A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 3 - 14

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

A STORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

By Charles Dickens

The Track of a Storm

(14)

The Knitting Done

In that same juncture of time when the Fifty-Two awaited their fate

Madame Defarge held darkly ominous council with The Vengeance and

Jacques Three of the Revolutionary Jury. Not in the wine-shop did Madame

Defarge confer with these ministers, but in the shed of the wood-sawyer,

erst a mender of roads. The sawyer himself did not participate in the

conference, but abided at a little distance, like an outer satellite who

was not to speak until required, or to offer an opinion until invited.

“But our Defarge,” said Jacques Three, “is undoubtedly a good

Republican? Eh?”

“There is no better,” the voluble Vengeance protested in her shrill

notes, “in France.”

“Peace, little Vengeance,” said Madame Defarge, laying her hand with

a slight frown on her lieutenant's lips, “hear me speak. My husband,

fellow-citizen, is a good Republican and a bold man; he has deserved

well of the Republic, and possesses its confidence. But my husband has

his weaknesses, and he is so weak as to relent towards this Doctor.”

“It is a great pity,” croaked Jacques Three, dubiously shaking his head,

with his cruel fingers at his hungry mouth; “it is not quite like a good

citizen; it is a thing to regret.”

“See you,” said madame, “I care nothing for this Doctor, I. He may wear

his head or lose it, for any interest I have in him; it is all one to

me. But, the Evremonde people are to be exterminated, and the wife and

child must follow the husband and father.”

“She has a fine head for it,” croaked Jacques Three. “I have seen blue

eyes and golden hair there, and they looked charming when Samson held

them up.” Ogre that he was, he spoke like an epicure.

Madame Defarge cast down her eyes, and reflected a little.

“The child also,” observed Jacques Three, with a meditative enjoyment

of his words, “has golden hair and blue eyes. And we seldom have a child

there. It is a pretty sight!”

“In a word,” said Madame Defarge, coming out of her short abstraction,

“I cannot trust my husband in this matter. Not only do I feel, since

last night, that I dare not confide to him the details of my projects;

but also I feel that if I delay, there is danger of his giving warning,

and then they might escape.”

“That must never be,” croaked Jacques Three; “no one must escape. We

have not half enough as it is. We ought to have six score a day.”

“In a word,” Madame Defarge went on, “my husband has not my reason for

pursuing this family to annihilation, and I have not his reason for

regarding this Doctor with any sensibility. I must act for myself,

therefore. Come hither, little citizen.”

The wood-sawyer, who held her in the respect, and himself in the

submission, of mortal fear, advanced with his hand to his red cap.

“Touching those signals, little citizen,” said Madame Defarge, sternly,

“that she made to the prisoners; you are ready to bear witness to them

this very day?”

“Ay, ay, why not!” cried the sawyer. “Every day, in all weathers, from

two to four, always signalling, sometimes with the little one, sometimes

without. I know what I know. I have seen with my eyes.”

He made all manner of gestures while he spoke, as if in incidental

imitation of some few of the great diversity of signals that he had

never seen.

“Clearly plots,” said Jacques Three. “Transparently!”

“There is no doubt of the Jury?” inquired Madame Defarge, letting her

eyes turn to him with a gloomy smile.

“Rely upon the patriotic Jury, dear citizeness. I answer for my

fellow-Jurymen.”

“Now, let me see,” said Madame Defarge, pondering again. “Yet once more!

Can I spare this Doctor to my husband? I have no feeling either way. Can

I spare him?”

“He would count as one head,” observed Jacques Three, in a low voice.

“We really have not heads enough; it would be a pity, I think.”

“He was signalling with her when I saw her,” argued Madame Defarge; “I

cannot speak of one without the other; and I must not be silent, and

trust the case wholly to him, this little citizen here. For, I am not a

bad witness.”

The Vengeance and Jacques Three vied with each other in their fervent

protestations that she was the most admirable and marvellous of

witnesses. The little citizen, not to be outdone, declared her to be a

celestial witness.

“He must take his chance,” said Madame Defarge. “No, I cannot spare

him! You are engaged at three o'clock; you are going to see the batch of

to-day executed.--You?”

The question was addressed to the wood-sawyer, who hurriedly replied in

the affirmative: seizing the occasion to add that he was the most ardent

of Republicans, and that he would be in effect the most desolate of

Republicans, if anything prevented him from enjoying the pleasure of

smoking his afternoon pipe in the contemplation of the droll national

barber. He was so very demonstrative herein, that he might have been

suspected (perhaps was, by the dark eyes that looked contemptuously at

him out of Madame Defarge's head) of having his small individual fears

for his own personal safety, every hour in the day.

