Books by Eileen Granfors
The story behind the morose hero of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney's Story is a book I promised my students that I would write. And now I have! Available in paperback or Kindle.
Ad copy: Sydney Carton is one of Dickens' most memorable heroes, a man who died for the love of a woman he could never have. His morose presence is felt throughout A Tale of Two Cities.
Eileen Granfors has forged a prequel to tell Sydney's Story, with each incident in his life before Tale and the fateful meeting with Lucie Manette Darnay pushing him another step closer to the guillotine.
“The powerful experiences that molded Sydney’s character and launched him on his collision course with destiny. This prequel is a must read for literary fiction fans.”
RJ McDonnell, author of the Rock ‘n Roll Mysteries, The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death
Prologue, December, Paris, 1793
Number twenty-three Sydney Carton ascended the final stair to the executioner’s platform in the Place de la Concorde. The Parisians roared, reminding Sydney of the crash of breakers against Calais’s rocky shore, Dover’s white cliffs radiant across the choppy channel. En masse, these people looked something like the sea, a sea rippling with colors, blue, red, white, brown. He blinked in the cold, dazzling December sun, the light as clear as the glowing future awaiting precious Lucie and her family. In the guise of Charles Evremonde Darnay, he spoke to his captors and the swirling mob about the far better things he envisioned from this day of death.
Sydney placed his neck across the guillotine’s crimson-stained edge, the wood slick with gobs of warm blood from the twenty-two before him that day. He felt neither remorse nor self-pity. His life would turn in an instant, away from the twisted regret of his sad youth and the dissipated drunkenness of his early adulthood. His hands tied behind him, his right index finger tracing the left, a silken golden hair still wound on his ring finger. The blade of the guillotine creaked upward, even as his heart soared with joy. The crowd chanted “Death! Down! Down with Evremonde! Liberty! Fraternity! Death!” In the seconds before blade dropped, Sydney breathed heavily and knew that until this choice of death, he had not lived. Others would call him a hero. He would call himself redeemed by the golden rays of a pure love.
“. . .the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.”
Charles Dickens of Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities
Chapter One, London, 1757
The leased house in London echoed with emptiness. This first of Sydney’s life memories battered his spirit: his father’s wrath, his mother’s fear, his own sense of loneliness on the day his brother went missing in Mayfield, west of Soho. He had longed for their country house in Shropshire, the laughing comfort of the green hills and grazing sheep. Instead, in the city, it was soot and sewage and short tempers.
Two of the family’s maids leaned, moaning and weeping, against the gabled entryway. At the approach of the constable and his men, they skulked back inside, each glancing at the master of the house, who stared out the cross-paned front window. His wife lay draped across several pillows, overcome, on the settee. Head Butler Benjamin led the sweating, pimpled constable into the parlor.
“Constable Brighton, at your service, Mr. Carton,” he said, removing his cap and inclining a brief bow. Brighton’s Adam’s apple quavered on his long neck.
Mr. Carton turned from the window, checking his vest pocket time piece. “Thank you, Brighton, for your ready response. We will pay all fees necessary to your search and a goodly reward. Our son is a dark-haired bull dog of a boy, some, some eight years of age, I believe?” Mr. Carton looked towards the maids for affirmation. “He said he was going to the stable at the time he disappeared. Our younger son is here, with his mother as always.” His low, genteel voice emphasized mother and always. Sydney, at three, was already a disappointment, brooding and shy, mute as the village idiot. David Carton hoped this morning’s fuss was much ado about nothing. His elder son was a true lad, a strong lad, and like all boys had an inclination to traipse into the streets, escaping his tutors and nursemaids.
The maids pulled back from their cluster to lean against the outside of the parlor door. Carton continued, “We have searched the stable, the house and the neighborhood. The maids fear he has been snatched by the Huguenots, who abound nearby.”
Talk of the French community sent Opal Carton into a new wave of sobs that broke out from under her crocheted throw on the settee. She pulled herself upright. Her blue eyes sparked, wild and reddened. Sydney peeked out from the other end of the blanket. Concentrating, he sucked noisily on a sugar sop, his tiny face pale, his hands curled around the sop like a kitten’s paws.
