Chateau and hut, stone face and dangling figure, the red stain onthe stone floor, and the pure water in the village well- thousandsof acres of land- a whole province of France- all France itself- layunder the night sky, concentrated into a faint hair-breadth line. Sodoes a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, liein a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray oflight and analyse the manner of its composition, so, sublimerintelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours,every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsiblecreature on it.
The Defarges, husband and wife, came lumbering under thestarlight, in their public vehicle, to that gate of Paris whereuntotheir journey naturally tended. There was the usual stoppage at thebarrier guardhouse, and the usual lanterns came glancing forth for theusual examination and inquiry. Monsieur Defarge alighted; knowingone or two of the soldiery there, and one of the police. The latter hewas intimate with, and affectionately embraced.
When Saint Antoine had again enfolded the Defarges in his duskywings, and they, having finally alighted near the Saint'sboundaries, were picking their way on foot through the black mud andoffal of his streets, Madame Defarge spoke to her husband:
"Say then, my friend; what did Jacques of the police tell thee?"
"Very little to-night, but all he knows. There is another spycommissioned for our quarter. There may be many more, for all thathe can say, but he knows of one."
"Eh well!" said Madame Defarge, raising her eyebrows with a coolbusiness air. "It is necessary to register him. How do they callthat man?"
"He is English."
"So much the better. His name?"
"Barsad," said Defarge, making it French by pronunciation. But, hehad been so careful to get it accurately, that he then spelt it withperfect correctness.
"Barsad," repeated madame. "Good. Christian name?"
"John Barsad," repeated madame, after murmuring it once toherself. "Good. His appearance; is it known?"
"Age, about forty years; height, about five feet nine; black hair;complexion dark; generally, rather handsome visage; eyes dark, facethin, long, and sallow; nose aquiline, but not straight, having apeculiar inclination towards the left cheek; expression, therefore,sinister."
"Eh my faith. It is a portrait!" said madame, laughing. "He shall beregistered to-morrow."
They turned into the wine-shop, which was closed (for it wasmidnight), and where Madame Defarge immediately took her post at herdesk, counted the small moneys that had been taken during herabsence examined the stock, went through the entries in the book, madeother entries of her own, checked the serving man in every possibleway, and finally dismissed him to bed. Then she turned out thecontents of the bowl of money for the second time, and beganknotting them up in her handkerchief, in a chain of separate knots,for safe keeping through the night. All this while, Defarge, withhis pipe in his mouth, walked up and down, complacently admiring,but never interfering; in which condition, indeed, as to thebusiness and his domestic affairs, he walked up and down through life.
The night was hot, and the shop, close shut and surrounded by sofoul a neighbourhood, was ill-smelling. Monsieur Defarge's olfactorysense was by no means delicate, but the stock of wine smelt muchstronger than it ever tasted, and so did the stock of rum and brandyand aniseed. He whiffed the compound of scents away, as he put downhis smoked-out pipe.
"You are fatigued," said madame, raising her glance as she knottedthe money. "There are only the usual odours."
"I am a little tired," her husband acknowledged.
"You are a little depressed, too," said madame, whose quick eyes hadnever been so intent on the accounts, but they had had a ray or twofor him. "Oh, the men, the men!"
"But my dear!" began Defarge.
"But my dear!" repeated madame, nodding firmly; "but my dear!
You are faint of heart to-night, my dear!"
"Well, then," said Defarge, as if a thought were wrung out of hisbreast, "it is a long time."
"It is a long time," repeated his wife; "and when is it not a longtime? Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule."
"It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning,"said Defarge.
"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make andstore the lightning? Tell me."
Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were somethingin that too.
"It does not take a long time," said madame, "for an earthquake toswallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare theearthquake?"
"A long time, I suppose," said Defarge.
"But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieceseverything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing,though it is not seen or heard. That is your consolation. Keep it."
She tied a knot with flashing eyes, as if it throttled a foe.
"I tell thee," said madame, extending her right hand, foremphasis, "that although it is a long time on the road, it is on theroad and coming. I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. Itell thee it is always advancing. Look around and consider the livesof all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the worldthat we know, consider the rage and discontent to which theJacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour.Can such things last? Bah! I mock you."