“I,” said madame, “am equally engaged at the same place. After it is

over--say at eight to-night--come you to me, in Saint Antoine, and we

will give information against these people at my Section.”

The wood-sawyer said he would be proud and flattered to attend the

citizeness. The citizeness looking at him, he became embarrassed, evaded

her glance as a small dog would have done, retreated among his wood, and

hid his confusion over the handle of his saw.

Madame Defarge beckoned the Juryman and The Vengeance a little nearer to

the door, and there expounded her further views to them thus:

“She will now be at home, awaiting the moment of his death. She will

be mourning and grieving. She will be in a state of mind to impeach the

justice of the Republic. She will be full of sympathy with its enemies.

I will go to her.”

“What an admirable woman; what an adorable woman!” exclaimed Jacques

Three, rapturously. “Ah, my cherished!” cried The Vengeance; and

embraced her.

“Take you my knitting,” said Madame Defarge, placing it in her

lieutenant's hands, “and have it ready for me in my usual seat. Keep

me my usual chair. Go you there, straight, for there will probably be a

greater concourse than usual, to-day.”

“I willingly obey the orders of my Chief,” said The Vengeance with

alacrity, and kissing her cheek. “You will not be late?”

“I shall be there before the commencement.”

“And before the tumbrils arrive. Be sure you are there, my soul,” said

The Vengeance, calling after her, for she had already turned into the

street, “before the tumbrils arrive!”

Madame Defarge slightly waved her hand, to imply that she heard, and

might be relied upon to arrive in good time, and so went through the

mud, and round the corner of the prison wall. The Vengeance and the

Juryman, looking after her as she walked away, were highly appreciative

of her fine figure, and her superb moral endowments.

There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a dreadfully

disfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more to be dreaded

than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along the streets. Of a

strong and fearless character, of shrewd sense and readiness, of great

determination, of that kind of beauty which not only seems to impart

to its possessor firmness and animosity, but to strike into others an

instinctive recognition of those qualities; the troubled time would have

heaved her up, under any circumstances. But, imbued from her childhood

with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class,

opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without

pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of

her.

It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for the sins of

his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her, that

his wife was to be made a widow and his daughter an orphan; that was

insufficient punishment, because they were her natural enemies and

her prey, and as such had no right to live. To appeal to her, was made

hopeless by her having no sense of pity, even for herself. If she had

been laid low in the streets, in any of the many encounters in which

she had been engaged, she would not have pitied herself; nor, if she had

been ordered to the axe to-morrow, would she have gone to it with any

softer feeling than a fierce desire to change places with the man who

sent her there.

Such a heart Madame Defarge carried under her rough robe. Carelessly

worn, it was a becoming robe enough, in a certain weird way, and her

dark hair looked rich under her coarse red cap. Lying hidden in her

bosom, was a loaded pistol. Lying hidden at her waist, was a sharpened

dagger. Thus accoutred, and walking with the confident tread of such

a character, and with the supple freedom of a woman who had habitually

walked in her girlhood, bare-foot and bare-legged, on the brown

sea-sand, Madame Defarge took her way along the streets.

Now, when the journey of the travelling coach, at that very moment

waiting for the completion of its load, had been planned out last night,

the difficulty of taking Miss Pross in it had much engaged Mr. Lorry's

attention. It was not merely desirable to avoid overloading the coach,

but it was of the highest importance that the time occupied in examining

it and its passengers, should be reduced to the utmost; since their

escape might depend on the saving of only a few seconds here and there.

Finally, he had proposed, after anxious consideration, that Miss Pross

and Jerry, who were at liberty to leave the city, should leave it at

three o'clock in the lightest-wheeled conveyance known to that period.

Unencumbered with luggage, they would soon overtake the coach, and,

passing it and preceding it on the road, would order its horses in

advance, and greatly facilitate its progress during the precious hours

of the night, when delay was the most to be dreaded.

Seeing in this arrangement the hope of rendering real service in that

pressing emergency, Miss Pross hailed it with joy. She and Jerry had

beheld the coach start, had known who it was that Solomon brought, had

passed some ten minutes in tortures of suspense, and were now concluding

their arrangements to follow the coach, even as Madame Defarge,

taking her way through the streets, now drew nearer and nearer to the

else-deserted lodging in which they held their consultation.