“Sir, Webster is eight, but such a smart boy.” Opal stopped to control her gasping sobs and to pull Sydney into her lap where he burrowed against the tight stays of her ample breasts. “Webbie knows his letters, numbers, and, and. . . Latin and Greek. He can recite the monarchy from Henry II on.” Her light voice reached a higher octave as she listed each of Webster’s accomplishments. She reached for her handkerchief and held it first to her flushed forehead and then dabbed at Sydney’s drool. “His portrait will help you, it’s here in my locket. It was finished only last week.” Her trembling fingers fumbled with the locket’s chain. In one swift jerk, Mr. Carton yanked it from his wife’s neck, breaking the clasp. She cried out. Sydney reached up and patted his mother’s cheeks, the sugar sop sliding from his lips.
The maids had stopped their crying, exchanging knowing glances in the code of servant girls everywhere. Angie murmured to the others, “Spoiled rotten, that one. Not like Sydney. The mothers of these children . . . tsk. What can they do?”
Flora agreed and quelled her tears. “Aye. Such a bully. Think how he talks to us, Angie. What if Mr. Carton gives us the boot? It weren’t really our fault the scamp run off again.” Angie laid a comforting arm across Flora’s shoulders, knowing the elder, fatter Flora was in more danger of a firing than she, for Mr. Carton quite fancied Angie’s little waist and girlish giggles.
Constable Brighton studied the small portrait. He appraised the child’s merry, wide blue eyes, long lashes, rosy lips. Webster’s hair had not yet been cut, hanging in dark ringlets to his velvet-covered shoulders. Had he been thinner, he would have certainly favored his mother. He was truly a stout bull dog of a boy. “My men and I will conduct a thorough search. If we might trouble you, Sir, have your staff go through the house and stables again, Sir. Little boys are wont to mischief, eh? It may be only that.” He cupped his cleft chin in his hand, a dirty fingernail digging at a pimple in the notch. “Then again, if he wandered so far as the merchants’ district or into Hyde Park or further down Oxford Street, well, it’s no help to think of such things.”
He marched to the door and summoned his crew. He showed them the tiny portrait, raising his other hand to chest-height, and then pointed at himself and towards Hyde Park. He talked at more length to the searchers, directing them off to Drury Lane, the marketplace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. In short order, each of the constable’s men strode off, all making the chest-high motion as they spoke to passersby.
Angie took Flora’s arm. They hurried past Benjamin’s scowl. They tossed linens about in the bedrooms, flung open the wardrobes, and dug into trunks in the dusty attic.Benjamin poked about the topiary in the formal garden and went so far as to muddy his shiny boots among the sweet-smelling herbs. Lucky, he thought, that they had not land enough here in the city to construct a maze as the country gentry did. Cook Maisie turned the pantry upside down with a great crashing of pots and loud invocations of the Lord’s name.
Opal reached out for her husband’s hand, but he did not see her imploring his help. She staggered to her feet, her tall form swaying like a weeping willow. “By your leave, David,” she said, “I’ll write letters to alert our friends. Perhaps we can send a man out to deliver the notes?”
David’s face creased with a frown, and he wiped away the sweat from under the edge of his powdered wig. “You want to tell the world of your lapses, your leniencies?” said David. “The sooner we find him, the less the search will cost us. Damn the fuss and bother of coddled children. And their mothers.” Adjusting his tricorn and the black ribbon on his clubbed wig, he slammed the front door, walking as far as his property’s iron gate to gaze up and down the street as if he were the lodestone magnet that would draw his son home safely.
John Brighton pushed his way through the Sunday crowds at Hyde Park. He stopped to question a vendor as he barked out the healing properties of his syllabub, a mixture of cream curdled with wine. Another leathery-faced proprietor spat upon his vegetable products, rubbed them shiny behind his back, and offered to boil them in a pot of dubious-smelling broth. “Boiled carrots,” he shouted, rubbing a carrot in a salacious way. “Or try a turnip! They work wonders in the right places!” He waggled two turnips against his chest. In answer to Brighton’s questions, the green grocer acknowledged, “Aye, a little lad bought a carrot, just a while ago.”