"My brave wife," returned Defarge, standing before her with his heada little bent, and his hands clasped at his back, like a docile andattentive pupil before his catechist, "I do not question all this. Butit has lasted a long time, and it is possible- you know well, my wife,it is possible- that it may not come, during our lives."
"Eh well! How then?" demanded madame, tying another knot, as ifthere were another enemy strangled.
"Well!" said Defarge, with a half complaining and half apologeticshrug. "We shall not see the triumph."
"We shall have helped it," returned madame, with her extended handin strong action. "Nothing that we do, is done in vain. I believe,with all my soul, that we shall see the triumph. But even if not, evenif I knew certainly not, show me the neck of an aristocrat and tyrant,and still I would--"
Then madame, with her teeth set, tied a very terrible knot indeed.
"Hold!" cried Defarge, reddening a little as if he felt charged withcowardice; "I too, my dear, will stop at nothing."
"Yes! But it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see yourvictim and your opportunity, to sustain you. Sustain yourselfwithout that. When the time comes, let loose a tiger and a devil;but wait for the time with the tiger and the devil chained- not shown-yet always ready."
Madame enforced the conclusion of this piece of advice by strikingher little counter with her chain of money as if she knocked itsbrains out, and then gathering the heavy handkerchief under her arm ina serene manner, and observing that it was time to go to bed.
Next noontide saw the admirable woman in her usual place in thewine-shop, knitting away assiduously. A rose lay beside her, and ifshe now and then glanced at the flower, it was with no infraction ofher usual preoccupied air. There were a few customers, drinking or notdrinking, standing or seated, sprinkled about. The day was very hot,and heaps of flies, who were extending their inquisitive andadventurous perquisitions into all the glutinous little glasses nearmadame, fell dead at the bottom. Their decease made no impression onthe other flies out promenading, who looked at them in the coolestmanner (as if they themselves were elephants, or something as farremoved), until they met the same fate. Curious to consider howheedless flies are!- perhaps they thought as much at Court thatsunny summer day.
A figure entering at the door threw a shadow on Madame Defarge whichshe felt to be a new one. She laid down her knitting, and began to pinher rose in her head-dress, before she looked at the figure.
It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, thecustomers ceased talking, and began gradually to drop out of thewineshop.
"Good day, madame," said the new-comer.
"Good day, monsieur."
She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed herknitting: "Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feetnine, black hair, generally rather handsome visage, complexion dark,eyes dark, thin, long and sallow face, aquiline nose but not straight,having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek which imparts asinister expression! Good day, one and all!"
"Have the goodness to give me a little glass of old cognac, and amouthful of cool fresh water, madame."
Madame complied with a polite air.
"Marvellous cognac this, madame!"
It was the first time it had ever been so complimented, and MadameDefarge knew enough of its antecedents to know better. She said,however, that the cognac was flattered, and took up her knitting.The visitor watched her fingers for a few moments, and took theopportunity of observing the place in general.
"You knit with great skill, madame."
"I am accustomed to it."
"A pretty pattern too!"
"You think so?" said madame, looking at him with a smile.
"Decidedly. May one ask what it is for?"
"Pastime," said madame, still looking at him with a smile whileher fingers moved nimbly.
"Not for use?"
"That depends. I may find a use for it one day. If I do-- Well,"said madame, drawing a breath and nodding her head with a stern kindof coquetry, "I'll use it!"
It was remarkable; but, the taste of Saint Antoine seemed to bedecidedly opposed to a rose on the head-dress of Madame Defarge. Twomen had entered separately, and had been about to order drink, when,catching sight of that novelty, they faltered, made a pretence oflooking about as if for some friend who was not there, and wentaway. Nor, of those who had been there when this visitor entered,was there one left. They had all dropped off. The spy had kept hiseyes open, but had been able to detect no sign. They had loungedaway in a poverty stricken, purposeless, accidental manner, quitenatural and unimpeachable.
"JOHN," thought madame, checking off her work as her fingersknitted, and her eyes looked at the stranger. "Stay long enough, and Ishall knit 'BARSAD' before you go."
