A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 21 in English Moral Stories by Charles Dickens books and stories PDF | A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 21




By Charles Dickens

The Golden Thread


Echoing Footsteps

A wonderful corner for echoes, it has been remarked, that corner where

the Doctor lived. Ever busily winding the golden thread which bound

her husband, and her father, and herself, and her old directress and

companion, in a life of quiet bliss, Lucie sat in the still house in

the tranquilly resounding corner, listening to the echoing footsteps of


At first, there were times, though she was a perfectly happy young wife,

when her work would slowly fall from her hands, and her eyes would be

dimmed. For, there was something coming in the echoes, something light,

afar off, and scarcely audible yet, that stirred her heart too much.

Fluttering hopes and doubts--hopes, of a love as yet unknown to her:

doubts, of her remaining upon earth, to enjoy that new delight--divided

her breast. Among the echoes then, there would arise the sound of

footsteps at her own early grave; and thoughts of the husband who would

be left so desolate, and who would mourn for her so much, swelled to her

eyes, and broke like waves.

That time passed, and her little Lucie lay on her bosom. Then, among the

advancing echoes, there was the tread of her tiny feet and the sound of

her prattling words. Let greater echoes resound as they would, the young

mother at the cradle side could always hear those coming. They came, and

the shady house was sunny with a child's laugh, and the Divine friend of

children, to whom in her trouble she had confided hers, seemed to take

her child in his arms, as He took the child of old, and made it a sacred

joy to her.

Ever busily winding the golden thread that bound them all together,

weaving the service of her happy influence through the tissue of all

their lives, and making it predominate nowhere, Lucie heard in the

echoes of years none but friendly and soothing sounds. Her husband's

step was strong and prosperous among them; her father's firm and equal.

Lo, Miss Pross, in harness of string, awakening the echoes, as an

unruly charger, whip-corrected, snorting and pawing the earth under the

plane-tree in the garden!

Even when there were sounds of sorrow among the rest, they were not

harsh nor cruel. Even when golden hair, like her own, lay in a halo on a

pillow round the worn face of a little boy, and he said, with a radiant

smile, “Dear papa and mamma, I am very sorry to leave you both, and to

leave my pretty sister; but I am called, and I must go!” those were not

tears all of agony that wetted his young mother's cheek, as the spirit

departed from her embrace that had been entrusted to it. Suffer them and

forbid them not. They see my Father's face. O Father, blessed words!

Thus, the rustling of an Angel's wings got blended with the other

echoes, and they were not wholly of earth, but had in them that breath

of Heaven. Sighs of the winds that blew over a little garden-tomb were

mingled with them also, and both were audible to Lucie, in a hushed

murmur--like the breathing of a summer sea asleep upon a sandy shore--as

the little Lucie, comically studious at the task of the morning, or

dressing a doll at her mother's footstool, chattered in the tongues of

the Two Cities that were blended in her life.

The Echoes rarely answered to the actual tread of Sydney Carton. Some

half-dozen times a year, at most, he claimed his privilege of coming in

uninvited, and would sit among them through the evening, as he had once

done often. He never came there heated with wine. And one other thing

regarding him was whispered in the echoes, which has been whispered by

all true echoes for ages and ages.

No man ever really loved a woman, lost her, and knew her with a

blameless though an unchanged mind, when she was a wife and a mother,

but her children had a strange sympathy with him--an instinctive

delicacy of pity for him. What fine hidden sensibilities are touched in

such a case, no echoes tell; but it is so, and it was so here. Carton

was the first stranger to whom little Lucie held out her chubby arms,

and he kept his place with her as she grew. The little boy had spoken of

him, almost at the last. “Poor Carton! Kiss him for me!”

Mr. Stryver shouldered his way through the law, like some great engine

forcing itself through turbid water, and dragged his useful friend in

his wake, like a boat towed astern. As the boat so favoured is usually

in a rough plight, and mostly under water, so, Sydney had a swamped

life of it. But, easy and strong custom, unhappily so much easier and

stronger in him than any stimulating sense of desert or disgrace, made

it the life he was to lead; and he no more thought of emerging from his

state of lion's jackal, than any real jackal may be supposed to think of

rising to be a lion. Stryver was rich; had married a florid widow with

property and three boys, who had nothing particularly shining about them

but the straight hair of their dumpling heads.

