Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light andheat, contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, therewere several knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now witha manifest sense of power enthroned on their distress. The raggedestnightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crookedsignificance in it: "I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearerof this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it hasgrown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?" Everylean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work alwaysready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knittingwomen were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. Therewas a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had beenhammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishingblows had told mightily on the expression.
Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval aswas to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of hersisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of astarved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenanthad 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 SaintAntoine Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, afast-spreading murmur came rushing along.
"It is Defarge," said madame. "Silence, patriots!"
Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and lookedaround him! "Listen, everywhere!" said madame again. "Listen to him!Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and openmouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop hadsprung 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 peoplethat 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 causedhimself to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. Butthey have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought himin. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, aprisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! Had hereason?"
Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten, if he hadnever known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts ifhe could have heard the answering cry.
A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife lookedsteadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of adrum 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 wasbeating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together bymagic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flingingher arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearingfrom house to house, rousing the women.
The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which theylooked from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouringdown into the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill theboldest. From such household occupations as their bare povertyyielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouchingon the bare ground famished and naked, they ran out with streaminghair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with thewildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulontaken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a scoreof others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts,tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told thestarving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old fatherthat he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon whotold my baby it might suck grass, when these breasts where dry withwant! 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 thesestones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and youngmen, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon, Giveus the heart of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, RendFoulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may growfrom him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blindfrenzy, whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends untilthey dropped into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the menbelonging to them from being trampled under foot.
Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon wasat the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoineknew his own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and womenflocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregsafter them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of anhour there was not a human creature in Saint Antoine's bosom but a fewold crones and the wailing children.
No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination wherethis old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into theadjacent open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, TheVengeance, and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no greatdistance from him in the Hall.
"See!" cried madame, pointing with her knife. "See the old villainbound with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass uponhis back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!" Madameput her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.
The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the causeof her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explainingto others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resoundedwith the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours ofdrawl, and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge'sfrequent expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellousquickness, at a distance: the more readily, because certain men whohad by some wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the externalarchitecture to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well,and acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside thebuilding.
At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as ofhope or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner's head. Thefavour was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust andchaff that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and SaintAntoine had got him!
It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd.Defarge had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded themiserable wretch in a deadly embrace- Madame Defarge had butfollowed and turned her hand in one of the ropes with which he wastied- The Vengeance and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, andthe men at the windows had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birdsof prey from their high perches- when the cry seemed to go up, allover 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, andstruck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that werethrust into his face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting,bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy; now fullof vehement agony of action, with a small clear space about him as thepeople drew one another back that they might see; now, a log of deadwood drawn through a forest of legs; he was hauled to the neareststreet corner where one of the fatal lamps swung, and there MadameDefarge let him go- as a cat might have done to a mouse- andsilently and composedly looked at him while they made ready, and whilehe besought her: the women passionately screeching at him all thetime, and the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass inhis mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caughthim shrieking; twice, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and theycaught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and held him, andhis head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth forall Saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.
Nor was this the end of the day's bad work, for Saint Antoine soshouted and danced his angry blood up, that it boiled again, onhearing when the day closed in that the son-in-law of thedespatched, another of the people's enemies and insulters, wascoming 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 Fouloncompany- set his head and heart on pikes, and carried the three spoilsof the day, in Wolf-procession through the streets.
Not before dark night did the men and women come back to thechildren, wailing and breadless. Then, the miserable bakers' shopswere beset by long files of them, patiently waiting to buy badbread; and while they waited with stomachs faint and empty, theybeguiled the time by embracing one another on the triumphs of the day,and achieving them again in gossip. Gradually, these strings of raggedpeople shortened and frayed away; and then poor lights began toshine in high windows, and slender fires were made in the streets,at which neighbours cooked in common, afterwards supping at theirdoors.
Scanty and insufficient suppers those, and innocent of meat, as ofmost other sauce to wretched bread. Yet, human fellowship infused somenourishment into the flinty viands, and struck some sparks ofcheerfulness out of them. Fathers and mothers who had had their fullin the worst of the day, played gently with their meagre children; andlovers, with such a world around them and before them, loved andhoped.
It was almost morning, when Defarge's wine-shop parted with its lastknot of customers, and Monsieur Defarge said to madame his wife, inhusky 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 sleptwith her starved grocer, and the drum was at rest. The drum's wasthe only voice in Saint Antoine that blood and hurry had notchanged. The Vengeance, as custodian of the drum, could have wakenedhim 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 menand women in Saint Antoine's bosom.