A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 22 in English Moral Stories by Charles Dickens books and stories PDF | A TALE OF TWO CITIES - 2 - 22




By Charles Dickens

The Golden Thread


The Sea Still Rises

Haggard Saint Antoine had had only one exultant week, in which to soften

his modicum of hard and bitter bread to such extent as he could, with

the relish of fraternal embraces and congratulations, when Madame

Defarge sat at her counter, as usual, presiding over the customers.

Madame Defarge wore no rose in her head, for the great brotherhood of

Spies had become, even in one short week, extremely chary of trusting

themselves to the saint's mercies. The lamps across his streets had a

portentously elastic swing with them.

Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat,

contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several

knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now with a manifest sense

of power enthroned on their distress. The raggedest nightcap, awry on

the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: “I know how

hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself;

but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to

destroy life in you?” Every lean bare arm, that had been without work

before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike.

The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that

they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine;

the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the

last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was

to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her

sisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of a starved

grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenant had

already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance.

“Hark!” said The Vengeance. “Listen, then! Who comes?”

As if a train of powder laid from the outermost bound of Saint Antoine

Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading

murmur came rushing along.

“It is Defarge,” said madame. “Silence, patriots!”

Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked

around him! “Listen, everywhere!” said madame again. “Listen to him!”

Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and open

mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop had

sprung to their feet.

“Say then, my husband. What is it?”

“News from the other world!”

“How, then?” cried madame, contemptuously. “The other world?”

“Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people

that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?”

“Everybody!” from all throats.

“The news is of him. He is among us!”

“Among us!” from the universal throat again. “And dead?”

“Not dead! He feared us so much--and with reason--that he caused himself

to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. But they have

found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him in. I have

seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I have

said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! _Had_ he reason?”

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten, if he had

never known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts if he

could have heard the answering cry.

A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked

steadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of a drum

was heard as she moved it at her feet behind the counter.

“Patriots!” said Defarge, in a determined voice, “are we ready?”

Instantly Madame Defarge's knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating

in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and

The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about

her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to

house, rousing the women.

The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked

from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into

the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From

such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their

children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground

famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one

another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions.

Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant

Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into the midst of

these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon

alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon

who told my old father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread

to give him! Foulon who told my baby it might suck grass, when these

breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this Foulon! O Heaven our

suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on my

knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers,

and young men, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon,

Give us the heart of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rend

Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may grow from

him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy,

whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they

dropped into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the men

belonging to them from being trampled under foot.

Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at

the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine knew

his own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and women flocked out

of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs after them with

such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an hour there was not

a human creature in Saint Antoine's bosom but a few old crones and the

wailing children.

No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where

this old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent

open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, The Vengeance,

and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no great distance

from him in the Hall.

“See!” cried madame, pointing with her knife. “See the old villain bound

with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back.

Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!” Madame put her knife

under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.

The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of

her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explaining to

others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resounded with the

clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours of drawl,

and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge's frequent

expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness, at

a distance: the more readily, because certain men who had by some

wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the external architecture

to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted as a

telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or

protection, directly down upon the old prisoner's head. The favour was

too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust and chaff that had

stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and Saint Antoine had got


It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge

had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded the miserable

wretch in a deadly embrace--Madame Defarge had but followed and turned

her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied--The Vengeance and

Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows

had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high

perches--when the cry seemed to go up, all over the city, “Bring him

out! Bring him to the lamp!”

Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on

his knees; now, on his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at,

and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his

face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting, bleeding, yet always

entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of

action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one

another back that they might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through

a forest of legs; he was hauled to the nearest street corner where one

of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him go--as a cat

might have done to a mouse--and silently and composedly looked at him

while they made ready, and while he besought her: the women passionately

screeching at him all the time, and the men sternly calling out to have

him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope

broke, and they caught him shrieking; twice, he went aloft, and the rope

broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and

held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the

mouth for all Saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.

Nor was this the end of the day's bad work, for Saint Antoine so shouted

and danced his angry blood up, that it boiled again, on hearing when

the day closed in that the son-in-law of the despatched, another of the

people's enemies and insulters, was coming into Paris under a guard

five hundred strong, in cavalry alone. Saint Antoine wrote his crimes

on flaring sheets of paper, seized him--would have torn him out of the

breast of an army to bear Foulon company--set his head and heart on

pikes, and carried the three spoils of the day, in Wolf-procession

through the streets.

Not before dark night did the men and women come back to the children,

wailing and breadless. Then, the miserable bakers' shops were beset by

long files of them, patiently waiting to buy bad bread; and while

they waited with stomachs faint and empty, they beguiled the time by

embracing one another on the triumphs of the day, and achieving them

again in gossip. Gradually, these strings of ragged people shortened and

frayed away; and then poor lights began to shine in high windows, and

slender fires were made in the streets, at which neighbours cooked in

common, afterwards supping at their doors.

Scanty and insufficient suppers those, and innocent of meat, as of

most other sauce to wretched bread. Yet, human fellowship infused

some nourishment into the flinty viands, and struck some sparks of

cheerfulness out of them. Fathers and mothers who had had their full

share in the worst of the day, played gently with their meagre children;

and lovers, with such a world around them and before them, loved and


It was almost morning, when Defarge's wine-shop parted with its last

knot of customers, and Monsieur Defarge said to madame his wife, in

husky tones, while fastening the door:

“At last it is come, my dear!”

“Eh well!” returned madame. “Almost.”

Saint Antoine slept, the Defarges slept: even The Vengeance slept with

her starved grocer, and the drum was at rest. The drum's was the

only voice in Saint Antoine that blood and hurry had not changed. The

Vengeance, as custodian of the drum, could have wakened him up and had

the same speech out of him as before the Bastille fell, or old Foulon

was seized; not so with the hoarse tones of the men and women in Saint

Antoine's bosom.