These three young gentlemen, Mr. Stryver, exuding patronage of the most

offensive quality from every pore, had walked before him like three

sheep to the quiet corner in Soho, and had offered as pupils to

Lucie's husband: delicately saying “Halloa! here are three lumps of

bread-and-cheese towards your matrimonial picnic, Darnay!” The polite

rejection of the three lumps of bread-and-cheese had quite bloated Mr.

Stryver with indignation, which he afterwards turned to account in the

training of the young gentlemen, by directing them to beware of the

pride of Beggars, like that tutor-fellow. He was also in the habit of

declaiming to Mrs. Stryver, over his full-bodied wine, on the arts

Mrs. Darnay had once put in practice to “catch” him, and on the

diamond-cut-diamond arts in himself, madam, which had rendered him “not

to be caught.” Some of his King's Bench familiars, who were occasionally

parties to the full-bodied wine and the lie, excused him for the

latter by saying that he had told it so often, that he believed

it himself--which is surely such an incorrigible aggravation of an

originally bad offence, as to justify any such offender's being carried

off to some suitably retired spot, and there hanged out of the way.

These were among the echoes to which Lucie, sometimes pensive, sometimes

amused and laughing, listened in the echoing corner, until her little

daughter was six years old. How near to her heart the echoes of her

child's tread came, and those of her own dear father's, always active

and self-possessed, and those of her dear husband's, need not be told.

Nor, how the lightest echo of their united home, directed by herself

with such a wise and elegant thrift that it was more abundant than any

waste, was music to her. Nor, how there were echoes all about her, sweet

in her ears, of the many times her father had told her that he found her

more devoted to him married (if that could be) than single, and of the

many times her husband had said to her that no cares and duties seemed

to divide her love for him or her help to him, and asked her “What is

the magic secret, my darling, of your being everything to all of us,

as if there were only one of us, yet never seeming to be hurried, or to

have too much to do?”

But, there were other echoes, from a distance, that rumbled menacingly

in the corner all through this space of time. And it was now, about

little Lucie's sixth birthday, that they began to have an awful sound,

as of a great storm in France with a dreadful sea rising.

On a night in mid-July, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, Mr.

Lorry came in late, from Tellson's, and sat himself down by Lucie and

her husband in the dark window. It was a hot, wild night, and they were

all three reminded of the old Sunday night when they had looked at the

lightning from the same place.

“I began to think,” said Mr. Lorry, pushing his brown wig back, “that

I should have to pass the night at Tellson's. We have been so full of

business all day, that we have not known what to do first, or which way

to turn. There is such an uneasiness in Paris, that we have actually a

run of confidence upon us! Our customers over there, seem not to be able

to confide their property to us fast enough. There is positively a mania

among some of them for sending it to England.”

“That has a bad look,” said Darnay--

“A bad look, you say, my dear Darnay? Yes, but we don't know what reason

there is in it. People are so unreasonable! Some of us at Tellson's are

getting old, and we really can't be troubled out of the ordinary course

without due occasion.”

“Still,” said Darnay, “you know how gloomy and threatening the sky is.”

“I know that, to be sure,” assented Mr. Lorry, trying to persuade

himself that his sweet temper was soured, and that he grumbled, “but I

am determined to be peevish after my long day's botheration. Where is


“Here he is,” said the Doctor, entering the dark room at the moment.

“I am quite glad you are at home; for these hurries and forebodings by

which I have been surrounded all day long, have made me nervous without

reason. You are not going out, I hope?”

“No; I am going to play backgammon with you, if you like,” said the


“I don't think I do like, if I may speak my mind. I am not fit to be

pitted against you to-night. Is the teaboard still there, Lucie? I can't


“Of course, it has been kept for you.”

“Thank ye, my dear. The precious child is safe in bed?”

“And sleeping soundly.”