“Now what do you think, Mr. Cruncher,” said Miss Pross, whose agitation

was so great that she could hardly speak, or stand, or move, or live:

“what do you think of our not starting from this courtyard? Another

carriage having already gone from here to-day, it might awaken

suspicion.”

“My opinion, miss,” returned Mr. Cruncher, “is as you're right. Likewise

wot I'll stand by you, right or wrong.”

“I am so distracted with fear and hope for our precious creatures,” said

Miss Pross, wildly crying, “that I am incapable of forming any plan. Are

_you_ capable of forming any plan, my dear good Mr. Cruncher?”

“Respectin' a future spear o' life, miss,” returned Mr. Cruncher, “I

hope so. Respectin' any present use o' this here blessed old head o'

mine, I think not. Would you do me the favour, miss, to take notice o'

two promises and wows wot it is my wishes fur to record in this here

crisis?”

“Oh, for gracious sake!” cried Miss Pross, still wildly crying, “record

them at once, and get them out of the way, like an excellent man.”

“First,” said Mr. Cruncher, who was all in a tremble, and who spoke with

an ashy and solemn visage, “them poor things well out o' this, never no

more will I do it, never no more!”

“I am quite sure, Mr. Cruncher,” returned Miss Pross, “that you

never will do it again, whatever it is, and I beg you not to think it

necessary to mention more particularly what it is.”

“No, miss,” returned Jerry, “it shall not be named to you. Second: them

poor things well out o' this, and never no more will I interfere with

Mrs. Cruncher's flopping, never no more!”

“Whatever housekeeping arrangement that may be,” said Miss Pross,

striving to dry her eyes and compose herself, “I have no doubt it

is best that Mrs. Cruncher should have it entirely under her own

superintendence.--O my poor darlings!”

“I go so far as to say, miss, moreover,” proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with a

most alarming tendency to hold forth as from a pulpit--“and let my words

be took down and took to Mrs. Cruncher through yourself--that wot my

opinions respectin' flopping has undergone a change, and that wot I only

hope with all my heart as Mrs. Cruncher may be a flopping at the present

time.”

“There, there, there! I hope she is, my dear man,” cried the distracted

Miss Pross, “and I hope she finds it answering her expectations.”

“Forbid it,” proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with additional solemnity,

additional slowness, and additional tendency to hold forth and hold

out, “as anything wot I have ever said or done should be wisited on my

earnest wishes for them poor creeturs now! Forbid it as we shouldn't all

flop (if it was anyways conwenient) to get 'em out o' this here dismal

risk! Forbid it, miss! Wot I say, for-_bid_ it!” This was Mr. Cruncher's

conclusion after a protracted but vain endeavour to find a better one.

And still Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came

nearer and nearer.

“If we ever get back to our native land,” said Miss Pross, “you may rely

upon my telling Mrs. Cruncher as much as I may be able to remember and

understand of what you have so impressively said; and at all events

you may be sure that I shall bear witness to your being thoroughly in

earnest at this dreadful time. Now, pray let us think! My esteemed Mr.

Cruncher, let us think!”

Still, Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came nearer

and nearer.

“If you were to go before,” said Miss Pross, “and stop the vehicle and

horses from coming here, and were to wait somewhere for me; wouldn't

that be best?”

Mr. Cruncher thought it might be best.

“Where could you wait for me?” asked Miss Pross.

Mr. Cruncher was so bewildered that he could think of no locality but

Temple Bar. Alas! Temple Bar was hundreds of miles away, and Madame

Defarge was drawing very near indeed.

“By the cathedral door,” said Miss Pross. “Would it be much out of

the way, to take me in, near the great cathedral door between the two

towers?”

“No, miss,” answered Mr. Cruncher.

“Then, like the best of men,” said Miss Pross, “go to the posting-house

straight, and make that change.”

“I am doubtful,” said Mr. Cruncher, hesitating and shaking his head,

“about leaving of you, you see. We don't know what may happen.”

“Heaven knows we don't,” returned Miss Pross, “but have no fear for me.

Take me in at the cathedral, at Three o'Clock, or as near it as you can,

and I am sure it will be better than our going from here. I feel certain

of it. There! Bless you, Mr. Cruncher! Think-not of me, but of the lives

that may depend on both of us!”

This exordium, and Miss Pross's two hands in quite agonised entreaty

clasping his, decided Mr. Cruncher. With an encouraging nod or two, he

immediately went out to alter the arrangements, and left her by herself

to follow as she had proposed.

