hello, father!” she gave answer, and then added with the ghost of a smile: “I did not know you with that beard.”

“No?” he rejoined simply.

Silently they walked on, side by side, leaving those awful walls towering behind them. Just as the girl stepped off the pavement before crossing Manthorpe Place, she turned and gave them a last look. An imperceptible shudder went through her slim body.

“Don’t look at ’em, kid,” the man said quietly. “It’s all over now, and we’ll forget all about ’em.”

She gave a dry little laugh:

“Easy for you,” she murmured, “to forget all about ’em.”

“We’ll go to London or somewhere,” the man went on with a vague gesture of his lean, brown hand. “There’s plenty of money now, you know. Quite safe.”

They didn’t speak for some time after that, just walked on, she carrying her suit-case, and he walking with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat, not offering to carry the case for her, though it was obviously heavy and awkward, but, nevertheless, very attentive and watchful over her at the crossings.

When they came to the bridge, she exclaimed:

“Hello! don’t we pay our penny to go over the bridge?”

“No!” the man replied; “they took off the toll last year. You didn’t know, did yer?”

“No,” she replied. “I didn’t know.”

“And you remember Reeson’s flour-mill? He’s had to shift his works, outside the city boundary. The smoke from his chimneys was rotting some of the stonework of the minster. He fought the corporation over it, tooth and nail. But he’s had to go. People say it’s cost him a mint of money, but my belief is that he got compensation and didn’t lose a penny by the transaction.”