“That's right; all safe and well! I don't know why anything should be

otherwise than safe and well here, thank God; but I have been so put out

all day, and I am not as young as I was! My tea, my dear! Thank ye. Now,

come and take your place in the circle, and let us sit quiet, and hear

the echoes about which you have your theory.”

“Not a theory; it was a fancy.”

“A fancy, then, my wise pet,” said Mr. Lorry, patting her hand. “They

are very numerous and very loud, though, are they not? Only hear them!”

Headlong, mad, and dangerous footsteps to force their way into anybody's

life, footsteps not easily made clean again if once stained red, the

footsteps raging in Saint Antoine afar off, as the little circle sat in

the dark London window.

Saint Antoine had been, that morning, a vast dusky mass of scarecrows

heaving to and fro, with frequent gleams of light above the billowy

heads, where steel blades and bayonets shone in the sun. A tremendous

roar arose from the throat of Saint Antoine, and a forest of naked arms

struggled in the air like shrivelled branches of trees in a winter wind:

all the fingers convulsively clutching at every weapon or semblance of a

weapon that was thrown up from the depths below, no matter how far off.

Who gave them out, whence they last came, where they began, through what

agency they crookedly quivered and jerked, scores at a time, over the

heads of the crowd, like a kind of lightning, no eye in the throng could

have told; but, muskets were being distributed--so were cartridges,

powder, and ball, bars of iron and wood, knives, axes, pikes, every

weapon that distracted ingenuity could discover or devise. People who

could lay hold of nothing else, set themselves with bleeding hands to

force stones and bricks out of their places in walls. Every pulse and

heart in Saint Antoine was on high-fever strain and at high-fever heat.

Every living creature there held life as of no account, and was demented

with a passionate readiness to sacrifice it.

As a whirlpool of boiling waters has a centre point, so, all this raging

circled round Defarge's wine-shop, and every human drop in the caldron

had a tendency to be sucked towards the vortex where Defarge himself,

already begrimed with gunpowder and sweat, issued orders, issued arms,

thrust this man back, dragged this man forward, disarmed one to arm

another, laboured and strove in the thickest of the uproar.

“Keep near to me, Jacques Three,” cried Defarge; “and do you, Jacques

One and Two, separate and put yourselves at the head of as many of these

patriots as you can. Where is my wife?”

“Eh, well! Here you see me!” said madame, composed as ever, but not

knitting to-day. Madame's resolute right hand was occupied with an axe,

in place of the usual softer implements, and in her girdle were a pistol

and a cruel knife.

“Where do you go, my wife?”

“I go,” said madame, “with you at present. You shall see me at the head

of women, by-and-bye.”

“Come, then!” cried Defarge, in a resounding voice. “Patriots and

friends, we are ready! The Bastille!”

With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped

into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on

depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums

beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack


Deep ditches, double drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great

towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. Through the fire and through

the smoke--in the fire and in the smoke, for the sea cast him up against

a cannon, and on the instant he became a cannonier--Defarge of the

wine-shop worked like a manful soldier, Two fierce hours.

Deep ditch, single drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers,

cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. One drawbridge down! “Work, comrades

all, work! Work, Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques

Two Thousand, Jacques Five-and-Twenty Thousand; in the name of all

the Angels or the Devils--which you prefer--work!” Thus Defarge of the

wine-shop, still at his gun, which had long grown hot.

“To me, women!” cried madame his wife. “What! We can kill as well as

the men when the place is taken!” And to her, with a shrill thirsty

cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed alike in hunger and


Cannon, muskets, fire and smoke; but, still the deep ditch, the single

drawbridge, the massive stone walls, and the eight great towers. Slight

displacements of the raging sea, made by the falling wounded. Flashing

weapons, blazing torches, smoking waggonloads of wet straw, hard work

at neighbouring barricades in all directions, shrieks, volleys,

execrations, bravery without stint, boom smash and rattle, and the

furious sounding of the living sea; but, still the deep ditch, and the

single drawbridge, and the massive stone walls, and the eight great

towers, and still Defarge of the wine-shop at his gun, grown doubly hot

by the service of Four fierce hours.

