"But our Defarge," said Jacques Three, "is undoubtedly a goodRepublican? Eh?"
"There is no better," the voluble Vengeance protested in hershrill notes, "in France."
"Peace, little Vengeance," said Madame Defarge, laying her hand witha slight frown on her lieutenant's lips, "hear me speak. My husband,fellow-citizen, is a good Republican and a bold man; he has deservedwell of the Republic, and possesses its confidence. But my husband hashis weaknesses, and he is so weak as to relent towards this Doctor."
"It is a great pity," croaked Jacques Three, dubiously shaking hishead, with his cruel fingers at his hungry mouth; "it is not quitelike a good citizen; it is a thing to regret."
"See you," said madame, "I care nothing for this Doctor, I. He maywear his head or lose it, for any interest I have in him; it is allone to me. But, the Evremonde people are to be exterminated, and thewife and child must follow the husband and father."
"She has a fine head for it," croaked Jacques Three. "I have seenblue eyes and golden hair there, and they looked charming whenSamson held them up." Ogre that he was, he spoke like an epicure.
Madame Defarge cast down her eyes, and reflected a little.
"The child also," observed Jacques Three, with a meditativeenjoyment of his words, "has golden hair and blue eyes. And weseldom have a child there. It is a pretty sight!"
"In a word," said Madame Defarge, coming out of her shortabstraction, "I cannot trust my husband in this matter. Not only doI feel, since last night, that I dare not confide to him the detailsof my projects; but also I feel that if I delay, there is danger ofhis giving warning, and then they might escape."
"That must never be," croaked Jacques Three; "no one must escape. Wehave not half enough as it is. We ought to have six score a day."
"In a word," Madame Defarge went on, "my husband has not my reasonfor pursuing this family to annihilation, and I have not his reasonfor regarding this Doctor with any sensibility. I must act for myself,therefore. Come hither, little citizen."
The wood-sawyer, who held her in the respect, and himself in thesubmission, of mortal fear, advanced with his hand to his red cap.
"Touching those signals, little citizen," said Madame Defarge,sternly, "that she made to the prisoners; you are ready to bearwitness to them this very day?"
"Ay, ay, why not!" cried the sawyer. "Every day, in all weathers,from two to four, always signalling, sometimes with the little one,sometimes without. I know what I know. I have seen with my eyes."
He made all manner of gestures while he spoke, as if in incidentalimitation of some few of the great diversity of signals that he hadnever seen.
"Clearly plots," said Jacques Three. "Transparently!"
"There is no doubt of the Jury?" inquired Madame Defarge, lettingher eyes turn to him with a gloomy smile.
"Rely upon the patriotic Jury, dear citizeness. I answer for myfellow Jurymen."
"Now, let me see," said Madame Defarge, pondering again. "Yet oncemore! Can I spare this Doctor to my husband? I have no feelingeither way. Can I spare him?"
"He would count as one head," observed Jacques Three, in a lowvoice. "We really have not heads enough; it would be a pity, I think."
"He was signalling with her when I saw her," argued MadameDefarge; "I cannot speak of one without the other; and I must not besilent, and trust the case wholly to him, this little citizen here.For, I am not a bad witness."
The Vengeance and Jacques Three vied with each other in theirfervent protestations that she was the most admirable and marvellousof witnesses. The little citizen, not to be outdone, declared her tobe a celestial witness.
"He must take his chance," said Madame Defarge. "No, I cannotspare him! You are engaged at three o'clock; you are going to seethe batch of to-day executed.- You?"
The question was addressed to the wood-sawyer, who hurriedly repliedin the affirmative: seizing the occasion to add that he was the mostardent of Republicans, and that he would be in effect the mostdesolate of Republicans, if anything prevented him from enjoying thepleasure of smoking his afternoon pipe in the contemplation of thedroll national barber. He was so very demonstrative herein, that hemight have been suspected (perhaps was, by the dark eyes that lookedcontemptuously at him out of Madame Defarge's head) of having hissmall individual fears for his own personal safety, every hour inthe day.