"You have a husband, madame?"
"Business seems bad?"
"Business is very bad; the people are so poor."
"Ah, the unfortunate, miserable people! So oppressed, too- as yousay."
"As you say," madame retorted, correcting him, and deftly knittingan extra something into his name that boded him no good.
"Pardon me; certainly it was I who said so, but you naturallythink so. Of course."
"I think?" returned madame, in a high voice. "I and my husbandhave enough to do to keep this wine-shop open, without thinking. Allwe think, here, is how to live. That is the subject we think of, andit gives us, from morning to night, enough to think about, withoutembarrassing our heads concerning others. I think for others? No, no."
The spy, who was there to pick up any crumbs he could find or make,did not allow his baffled state to express itself in his sinisterface; but, stood with an air of gossiping gallantry, leaning his elbowon Madame Defarge's little counter, and occasionally sipping hiscognac.
"A bad business this, madame, of Gaspard's execution. Ah! the poorGaspard!" With a sigh of great compassion.
"My faith!" returned madame, coolly and lightly, "if people useknives for such purposes, they have to pay for it. He knewbeforehand what the price of his luxury was; he has paid the price."
"I believe," said the spy, dropping his soft voice to a tone thatinvited confidence, and expressing an injured revolutionarysusceptibility in every muscle of his wicked face: "I believe there ismuch compassion and anger in this neighbourhood, touching the poorfellow? Between ourselves."
"Is there?" asked madame, vacantly.
"Is there not?"
"-Here is my husband!" said Madame Defarge.
As the keeper of the wine-shop entered at the door, the spysaluted him by touching his hat, and saying, with an engaging smile,"Good day, Jacques!" Defarge stopped short, and stared at him.
"Good day, Jacques!" the spy repeated; with not quite so muchconfidence, or quite so easy a smile under the stare.
"You deceive yourself, monsieur," returned the keeper of thewineshop. "You mistake me for another. That is not my name. I amErnest Defarge."
"It is all the same," said the spy, airily, but discomfited too:"good day!
"Good day!" answered Defarge, drily.
"I was saying to madame, with whom I had the pleasure of chattingwhen you entered, that they tell me there is- and no wonder!- muchsympathy and anger in Saint Antoine, touching the unhappy fate of poorGaspard."
"No one has told me so," said Defarge, shaking his head. "I knownothing of it."
Having said it, he passed behind the little counter, and stoodwith his hand on the back of his wife's chair, looking over thatbarrier at the person to whom they were both opposed, and whomeither of them would have shot with the greatest satisfaction.
The spy, well used to his business, did not change his unconsciousattitude, but drained his little glass of cognac, took a sip offresh water, and asked for another glass of cognac. Madame Defargepoured it out for him, took to her knitting again, and hummed a littlesong over it.
"You seem to know this quarter well; that is to say, better than Ido?" observed Defarge.
"Not at all, but I hope to know it better. I am so profoundlyinterested in its miserable inhabitants."
"Hah!" muttered Defarge.
"The pleasure of conversing with you, Monsieur Defarge, recalls tome," pursued the spy, "that I have the honour of cherishing someinteresting associations with your name."
"Indeed!" said Defarge, with much indifference.
"Yes, indeed. When Doctor Manette was released, you, his olddomestic, had the charge of him, I know. He was delivered to you.You see I am informed of the circumstances?"
"Such is the fact, certainly," said Defarge. He had had itconveyed to him, in an accidental touch of his wife's elbow as sheknitted and warbled, that he would do best to answer, but alwayswith brevity.
"It was to you," said the spy, "that his daughter came; and it wasfrom your care that his daughter took him, accompanied by a neat brownmonsieur; how is he called?- in a little wig- Lorry- of the bank ofTellson and Company- over to England."
"Such is the fact," repeated Defarge.
"Very interesting remembrances!" said the spy. "I have knownDoctor Manette and his daughter, in England."
"Yes?" said Defarge.
"You don't hear much about them now?" said the spy.
"No," said Defarge.