As John surveyed the downhill approach to the lake, he wished he could doff his hot felt hat and tight breeches and wade in the water to waist deep, dip among the swans. “God’s blood, wouldn’t it be lovely to float like that?” he said to himself. His mother had taught him that swimming and indeed bathing were bad for one’s health, God bless her departed soul. John ogled the fine ladies in their wide hoops and tight satin bodices in shades of colors he could not name. “Thank ye, Lord, that I’m not a woman nor a rich man neither though I wouldn’t mind helping to cool off one of the fine ladies!” He grinned. “Only to warm her up again, I would indeed.”
A pack of young boys galloped by him, and John’s hopes rose. They called out names of horses as if they were at The Jockey Club Races. John followed them until he was sure: Webster was not among them. He strolled on. Young dandies played draughts and old men, chess. Ladies fanned, musicians strummed, and had it not been for the heat and the lost child, John would have marveled at the fineness of the day, a rare treat for a Londoner.
He reached the lake side, water lapping against the pebbled shore. It smelled faintly of lilies and of something swampy. He looked down: swan shit in the grass. He was tempted to pull off his buckled shoes if only to cool his feet or remove his cap and douse his head. Shielding his eyes with his hand, he squinted to the right. A dozen boys played tag along the shore line, and he checked the small portrait in his pocket.
A clamor arose outside the Serpentine, the lake between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, to his left. Striding into the crowd, he grinned at a Punch and Judy show in progress, the puppets beating one another with bats. He wanted to stop and laugh, but in the front row, he spotted a fair-skinned, dark-haired child in a blue frock coat. The boy clapped his hands and sang along with the puppets. Grass stains streaked his satin trousers.
“That’s him!” Edmond exclaimed, as the laughter around him swelled. He moved like a hunting dog to his quarry, without so much as a by your pardon to the gentry he shouldered past.
John reached out for the boy, calling “Webster?” The child turned towards him, eyes shifting between the show and the man. “Webster?” he repeated The child pouted, said nothing, and as quick as a barn mouse, he dashed through the gate, disappearing among the wooden wheels of waiting carriages and the snorting, patient horses.
Swearing a new oath, John followed, stopping to peer under the horses’ hot, heaving bellies for a glimpse of the blue coat.Horse sweat clung to his neck and manure to his heels But for the promised reward money, he would have found his situation comical. He patted a dappled gelding as he moved behind it, catching sight of Webster two carriages away. John called out for help,“The child, catch the child!” Bored groomsmen looked up and about. No one joined the chase. “There’s money, a reward,” shouted John, impelling one and then another of the groomsmen to hop from their coach’s boot.
Webster whirled to loose the reins of a tethered Cleveland bay mare. He patted her neck and offered her a bite of carrot.With the bay thus distractedly chomping the treat, Webster gripped her braided black mane and scrambled to lift himself onto her back. John charged forward to grab the boy’s leg.
Webster shouted “Leave me be, you ruffian!” His piercing voice spooked the mare. She reared in her traces, tossing John to the ground. Her hooves came down with a crack as she reared and struck, reared and struck.
The ground smelled of loam and horses. John raised himself on his bruised elbows and gasped at the pain from his pulverized left leg. A quiet crowd watched as a man with a satchel came forward. “Je suis un medecin,” he called, causing the crowd to buzz with remarks about damn French dogs.
A few ladies prayed, and a gentleman tossed in another imprecation, “Before there was a God to believe in, there were Frenchmen to damn to hell.” He waited for appreciation of his wit, and was rewarded when the lady holding his arm tittered and snapped her fan against his shoulder.
A groomsman calmed the bay. In the saddle, Webster sat solemnly, his fat cheeks pushing his eyes into pig-like slits, his jaw opened as wide as that of a feeding serpent’s.
Chapter 2: London, 1765
Sydney kicked at the gravel along the garden walkway as his mother toted Ivy, his one-year-old sister. Opal named the flowers, lavender, rose, peony. Ivy repeated the sounds, “La-la, ro,” and Opal nuzzled the baby’s red curls. Sydney was eight now, but still favored his mother’s company or that of Mr. Brighton.