"I," said madame, "am equally engaged at the same place. After it isover- say at eight to-night- come you to me, in Saint Antoine, andwe will give information against these people at my Section."
The wood-sawyer said he would be proud and flattered to attend thecitizeness. The citizeness looking at him, he became embarrassed,evaded her glance as a small dog would have done, retreated amonghis wood, and hid his confusion over the handle of his saw.
Madame Defarge beckoned the Juryman and The Vengeance a littlenearer to the door, and there expounded her further views to themthus:
"She will now be at home, awaiting the moment of his death. She willbe mourning and grieving. She will be in a state of mind to impeachthe justice of the Republic. She will be full of sympathy with itsenemies. I will go to her."
"What an admirable woman; what an adorable woman!" exclaimed JacquesThree, rapturously. "Ah, my cherished!" cried The Vengeance; andembraced her.
"Take you my knitting," said Madame Defarge, placing it in herlieutenant's hands, "and have it ready for me in my usual seat. Keepme my usual chair. Go you there, straight, for there will probablybe a greater concourse than usual, to-day."
"I willingly obey the orders of my Chief," said The Vengeance withalacrity, and kissing her cheek. "You will not be late?"
"I shall be there before the commencement."
"And before the tumbrils arrive. Be sure you are there, my soul,"said The Vengeance, calling after her, for she had already turned intothe street, "before the tumbrils arrive!"
Madame Defarge slightly waved her hand, to imply that she heard, andmight be relied upon to arrive in good time, and so went through themud, and round the corner of the prison wall. The Vengeance and theJuryman, looking after her as she walked away, were highlyappreciative of her fine figure, and her superb moral endowments.
There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid adreadfully disfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more tobe dreaded than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along thestreets. Of a strong and fearless character, of shrewd sense andreadiness, of great determination, of that kind of beauty which notonly seems to impart to its possessor firmness and animosity, but tostrike into others an instinctive recognition of those qualities;the troubled time would have heaved her up, under any circumstances.But, imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, andan inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her intoa tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had thevirtue in her, it had quite gone out of her.
It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for thesins of his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing toher, that his wife was to be made a widow and his daughter anorphan; that was insufficient punishment, because they were hernatural enemies and her prey, and as such had no right to live. Toappeal to her, was made hopeless by her having no sense of pity,even for herself. If she had been laid low in the streets, in any ofthe many encounters in which she had been engaged, she would nothave pitied herself; nor, if she had been ordered to the axeto-morrow, would she have gone to it with any softer feeling than afierce desire to change places with the man who sent here there.
Such a heart Madame Defarge carried under her rough robe. Carelesslyworn, it was a becoming robe enough, in a certain weird way, and herdark hair looked rich under her coarse red cap. Lying hidden in herbosom, was a loaded pistol. Lying hidden at her waist, was a sharpeneddagger. Thus accoutred, and walking with the confident tread of such acharacter, and with the supple freedom of a woman who had habituallywalked in her girlhood, bare-foot and bare-legged, on the brownsea-sand, Madame Defarge took her way along the streets.
Now, when the journey of the travelling coach, at that very momentwaiting for the completion of its load, had been planned out lastnight, the difficulty of taking Miss Pross in it had much engagedMr. Lorry's attention. It was not merely desirable to avoidoverloading the coach, but it was of the highest importance that thetime occupied in examining it and its passengers, should be reduced tothe utmost; since their escape might depend on the saving of only afew seconds here and there. Finally, he had proposed, after anxiousconsideration, that Miss Pross and Jerry, who were at liberty to leavethe city, should leave it at three o'clock in the lightest-wheeledconveyance known to that period. Unencumbered with luggage, they wouldsoon overtake the coach, and, passing it and preceding it on the road,would order its horses in advance, and greatly facilitate its progressduring the precious hours of the night, when delay was the most tobe dreaded.
