A Tale of Two Cities  双城记

This had been the third morning in succession, on which there hadbeen early drinking at the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge. It had begunon Monday, and here was Wednesday come. There had been more of earlybrooding than drinking; for, many men had listened and whispered andslunk about there from the time of the opening of the door, whocould not have laid a piece of money on the counter to save theirsouls. These were to the full as interested in the place, however,as if they could have commanded whole barrels of wine; and they glidedfrom seat to seat, and from corner to corner, swallowing talk inlieu of drink, with greedy looks.


Notwithstanding an unusual flow of company, the master of thewineshop was not visible. He was not missed; for, nobody who crossedthe threshold looked for him, nobody asked for him, nobody wondered tosee only Madame Defarge in her seat, presiding over the distributionof wine, with a bowl of battered small coins before her, as muchdefaced and beaten out of their original impress as the smallcoinage of humanity from whose ragged pockets they had come.


A suspended interest and a prevalent absence of mind, were perhapsobserved by the spies who looked in at the wine-shop, as they lookedin at every place, high and low, from the king's palace to thecriminal's gaol. Games at cards languished, players at dominoesmusingly built towers with them, drinkers drew figures on the tableswith spilt drops of wine, Madame Defarge herself picked out thepattern on her sleeve with her toothpick, and saw and heardsomething inaudible and invisible a long way off.


Thus, Saint Antoine in this vinous feature of his, until midday.It was high noontide, when two dusty men passed through his streetsand under his swinging lamps: of whom, one was Monsieur Defarge: theother a mender of roads in a blue cap. AH adust and athirst, the twoentered the wine-shop. Their arrival had lighted a kind of fire in thebreast of Saint Antoine, fast spreading as they came along, whichstirred and flickered in flames of faces at most doors and windows.Yet, no one had followed them, and no man spoke when they enteredthe wine-shop, though the eyes of every man there were turned uponthem.


"Good day, gentlemen!" said Monsieur Defarge.


It may have been a signal for loosening the general tongue. Itelicited an answering chorus of "Good day!"


"It is bad weather, gentlemen," said Defarge, shaking his head.


Upon which, every man looked at his neighbour, and then all castdown their eyes and sat silent. Except one man, who got up and wentout.


"My wife," said Defarge aloud, addressing Madame Defarge: "I havetravelled certain leagues with this good mender of roads, calledJacques. I met him- by accident- a day and half's journey out ofParis. He is a good child, this mender of roads, called Jacques.Give him to drink, my wife!"


A second man got up and went out. Madame Defarge set wine before themender of roads called Jacques, who doffed his blue cap to thecompany, and drank. In the breast of his blouse he carried some coarsedark bread; he ate of this between whiles, and sat munching anddrinking near Madame Defarge's counter. A third man got up and wentout.


Defarge refreshed himself with a draught of wine- but, he tookless than was given to the stranger, as being himself a man to whom itwas no rarity- and stood waiting until the countryman had made hisbreakfast. He looked at no one present, and no one now looked athim; not even Madame Defarge, who had taken up her knitting, and wasat work.


"Have you finished your repast, friend?" he asked, in due season.


"Yes, thank you."


"Come, then! You shall see the apartment that I told you you occupy.It will suit you to a marvel."


Out of the wine-shop into the street, out of the street into acourtyard, out of the courtyard up a steep staircase, out of thestaircase into a garret,- formerly the garret where a white-haired mansat on a low bench, stooping forward and very busy, making shoes.


No white-haired man was there now; but, the three men were there whohad gone out of the wine-shop singly. And between them and thewhite-haired man afar off, was the one small link, that they hadonce looked in at him through the chinks in the wall.


Defarge closed the door carefully, and spoke in a subdued voice:


"Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques Three! This is the witnessencountered by appointment, by me, Jacques Four. He will tell you all.Speak, Jacques Five!"


The mender of roads, blue cap in hand, wiped his swarthy foreheadwith it, and said, "Where shall I commence, monsieur?"


"Commence," was Monsieur Defarge's not unreasonable reply, "at thecommencement."


"I saw him then, messieurs," began the mender of roads, "a yearago this running summer, underneath the carriage of the Marquis,hanging by the chain. Behold the manner of it. I leaving my work onthe road, the sun going to bed, the carriage of the Marquis slowlyascending the hill, he hanging by the chain-like this."


Again the mender of roads went through the whole performance; inwhich he ought to have been perfect by that time, seeing that it hadbeen the infallible resource and indispensable entertainment of hisvillage during a whole year.


Jacques One struck in, and asked if he had ever seen the man before?


"Never," answered the mender of roads, recovering his perpendicular.


Jacques Three demanded how he afterwards recognised him then?