A white flag from within the fortress, and a parley--this dimly

perceptible through the raging storm, nothing audible in it--suddenly

the sea rose immeasurably wider and higher, and swept Defarge of the

wine-shop over the lowered drawbridge, past the massive stone outer

walls, in among the eight great towers surrendered!

So resistless was the force of the ocean bearing him on, that even to

draw his breath or turn his head was as impracticable as if he had been

struggling in the surf at the South Sea, until he was landed in the

outer courtyard of the Bastille. There, against an angle of a wall, he

made a struggle to look about him. Jacques Three was nearly at his side;

Madame Defarge, still heading some of her women, was visible in the

inner distance, and her knife was in her hand. Everywhere was tumult,

exultation, deafening and maniacal bewilderment, astounding noise, yet

furious dumb-show.

“The Prisoners!”

“The Records!”

“The secret cells!”

“The instruments of torture!”

“The Prisoners!”

Of all these cries, and ten thousand incoherences, “The Prisoners!” was

the cry most taken up by the sea that rushed in, as if there were an

eternity of people, as well as of time and space. When the foremost

billows rolled past, bearing the prison officers with them, and

threatening them all with instant death if any secret nook remained

undisclosed, Defarge laid his strong hand on the breast of one of

these men--a man with a grey head, who had a lighted torch in his

hand--separated him from the rest, and got him between himself and the


“Show me the North Tower!” said Defarge. “Quick!”

“I will faithfully,” replied the man, “if you will come with me. But

there is no one there.”

“What is the meaning of One Hundred and Five, North Tower?” asked

Defarge. “Quick!”

“The meaning, monsieur?”

“Does it mean a captive, or a place of captivity? Or do you mean that I

shall strike you dead?”

“Kill him!” croaked Jacques Three, who had come close up.

“Monsieur, it is a cell.”

“Show it me!”

“Pass this way, then.”

Jacques Three, with his usual craving on him, and evidently disappointed

by the dialogue taking a turn that did not seem to promise bloodshed,

held by Defarge's arm as he held by the turnkey's. Their three heads had

been close together during this brief discourse, and it had been as much

as they could do to hear one another, even then: so tremendous was the

noise of the living ocean, in its irruption into the Fortress, and

its inundation of the courts and passages and staircases. All around

outside, too, it beat the walls with a deep, hoarse roar, from which,

occasionally, some partial shouts of tumult broke and leaped into the

air like spray.

Through gloomy vaults where the light of day had never shone, past

hideous doors of dark dens and cages, down cavernous flights of steps,

and again up steep rugged ascents of stone and brick, more like dry

waterfalls than staircases, Defarge, the turnkey, and Jacques Three,

linked hand and arm, went with all the speed they could make. Here and

there, especially at first, the inundation started on them and swept by;

but when they had done descending, and were winding and climbing up a

tower, they were alone. Hemmed in here by the massive thickness of walls

and arches, the storm within the fortress and without was only audible

to them in a dull, subdued way, as if the noise out of which they had

come had almost destroyed their sense of hearing.

The turnkey stopped at a low door, put a key in a clashing lock, swung

the door slowly open, and said, as they all bent their heads and passed


“One hundred and five, North Tower!”

There was a small, heavily-grated, unglazed window high in the wall,

with a stone screen before it, so that the sky could be only seen by

stooping low and looking up. There was a small chimney, heavily barred

across, a few feet within. There was a heap of old feathery wood-ashes

on the hearth. There was a stool, and table, and a straw bed. There were

the four blackened walls, and a rusted iron ring in one of them.

“Pass that torch slowly along these walls, that I may see them,” said

Defarge to the turnkey.

The man obeyed, and Defarge followed the light closely with his eyes.

“Stop!--Look here, Jacques!”

“A. M.!” croaked Jacques Three, as he read greedily.

“Alexandre Manette,” said Defarge in his ear, following the letters

with his swart forefinger, deeply engrained with gunpowder. “And here he

wrote 'a poor physician.' And it was he, without doubt, who scratched

a calendar on this stone. What is that in your hand? A crowbar? Give it


He had still the linstock of his gun in his own hand. He made a sudden

exchange of the two instruments, and turning on the worm-eaten stool and

table, beat them to pieces in a few blows.