Seeing in this arrangement the hope of rendering real service inthat pressing emergency, Miss Pross hailed it with joy. She andJerry had beheld the coach start, had known who it was that Solomonbrought, had passed some ten minutes in tortures of suspense, and werenow concluding their arrangements to follow the coach, even asMadame Defarge, taking her way through the streets, now drew nearerand nearer to the else-deserted lodging in which they held theirconsultation.
"Now what do you think, Mr. Cruncher," said Miss Pross, whoseagitation was so great that she could hardly speak, or stand, or move,or live: "what do you think of our not starting from this courtyard?Another carriage having already gone from here to-day, it might awakensuspicion."
"My opinion, miss," returned Mr. Cruncher, "is as you're right.Likewise wot I'll stand by you, right or wrong."
"I am so distracted with fear and hope for our preciouscreatures," said Miss Pross, wildly crying, "that I am incapable offorming any plan. Are you capable of forming any plan, my dear goodMr. Cruncher?"
"Respectin' a future spear o' life, miss," returned Mr. Cruncher, "Ihope so. Respectin' any present use o' this here blessed old head o'mind, I think not. Would you do me the favour, miss, to take notice o'two promises and wows wot it is my wishes fur to record in this herecrisis?"
"Oh, for gracious sake!" cried Miss Pross, still wildly crying,"record them at once, and get them out of the way, like an excellentman."
"First," said Mr. Cruncher, who was all in a tremble, and whospoke with an ashy and solemn visage, "them poor things well out o'this, never no more will I do it, never no more!"
"I am quite sure, Mr. Cruncher," returned Miss Pross, "that younever will do it again, whatever it is, and I be, you not to thinkit necessary to mention more particularly what it is."
"No, miss," returned Jerry, "it shall not be named to you. Second:them poor things well out o' this, and never no more will Iinterfere with Mrs. Cruncher's flopping, never no more!"
"Whatever housekeeping arrangement that may be," said Miss Pross,striving to dry her eyes and compose herself, "I have no doubt it isbest that Mrs. Cruncher should have it entirely under her ownsuperintendence.- O my poor darlings!"
"I go so far as to say, miss, moreover," proceeded Mr. Cruncher,with a most alarming tendency to hold forth as from a pulpit- "and letmy words be took down and took to Mrs. Cruncher through yourself- thatwot my opinions respectin' flopping has undergone a change, and thatwot I only hope with all my heart as Mrs. Cruncher may be a floppingat the present time."
"There, there, there! I hope she is, my dear man," cried thedistracted Miss Pross, "and I hope she finds it answering herexpectations."
"Forbid it," proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with additional solemnity,additional slowness, and additional tendency to hold forth and holdout, "as anything wot I have ever said or done should be visited on myearnest wishes for them poor creeturs now! Forbid it as we shouldn'tall flop (if it was anyways conwenient) to get 'em out o' this heredismal risk! Forbid it, miss! Wot I say, for-BID it!" This was Mr.Cruncher's conclusion after a protracted but vain endeavour to finda better one.
And still Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, camenearer and nearer.
"If we ever get back to our native land," said Miss Pross, "youmay rely upon my telling Mrs. Cruncher as much as I may be able toremember and understand of what you have so impressively said; andat all events you may be sure that I shall bear witness to yourbeing thoroughly in earnest at this dreadful time. Now, pray let usthink! My esteemed Mr. Cruncher, let us think!"
Still, Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, camenearer and nearer.
"If you were to go before," said Miss Pross, "and stop the vehicleand horses from coming here, and were to wait somewhere for me;wouldn't that be best?"
Mr. Cruncher thought it might be best.
"Where could you wait for me?" asked Miss Pross.
Mr. Cruncher was so bewildered that he could think of no localitybut Temple Bar. Alas! Temple Bar was hundreds of miles away, andMadame Defarge was drawing very near indeed.