"By his tall figure," said the mender of roads, softly, and with hisfinger at his nose. "When Monsieur the Marquis demands that evening,'Say, what is he like?' I make response, 'Tall as a spectre.'"


"You should have said, short as a dwarf," returned Jacques Two.


"But what did I know? The deed was not then accomplished, neitherdid he confide in me. Observe! Under those circumstances even, I donot offer my testimony. Monsieur the Marquis indicates me with hisfinger, standing near our little fountain, and says, 'To me! Bringthat rascal!' My faith, messieurs, I offer nothing."


"He is right there, Jacques," murmured Defarge, to him who hadinterrupted. "Go on!"


"Good!" said the mender of roads, with an air of mystery. "Thetall man is lost, and he is sought- how many months? Nine, ten,eleven?"


"No matter, the number," said Defarge. "He is well hidden, but atlast he is unluckily found. Go on!"


"I am again at work upon the hill-side, and the sun is again aboutto go to bed. I am collecting my tools to descend to my cottage downin the village below, where it is already dark, when I raise myeyes, and see coming over the hill six soldiers. In the midst ofthem is a tall man with his arms bound- tied to his sides- like this!"


With the aid of his indispensable cap, he represented a man with hiselbows bound fast at his hips, with cords that were knotted behindhim.


"I stand aside, messieurs, by my heap of stones, to see the soldiersand their prisoner pass (for it is a solitary road, that, where anyspectacle is well worth looking at), and at first, as they approach, Isee no more than that they are six soldiers with a tall man bound, andthat they are almost black to my sight- except on the side of thesun going to bed, where they have a red edge, messieurs. Also, I seethat their long shadows are on the hollow ridge on the opposite sideof the road, and are on the hill above it, and are like the shadows ofgiants. Also, I see that they are covered with dust, and that the dustmoves with them as they come, tramp, tramp! But when they advancequite near to me, I recognise the tall man, and he recognises me.Ah, but he would be well content to precipitate himself over thehill-side once again, as on the evening when he and I firstencountered, close to the same spot!"


He described it as if he were there, and it was evident that hesaw it vividly; perhaps he had not seen much in his life.


"I do not show the soldiers that I recognise the tall man; he doesnot show the soldiers that he recognises me; we do it, and we know it,with our eyes. 'Come on!' says the chief of that company, pointingto the village, 'bring him fast to his tomb!' and they bring himfaster. I follow. His arms are swelled because of being bound sotight, his wooden shoes are large and clumsy, and he is lame.Because he is lame, and consequently slow, they drive him with theirguns-like this!"


He imitated the action of a man's being impelled forward by thebutt-ends of muskets.


"As they descend the hill like madmen running a race, he falls. Theylaugh and pick him up again. His face is bleeding and covered withdust, but he cannot touch it; thereupon they laugh again. They bringhim into the village; all the village runs to look; they take him pastthe mill, and up to the prison; all the village sees the prison gateopen in the darkness of the night, and swallow him- like this!"


He opened his mouth as wide as he could, and shut it with a soundingsnap of his teeth. Observant of his unwillingness to mar the effect byopening it again, Defarge said, "Go on, Jacques."


"All the village," pursued the mender of roads, on tiptoe and in alow voice, "withdraws; all the village whispers by the fountain; allthe village sleeps; all the village dreams of that unhappy one, withinthe locks and bars of the prison on the crag, and never to come out ofit, except to perish. In the morning, with my tools upon myshoulder, eating my morsel of black bread as I go, I make a circuit bythe prison, on my way to my work. There I see him, high up, behind thebars of a lofty iron cage, bloody and dusty as last night, lookingthrough. He has no hand free, to wave to me; I dare not call to him;he regards me like a dead man."


Defarge and the three glanced darkly at one another. The looks ofall of them were dark, repressed, and revengeful, as they listenedto the countryman's story; the manner of all of them, while it wassecret, was authoritative too. They had the air of a rough tribunal;Jacques One and Two sitting on the old pallet-bed, each with hischin resting on his hand, and his eyes intent on the road-mender;Jacques Three, equally intent, on one knee behind them, with hisagitated hand always gliding over the network of fine nerves about hismouth and nose; Defarge standing between them and the narrator, whomhe had stationed in the light of the window, by turns looking from himto them, and from them to him.


"Go on, Jacques," said Defarge.


"He remains up there in his iron cage some days. The village looksat him by stealth, for it is afraid. But it always looks up, from adistance, at the prison on the crag; and in the evening, when the workof the day is achieved and it assembles to gossip at the fountain, allfaces are turned towards the prison. Formerly, they were turnedtowards the posting-house; now, they are turned towards the prison.They whisper at the fountain, that although condemned to death he willnot be executed; they say that petitions have been presented in Paris,showing that he was enraged and made mad by the death of his child;they say that a petition has been presented to the King himself.What do I know? It is possible. Perhaps yes, perhaps no."