The having originated a precaution which was already in course of

execution, was a great relief to Miss Pross. The necessity of composing

her appearance so that it should attract no special notice in the

streets, was another relief. She looked at her watch, and it was twenty

minutes past two. She had no time to lose, but must get ready at once.

Afraid, in her extreme perturbation, of the loneliness of the deserted

rooms, and of half-imagined faces peeping from behind every open door

in them, Miss Pross got a basin of cold water and began laving her eyes,

which were swollen and red. Haunted by her feverish apprehensions, she

could not bear to have her sight obscured for a minute at a time by the

dripping water, but constantly paused and looked round to see that there

was no one watching her. In one of those pauses she recoiled and cried

out, for she saw a figure standing in the room.

The basin fell to the ground broken, and the water flowed to the feet of

Madame Defarge. By strange stern ways, and through much staining blood,

those feet had come to meet that water.

Madame Defarge looked coldly at her, and said, “The wife of Evremonde;

where is she?”

It flashed upon Miss Pross's mind that the doors were all standing open,

and would suggest the flight. Her first act was to shut them. There were

four in the room, and she shut them all. She then placed herself before

the door of the chamber which Lucie had occupied.

Madame Defarge's dark eyes followed her through this rapid movement,

and rested on her when it was finished. Miss Pross had nothing beautiful

about her; years had not tamed the wildness, or softened the grimness,

of her appearance; but, she too was a determined woman in her different

way, and she measured Madame Defarge with her eyes, every inch.

“You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer,” said Miss

Pross, in her breathing. “Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of

me. I am an Englishwoman.”

Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something of

Miss Pross's own perception that they two were at bay. She saw a tight,

hard, wiry woman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in the same figure a

woman with a strong hand, in the years gone by. She knew full well that

Miss Pross was the family's devoted friend; Miss Pross knew full well

that Madame Defarge was the family's malevolent enemy.

“On my way yonder,” said Madame Defarge, with a slight movement of

her hand towards the fatal spot, “where they reserve my chair and my

knitting for me, I am come to make my compliments to her in passing. I

wish to see her.”

“I know that your intentions are evil,” said Miss Pross, “and you may

depend upon it, I'll hold my own against them.”

Each spoke in her own language; neither understood the other's words;

both were very watchful, and intent to deduce from look and manner, what

the unintelligible words meant.

“It will do her no good to keep herself concealed from me at this

moment,” said Madame Defarge. “Good patriots will know what that means.

Let me see her. Go tell her that I wish to see her. Do you hear?”

“If those eyes of yours were bed-winches,” returned Miss Pross, “and I

was an English four-poster, they shouldn't loose a splinter of me. No,

you wicked foreign woman; I am your match.”

Madame Defarge was not likely to follow these idiomatic remarks in

detail; but, she so far understood them as to perceive that she was set

at naught.

“Woman imbecile and pig-like!” said Madame Defarge, frowning. “I take no

answer from you. I demand to see her. Either tell her that I demand

to see her, or stand out of the way of the door and let me go to her!”

This, with an angry explanatory wave of her right arm.

“I little thought,” said Miss Pross, “that I should ever want to

understand your nonsensical language; but I would give all I have,

except the clothes I wear, to know whether you suspect the truth, or any

part of it.”

Neither of them for a single moment released the other's eyes. Madame

Defarge had not moved from the spot where she stood when Miss Pross

first became aware of her; but, she now advanced one step.

“I am a Briton,” said Miss Pross, “I am desperate. I don't care an

English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the

greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that

dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!”

Thus Miss Pross, with a shake of her head and a flash of her eyes

between every rapid sentence, and every rapid sentence a whole breath.

Thus Miss Pross, who had never struck a blow in her life.

But, her courage was of that emotional nature that it brought the

irrepressible tears into her eyes. This was a courage that Madame

Defarge so little comprehended as to mistake for weakness. “Ha, ha!” she

laughed, “you poor wretch! What are you worth! I address myself to that

Doctor.” Then she raised her voice and called out, “Citizen Doctor! Wife

of Evremonde! Child of Evremonde! Any person but this miserable fool,

answer the Citizeness Defarge!”

Perhaps the following silence, perhaps some latent disclosure in the

expression of Miss Pross's face, perhaps a sudden misgiving apart from

either suggestion, whispered to Madame Defarge that they were gone.

Three of the doors she opened swiftly, and looked in.

“Those rooms are all in disorder, there has been hurried packing, there

are odds and ends upon the ground. There is no one in that room behind

you! Let me look.”