“Hold the light higher!” he said, wrathfully, to the turnkey. “Look

among those fragments with care, Jacques. And see! Here is my knife,”

throwing it to him; “rip open that bed, and search the straw. Hold the

light higher, you!”

With a menacing look at the turnkey he crawled upon the hearth, and,

peering up the chimney, struck and prised at its sides with the crowbar,

and worked at the iron grating across it. In a few minutes, some mortar

and dust came dropping down, which he averted his face to avoid; and

in it, and in the old wood-ashes, and in a crevice in the chimney

into which his weapon had slipped or wrought itself, he groped with a

cautious touch.

“Nothing in the wood, and nothing in the straw, Jacques?”


“Let us collect them together, in the middle of the cell. So! Light

them, you!”

The turnkey fired the little pile, which blazed high and hot. Stooping

again to come out at the low-arched door, they left it burning, and

retraced their way to the courtyard; seeming to recover their sense

of hearing as they came down, until they were in the raging flood once


They found it surging and tossing, in quest of Defarge himself. Saint

Antoine was clamorous to have its wine-shop keeper foremost in the guard

upon the governor who had defended the Bastille and shot the people.

Otherwise, the governor would not be marched to the Hotel de Ville for

judgment. Otherwise, the governor would escape, and the people's

blood (suddenly of some value, after many years of worthlessness) be


In the howling universe of passion and contention that seemed to

encompass this grim old officer conspicuous in his grey coat and red

decoration, there was but one quite steady figure, and that was a

woman's. “See, there is my husband!” she cried, pointing him out.

“See Defarge!” She stood immovable close to the grim old officer, and

remained immovable close to him; remained immovable close to him through

the streets, as Defarge and the rest bore him along; remained immovable

close to him when he was got near his destination, and began to

be struck at from behind; remained immovable close to him when the

long-gathering rain of stabs and blows fell heavy; was so close to him

when he dropped dead under it, that, suddenly animated, she put her foot

upon his neck, and with her cruel knife--long ready--hewed off his head.

The hour was come, when Saint Antoine was to execute his horrible idea

of hoisting up men for lamps to show what he could be and do. Saint

Antoine's blood was up, and the blood of tyranny and domination by the

iron hand was down--down on the steps of the Hotel de Ville where the

governor's body lay--down on the sole of the shoe of Madame Defarge

where she had trodden on the body to steady it for mutilation. “Lower

the lamp yonder!” cried Saint Antoine, after glaring round for a new

means of death; “here is one of his soldiers to be left on guard!” The

swinging sentinel was posted, and the sea rushed on.

The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving

of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces

were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes,

voices of vengeance, and faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering

until the touch of pity could make no mark on them.

But, in the ocean of faces where every fierce and furious expression was

in vivid life, there were two groups of faces--each seven in number--so

fixedly contrasting with the rest, that never did sea roll which bore

more memorable wrecks with it. Seven faces of prisoners, suddenly

released by the storm that had burst their tomb, were carried high

overhead: all scared, all lost, all wondering and amazed, as if the Last

Day were come, and those who rejoiced around them were lost spirits.

Other seven faces there were, carried higher, seven dead faces, whose

drooping eyelids and half-seen eyes awaited the Last Day. Impassive

faces, yet with a suspended--not an abolished--expression on them;

faces, rather, in a fearful pause, as having yet to raise the dropped

lids of the eyes, and bear witness with the bloodless lips, “THOU DIDST


Seven prisoners released, seven gory heads on pikes, the keys of the

accursed fortress of the eight strong towers, some discovered letters

and other memorials of prisoners of old time, long dead of broken

hearts,--such, and such--like, the loudly echoing footsteps of Saint

Antoine escort through the Paris streets in mid-July, one thousand seven

hundred and eighty-nine. Now, Heaven defeat the fancy of Lucie Darnay,

and keep these feet far out of her life! For, they are headlong, mad,

and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask

at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once

stained red.


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