"In effect," madame struck in, looking up from her work and herlittle song, "we never hear about them. We received the news oftheir safe arrival, and perhaps another letter, or perhaps two; but,since then, they have gradually taken their road in life- we, ours-and we have held no correspondence."
"Perfectly so, madame," replied the spy. "She is going to bemarried."
"Going?" echoed madame. "She was pretty enough to have beenmarried long ago. You English are cold, it seems to me."
"Oh! You know I am English."
"I perceive your tongue is," returned madame; "and what the tongueis, I suppose the man is."
He did not take the identification as a compliment; but he madethe best of it, and turned it off with a laugh. After sipping hiscognac to the end, he added:
"Yes, Miss Manette is going to be married. But not to an Englishman;to one who, like herself, is French by birth. And speaking ofGaspard (ah, poor Gaspard! It was cruel, cruel!), it is a curiousthing that she is going to marry the nephew of Monsieur the Marquis,for whom Gaspard was exalted to that height of so many feet; inother words, the present Marquis. But he lives unknown in England,he is no Marquis there; he is Mr. Charles Darnay. D'Aulnais is thename of his mother's family."
Madame Defarge knitted steadily, but the intelligence had a palpableeffect upon her husband. Do what he would, behind the littlecounter, as to the striking of a light and the lighting of his pipe,he was troubled, and his hand was not trustworthy. The spy wouldhave been no spy if he had failed to see it, or to record it in hismind.
Having made, at least, this one hit, whatever it might prove to beworth, and no customers coming in to help him to any other, Mr. Barsadpaid for what he had drunk, and took his leave: taking occasion tosay, in a genteel manner, before he departed, that he looked forwardto the pleasure of seeing Monsieur and Madame Defarge again. Forsome minutes after he had emerged into the outer presence of SaintAntoine, the husband and wife remained exactly as he had left them,lest he should come back.
"Can it be true," said Defarge, in a low voice, looking down athis wife as he stood smoking with his hand on the back of her chair:"what he has said of Ma'amselle Manette?"
"As he has said it," returned madame, lifting her eyebrows a little,"it is probably false. But it may be true."
"If it is-" Defarge began, and stopped.
"If it is?" repeated his wife.
"-And if it does come, while we live to see it triumph- I hope,for her sake, Destiny will keep her husband out of France."
"Her husband's destiny," said Madame Defarge, with her usualcomposure, "will take him where he is to go, and will lead him tothe end that is to end him. That is all I know."
"But it is very strange- now, at least, is it not very strange"-said Defarge, rather pleading with his wife to induce her to admit it,"that, after all our sympathy for Monsieur her father, and herself,her husband's name should be proscribed under your hand at thismoment, by the side of that infernal dog's who has just left us?"
"Stranger things than that will happen when it does come,"answered madame. "I have them both here, of a certainty; and theyare both here for their merits; that is enough."
She rolled up her knitting when she had said those words, andpresently took the rose out of the handkerchief that was wound abouther head. Either Saint Antoine had an instinctive sense that theobjectionable decoration was gone, or Saint Antoine was on the watchfor its disappearance; howbeit, the Saint took courage to lounge in,very shortly afterwards, and the wine-shop recovered its habitualaspect.
In the evening, at which season of all others Saint Antoine turnedhimself inside out, and sat on door-steps and window-ledges, andcame to the corners of vile streets and courts, for a breath of air,Madame Defarge with her work in her hand was accustomed to pass fromplace to place and from group to group: a Missionary- there weremany like her- such as the world will do well never to breed again.All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, themechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking;the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if thebony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been morefamine-pinched.
But, as the fingers went, the eyes went, and the thoughts. And asMadame Defarge moved on from group to group, all three went quickerand fiercer among every little knot of women that she had spoken with,and left behind.
Her husband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration."A great woman," said he, "a strong woman, a grand woman, afrightfully grand woman!"
Darkness closed around, and then came the ringing of church bellsand the distant beating of the military drums in the Palace Courtyard,as the women sat knitting, knitting. Darkness encompassed them.Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, thenringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should bemelted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should bebeating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as thevoice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing inabout the women who sat knitting, knitting, they their very selveswere closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sitknitting, knitting, dropping heads.