“Never!” said Miss Pross, who understood the request as perfectly as

Madame Defarge understood the answer.

“If they are not in that room, they are gone, and can be pursued and

brought back,” said Madame Defarge to herself.

“As long as you don't know whether they are in that room or not, you are

uncertain what to do,” said Miss Pross to herself; “and you shall not

know that, if I can prevent your knowing it; and know that, or not know

that, you shall not leave here while I can hold you.”

“I have been in the streets from the first, nothing has stopped me,

I will tear you to pieces, but I will have you from that door,” said

Madame Defarge.

“We are alone at the top of a high house in a solitary courtyard, we are

not likely to be heard, and I pray for bodily strength to keep you here,

while every minute you are here is worth a hundred thousand guineas to

my darling,” said Miss Pross.

Madame Defarge made at the door. Miss Pross, on the instinct of the

moment, seized her round the waist in both her arms, and held her tight.

It was in vain for Madame Defarge to struggle and to strike; Miss Pross,

with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate,

clasped her tight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle

that they had. The two hands of Madame Defarge buffeted and tore her

face; but, Miss Pross, with her head down, held her round the waist, and

clung to her with more than the hold of a drowning woman.

Soon, Madame Defarge's hands ceased to strike, and felt at her encircled

waist. “It is under my arm,” said Miss Pross, in smothered tones, “you

shall not draw it. I am stronger than you, I bless Heaven for it. I hold

you till one or other of us faints or dies!”

Madame Defarge's hands were at her bosom. Miss Pross looked up, saw

what it was, struck at it, struck out a flash and a crash, and stood

alone--blinded with smoke.

All this was in a second. As the smoke cleared, leaving an awful

stillness, it passed out on the air, like the soul of the furious woman

whose body lay lifeless on the ground.

In the first fright and horror of her situation, Miss Pross passed the

body as far from it as she could, and ran down the stairs to call for

fruitless help. Happily, she bethought herself of the consequences of

what she did, in time to check herself and go back. It was dreadful to

go in at the door again; but, she did go in, and even went near it, to

get the bonnet and other things that she must wear. These she put on,

out on the staircase, first shutting and locking the door and taking

away the key. She then sat down on the stairs a few moments to breathe

and to cry, and then got up and hurried away.

By good fortune she had a veil on her bonnet, or she could hardly have

gone along the streets without being stopped. By good fortune, too, she

was naturally so peculiar in appearance as not to show disfigurement

like any other woman. She needed both advantages, for the marks of

gripping fingers were deep in her face, and her hair was torn, and her

dress (hastily composed with unsteady hands) was clutched and dragged a

hundred ways.

In crossing the bridge, she dropped the door key in the river. Arriving

at the cathedral some few minutes before her escort, and waiting there,

she thought, what if the key were already taken in a net, what if

it were identified, what if the door were opened and the remains

discovered, what if she were stopped at the gate, sent to prison, and

charged with murder! In the midst of these fluttering thoughts, the

escort appeared, took her in, and took her away.

“Is there any noise in the streets?” she asked him.

“The usual noises,” Mr. Cruncher replied; and looked surprised by the

question and by her aspect.

“I don't hear you,” said Miss Pross. “What do you say?”

It was in vain for Mr. Cruncher to repeat what he said; Miss Pross could

not hear him. “So I'll nod my head,” thought Mr. Cruncher, amazed, “at

all events she'll see that.” And she did.

“Is there any noise in the streets now?” asked Miss Pross again,

presently.

Again Mr. Cruncher nodded his head.

“I don't hear it.”

“Gone deaf in an hour?” said Mr. Cruncher, ruminating, with his mind

much disturbed; “wot's come to her?”

“I feel,” said Miss Pross, “as if there had been a flash and a crash,

and that crash was the last thing I should ever hear in this life.”

“Blest if she ain't in a queer condition!” said Mr. Cruncher, more and

more disturbed. “Wot can she have been a takin', to keep her courage up?

Hark! There's the roll of them dreadful carts! You can hear that, miss?”

“I can hear,” said Miss Pross, seeing that he spoke to her, “nothing. O,

my good man, there was first a great crash, and then a great stillness,

and that stillness seems to be fixed and unchangeable, never to be

broken any more as long as my life lasts.”

“If she don't hear the roll of those dreadful carts, now very nigh their

journey's end,” said Mr. Cruncher, glancing over his shoulder, “it's my

opinion that indeed she never will hear anything else in this world.”

And indeed she never did.

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