Brighton had spent weeks recovering from his leg amputation, cared for by Angie on the Carton household staff. Brighton had been lucky that the French doctor knew the techniques of tourniqueting the femoral artery. A less learned man might have let him bleed out. The French doctor warned the Cartons that Brighton might not survive because of shock, blood loss, and the worst threat, gangrene. Angie took on the task of sniffing Brighton’s wound daily. After the sniffing, Angie rinsed the stump in distilled lemon balm and then applied a cabbage and sorrel poultice Maisie concocted as the stump healed. Brighton’s youth – he had been twenty-four when injured –his optimism, Angie’s constant care, pulled him back to health. Now he was given work for the Cartons, clomping about outdoors with his crutch, using the wheelbarrow and the broom and the shovel. He missed Angie’s daily ministrations, comely, affectionate girl that she was.
Sydney’s days no longer revolved around avoiding Webster. Webster, gone for seven months already, was off to Shrewsbury School. Sydney hoped Webster’s schoolmates were bigger, smarter, and tougher than Webster, but according to his letters, Webster still behaved like a little rogue, sending his father into paroxysms of chuckles. David retold the tales of Webster’s taking firsts in Latin and Greek and of tying ducks to their opponents’ scull benches before the rowing races. At dinners with his father’s chums and their chattering wives, Webster was still ever the star. His mother smiled too, often with tears dimming her eyes, missing Webster and the laughter his pranks brought the household.
Brighton backed up from the yard’s offal pit.
“You might want to take the little lass in, Mrs. Carton. This load is pungent; it will make your noses bloom!” He positioned his crutch under his left arm, pushing the wheel barrow forward.
“I’ll help you,” Sydney called.
“You’ve a good heart,” said Brighton.
Together, the two worked the wheel barrow. Sydney ran back to the pit for a shovel, and Brighton lowered himself to the ground, the left leg’s stump straight and small. He troweled and mounded the fertilizer into the flower beds, bees buzzing a May morning’s song.
“Tell me again how you lost your leg, Brighton.”
“Well, Sydney, you must know the story by heart by now,” John smiled, for he changed the story each time Sydney asked. It was a game between them.
“You were chased by cannibals in Zanzibar.”
“Zanzibar, that’s right! But it weren’t the cannibals what got my leg. Have I told you how I came to be marooned there?” Sydney shook his head and waited, scooping dirt though his fingers.
“My shipmates didn’t much care for my anti-slavery talk. When I found out that the ship was a slaver, I asked the captain to leave me at the next port. He didn’t wait for safe harbor. He tossed me overboard, right into the mouth of a shark! Its teeth were this big.” He held his thumb and forefinger apart. “The water thrashed with sharks and sharks and sharks, all around me. But I fought them off, pow on the nose, and wham across the fins! Then I drifted on the tide to Zanzibar where one of those Mussleman doctors saved my life.”
“What’s a shark? Draw me a shark, Brighton. How big?”
Brighton stretched his arms into a ten-foot span, and Sydney gasped appropriately. He said, “I’ll do that picture, but let’s finish this task first,” as a carriage rattled to a stop in front of the house. Mr. Carton alighted from it, followed by a comrade of the law and courts. They gestured as they talked until Mr. Carton stopped to frown as he caught sight of Sydney in the garden.
He called into the house, “Flora, two glasses of port, please. Excuse me, a moment, Henry.” David strode to the mud room near the garden, almost crushing Opal as she entered with Ivy. The baby stretched her arms out for her father, who looked beyond her to the garden. “Must I remind you eternally, Opal, that the baby is too fair to be in the sun. You’ll ruin her complexion, her chances for a match. Where is the baby’s nurse? Confound you and your readings of John Locke! And Sydney’s out there again, digging in the dirt like a commoner. Opal, if you will not control the mouse, how can you raise a lion?” She did not answer, and he bellowed out the opened door.
“Sydney, report to me now, young sir.”
Brighton brushed the dirt off Sydney’s britches. “Sydney. Best be off with you.”
“I wish you were my father, Mr. Brighton.”
“Me? Your father? You have a fine father.”
“But I’m nothing to him. I’m not like Webster.”
“Well, then, study harder. You’re a smart lad too.” Brighton shook his head as he heard Mr. Carton loudly belittling his son. It made his heart heavy to know how right Sydney was. But the Cartons had been good to him. It wasn’t his place to interfere. And what did John know of fathers, his having died of the ague when John was still in swaddling clothes?