"By the cathedral door," said Miss Pross. "Would it be much out ofthe way, to take me in, near the great cathedral door between thetwo towers?"
"No, miss," answered Mr. Cruncher.
"Then, like the best of men," said Miss Pross, "go to theposting-house straight, and make that change."
"I am doubtful," said Mr. Cruncher, hesitating and shaking his head,"about leaving of you, you see. We don't know what may happen."
"Heaven knows we don't," returned Miss Pross, "but have no fearfor me. Take me in at the cathedral, at Three o'Clock, or as near itas you can, and I am sure it will be better than our going fromhere. I feel certain of it. There! Bless you, Mr. Cruncher! Think- notof me, but of the lives that may depend on both of us!"
This exordium, and Miss Pross's two hands in quite agonised entreatyclasping his, decided Mr. Cruncher. With an encouraging nod or two, heimmediately went out to alter the arrangements, and left her byherself to follow as she had proposed.
The having originated a precaution which was already in course ofexecution, was a great relief to Miss Pross. The necessity ofcomposing her appearance so that it should attract no special noticein the streets, was another relief. She looked at her watch, and itwas twenty minutes past two. She had no time to lose, but must getready at once.
Afraid, in her extreme perturbation, of the loneliness of thedeserted rooms, and of half-imagined faces peeping from behind everyopen door in them, Miss Pross got a basin of cold water and beganlaving her eyes, which were swollen and red. Haunted by her feverishapprehensions, she could not bear to have her sight obscured for aminute at a time by the dripping water, but constantly paused andlooked round to see that there was no one watching her. In one ofthose pauses she recoiled and cried out, for she saw a figure standingin the room.
The basin fell to the ground broken, and the water flowed to thefeet of Madame Defarge. By strange stern ways, and through muchstaining blood, those feet had come to meet that water.
Madame Defarge looked coldly at her, and said, "The wife ofEvremonde; where is she?"
It flashed upon Miss Pross's mind that the doors were all standingopen, and would suggest the flight. Her first act was to shut them.There were four in the room, and she shut them all. She then placedherself before the door of the chamber which Lucie had occupied.
Madame Defarge's dark eyes followed her through this rapid movement,and rested on her when it was finished. Miss Pross had nothingbeautiful about her; years had not tamed the wildness, or softened thegrimness, of her appearance; but, she too was a determined woman inher different way, and she measured Madame Defarge with her eyes,every inch.
"You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer," said MissPross, in her breathing. "Nevertheless, you shall not get the betterof me. I am an Englishwoman."
Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something ofMiss Pross's own perception that they two were at bay. She saw atight, hard, wiry woman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in thesame figure a woman with a strong hand, in the years gone by. She knewfull well that Miss Pross was the family's devoted friend; MissPross knew full well that Madame Defarge was the family's malevolentenemy.
"On my way yonder," said Madame Defarge, with a slight movement ofher hand towards the fatal spot, "where they reserve my chair and myknitting for me, I am come to make my compliments to her in passing. Iwish to see her."
"I know that your intentions are evil," said Miss Pross, "and youmay depend upon it, I'll hold my own against them."
Each spoke in her own language; neither understood the other'swords; both were very watchful, and intent to deduce from look andmanner, what the unintelligible words meant.
"It will do her no good to keep herself concealed from me at thismoment," said Madame Defarge. "Good patriots will know what thatmeans. Let me see her. Go tell her that I wish to see her. Do youhear?"
"If those eyes of yours were bed-winches," returned Miss Pross, "andI was an English four-poster, they shouldn't loose a splinter of me.No, you wicked foreign woman; I am your match."
Madame Defarge was not likely to follow these idiomatic remarks indetail; but, she so far understood them as to perceive that she wasset at naught.
"Woman imbecile and pig-like!" said Madame Defarge, frowning. "Itake no answer from you. I demand to see her. Either tell her that Idemand to see her, or stand out of the way of the door and let me goto her!" This, with an angry explanatory wave of her right arm.