"Listen then, Jacques," Number One of that name sternlyinterposed. "Know that a petition was presented to the King and Queen.All here, yourself excepted, saw the King take it, in his carriagein the street, sitting beside the Queen. It is Defarge whom you seehere, who, at the hazard of his life, darted out before the horses,with the petition in his hand."


"And once again listen, Jacques!" said the kneeling Number Three:his fingers ever wandering over and over those fine nerves, with astrikingly greedy air, as if he hungered for something- that wasneither food nor drink; "the guard, horse and foot, surrounded thepetitioner, and struck him blows. You hear?"


"I hear, messieurs."


"Go on then," said Defarge.


"Again; on the other hand, they whisper at the fountain," resumedthe countryman, "that he is brought down into our country to beexecuted on the spot, and that he will very certainly be executed.They even whisper that because he has slain Monseigneur, and becauseMonseigneur was the father of his tenants- serfs- what you will- hewill be executed as a parricide. One old man says at the fountain,that his right hand, armed with the knife, will be burnt off beforehis face; that, into wounds which will be made in his arms, hisbreast, and his legs, there will be poured boiling oil, melted lead,hot resin, wax, and sulphur; finally, that he will be torn limb fromlimb by four strong horses. That old man says, all this was actuallydone to a prisoner who made an attempt on the life of the late King,Louis Fifteen. But how do I know if he lies? I am not a scholar."


"Listen once again then, Jacques!" said the man with the restlesshand and the craving air. "The name of that prisoner was Damiens,and it was all done in open day, in the open streets of this city ofParis; and nothing was more noticed in the vast concourse that sawit done, than the crowd of ladies of quality and fashion, who were funof eager attention to the last- to the last, Jacques, prolongeduntil nightfall, when he had lost two legs and an arm, and stillbreathed! And it was done why, how old are you?"


"Thirty-five," said the mender of roads, who looked sixty.


"It was done when you were more than ten years old; you might haveseen it."


"Enough!" said Defarge, with grim impatience. "Long live theDevil! Go on."


"Well! Some whisper this, some whisper that; they speak of nothingelse; even the fountain appears to fall to that tune. At length, onSunday night when all the village is asleep, come soldiers, windingdown from the prison, and their guns ring on the stones of thelittle street. Workmen dig, workmen hammer, soldiers laugh and sing;in the morning, by the fountain, there is raised a gallows fortyfeet high, poisoning the water."


The mender of roads looked through rather than at the low ceiling,and pointed as if he saw the gallows somewhere in the sky.


"All work is stopped, all assemble there, nobody leads the cows out,the cows are there with the rest. At midday, the roll of drums.Soldiers have marched into the prison in the night, and he is in themidst of many soldiers. He is bound as before, and in his mouththere is a gag-tied so, with a tight string, making him look almost asif he laughed." He suggested it, by creasing his face with his twothumbs, from the corners of his mouth to his ears. "On the top ofthe gallows is fixed the knife, blade upwards, with its point in theair. He is hanged there forty feet high- and is left hanging,poisoning the water."


They looked at one another, as he used his blue cap to wipe hisface, on which the perspiration had started afresh while he recalledthe spectacle.


"It is frightful, messieurs. How can the women and the children drawwater! Who can gossip of an evening, under that shadow! Under it, haveI said? When I left the village, Monday evening as the sun was goingto bed, and looked back from the hill, the shadow struck across thechurch, across the mill, across the prison- seemed to strike acrossthe earth, messieurs, to where the sky rests upon it!"


The hungry man gnawed one of his fingers as he looked at the otherthree, and his finger quivered with the craving that was on him.


"That's all, messieurs. I left at sunset (as I had been warned todo), and I walked on, that night and half next day, until I met (asI was warned I should) this comrade. With him, I came on, now ridingand now walking, through the rest of yesterday and through last night.And here you see me!"


After a gloomy silence, the first Jacques said, "Good! You haveacted and recounted faithfully. Will you wait for us a little, outsidethe door?"


"Very willingly," said the mender of roads. Whom Defarge escorted tothe top of the stairs, and, leaving seated there, returned.


The three had risen, and their heads were together when he came backto the garret.


"How say you, Jacques?" demanded Number One. "To be registered?"


"To be registered, as doomed to destruction," returned Defarge.


"Magnificent!" croaked the man with the craving.


"The chateau, and all the race?" inquired the first.


"The chateau and all the race," returned Defarge. "Extermination."


The hungry man repeated, in a rapturous croak, "Magnificent!" andbegan gnawing another finger.


"Are you sure," asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, "that noembarrassment can arise from our manner of keeping the register?Without doubt it is safe, for no one beyond ourselves can decipher it;but shall we always be able to decipher it- or, I ought to say, willshe?"


"Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame mywife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would notlose a word of it- not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her ownstitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as thesun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakestpoltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to eraseone letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of MadameDefarge."


There was a murmur of confidence and approval, and then the manwho hungered, asked: "Is this rustic to be sent back soon? I hopeso. He is very simple; is he not a little dangerous?"


"He knows nothing," said Defarge; "at least nothing more thanwould easily elevate himself to a gallows of the same height. I chargemyself with him; let him remain with me; I will take care of him,and set him on his road. He wishes to see the fine world- the King,the Queen, and Court; let him see them on Sunday."


"What?" exclaimed the hungry man, staring. "Is it a good sign,that he wishes to see Royalty and Nobility?"


"Jacques," said Defarge; "judiciously show a cat milk, if you wishher to thirst for it. Judiciously show a dog his natural prey, ifyou wish him to bring it down one day."


Nothing more was said, and the mender of roads, being foundalready dozing on the topmost stair, was advised to lay himself downon the pallet-bed and take some rest. He needed no persuasion, and wassoon asleep.


Worse quarters than Defarge's wine-shop, could easily have beenfound in Paris for a provincial slave of that degree. Saving for amysterious dread of madame by which he was constantly haunted, hislife was very new and agreeable. But, madame sat all day at hercounter, so expressly unconscious of him, and so particularlydetermined not to perceive that his being there had any connectionwith anything below the surface, that he shook in his wooden shoeswhenever his eye lighted on her. For, he contended with himself thatit was impossible to foresee what that lady might pretend next; and hefelt assured that if she should take it into her brightly ornamentedhead to pretend that she had seen him do a murder and afterwardsflay the victim, she would infallibly go through with it until theplay was played out.


Therefore, when Sunday came, the mender of roads was not enchanted(though he said he was) to find that madame was to accompanymonsieur and himself to Versailles. It was additionallydisconcerting to have madame knitting all the way there, in a publicconveyance; it was additionally disconcerting yet, to have madame inthe crowd in the afternoon, still with her knitting in her hands asthe crowd waited to see the carriage of the King and Queen.


"You work hard, madame," said a man near her.


"Yes," answered Madame Defarge; "I have a good deal to do."


"What do you make, madame?"


"Many things."


"For instance-"


"For instance," returned Madame Defarge, composedly, "shrouds."


The man moved a little further away, as soon as he could, and themender of roads fanned himself with his blue cap: feeling itmightily close and oppressive. If he needed a King and Queen torestore him, he was fortunate in having his remedy at hand; for,soon the large-faced King and the fair-faced Queen came in theirgolden coach, attended by the shining Bull's Eye of their Court, aglittering multitude of laughing ladies and fine lords; and injewels and silks and powder and splendour and elegantly spurningfigures and handsomely disdainful faces of both sexes, the mender ofroads bathed himself, so much to his temporary intoxication, that hecried Long live the King, Long live the Queen, Long live everybody andeverything! as if he had never heard of ubiquitous Jacques in histime. Then, there were gardens, courtyards, terraces, fountains, greenbanks, more King and Queen, more Bull's Eye, more lords and ladies,more Long live they all! until he absolutely wept with sentiment.During the whole of this scene, which lasted some three hours, hehad plenty of shouting and weeping and sentimental company, andthroughout Defarge held him by the collar, as if to restrain himfrom flying at the objects of his brief devotion and tearing them topieces.


"Bravo!" said Defarge, clapping him on the back when it was over,like a patron; "you are a good boy!"


The mender of roads was now coming to himself, and was mistrustfulof having made a mistake in his late demonstrations; but no.


"You are the fellow we want," said Defarge, in his ear; "you makethese fools believe that it will last for ever. Then, they are themore insolent, and it is the nearer ended."


"Hey!" cried the mender of roads, reflectively; "that's true."


"These fools know nothing. while they despise your breath, and wouldstop it for ever and ever, in you or in a hundred like you rather thanin one of their own horses or dogs, they only know what your breathtells them. Let it deceive them, then, a little longer; it cannotdeceive them too much."


Madame Defarge looked superciliously at the client, and nodded inconfirmation.


"As to you," said she, "you would shout and shed tears for anything,if it made a show and a noise. Say! Would you not?"


"Truly, madame, I think so. For the moment."


"If you were shown a great heap of dolls, and were set upon themto pluck them to pieces and despoil them for your own advantage, youwould pick out the richest and gayest. Say! Would you not?"


"Truly yes, madame."


"Yes. And if you were shown a flock of birds, unable to fly, andwere set upon them to strip them of their feathers for your ownadvantage, you would set upon the birds of the finest feathers;would you not?"


"It is true, madame."


"You have seen both dolls and birds to-day," said Madame Defarge,with a wave of her hand towards the place where they had last beenapparent; "now, go home!"