"I little thought," said Miss Pross, "that I should ever want tounderstand your nonsensical language; but I would give all I have,except the clothes I wear, to know whether you suspect the truth, orany part of it."
Neither of them for a single moment released the other's eyes.Madame Defarge had not moved from the spot where she stood when MissPross first became aware of her; but, she now advanced one step.
"I am a Briton," said Miss Pross, "I am desperate. I don't care anEnglish Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here,the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful ofthat dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!"
Thus Miss Pross, with a shake of her head and a flash of her eyesbetween every rapid sentence, and every rapid sentence a whole breath.Thus Miss Pross, who had never struck a blow in her life.
But, her courage was of that emotional nature that it brought theirrepressible tears into her eyes. This was a courage that MadameDefarge so little comprehended as to mistake for weakness. "Ha, ha!"she laughed, "you poor wretch! What are you worth! I address myself tothat Doctor." Then she raised her voice and called out, "CitizenDoctor! Wife of Evremonde! Child of Evremonde! Any person but thismiserable fool, answer the Citizeness Defarge!"
Perhaps the following silence, perhaps some latent disclosure in theexpression of Miss Pross's face, perhaps a sudden misgiving apart fromeither suggestion, whispered to Madame Defarge that they were gone.Three of the doors she opened swiftly, and looked in.
"Those rooms are all in disorder, there has been hurried packing,there are odds and ends upon the ground. There is no one in thatroom behind you! Let me look."
"Never!" said Miss Pross, who understood the request as perfectly asMadame Defarge understood the answer.
"If they are not in that room, they are gone, and can be pursued andbrought back," said Madame Defarge to herself.
"As long as you don't know whether they are in that room or not, youare uncertain what to do," said Miss Pross to herself; "and youshall not know that, if I can prevent your knowing it; and knowthat, or not know that, you shall not leave here while I can holdyou."
"I have been in the streets from the first, nothing has stoppedme, I will tear you to pieces, but I will have you from that door,"said Madame Defarge.
"We are alone at the top of a high house in a solitary courtyard, weare not likely to be heard, and I pray for bodily strength to keep youhere, while every minute you are here is worth a hundred thousandguineas to my darling," said Miss Pross.
Madame Defarge made at the door. Miss Pross, on the instinct ofthe moment, seized her round the waist in both her arms, and heldher tight. It was in vain for Madame Defarge to struggle and tostrike; Miss Pross, with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so muchstronger than hate, clasped her tight, and even lifted her from thefloor in the struggle that they had. The two hands of Madame Defargebuffeted and tore her face; but, Miss Pross, with her head down,held her round the waist, and clung to her with more than the holdof a drowning woman.
Soon, Madame Defarge's hands ceased to strike, and felt at herencircled waist. "It is under my arm," said Miss Pross, in smotheredtones, "you shall not draw it. I am stronger than you, I blessHeaven for it. I hold you till one or other of us faints or dies!"
Madame Defarge's hands were at her bosom. Miss Pross looked up,saw what it was, struck at it, struck out a flash and a crash, andstood alone- blinded with smoke.
All this was in a second. As the smoke cleared, leaving an awfulstillness, it passed out on the air, like the soul of the furiouswoman whose body lay lifeless on the ground.
In the first fright and horror of her situation, Miss Pross passedthe body as far from it as she could, and ran down the stairs tocall for fruitless help. Happily, she bethought herself of theconsequences of what she did, in time to check herself and go back. Itwas dreadful to go in at the door again; but, she did go in, andeven went near it, to get the bonnet and other things that she mustwear. These she put on, out on the staircase, first shutting andlocking the door and taking away the key. She then sat down on thestairs a few moments to breathe and to cry, and then got up andhurried away.
By good fortune she had a veil on her bonnet, or she could hardlyhave gone along the streets without being stopped. By good fortune,too, she was naturally so peculiar in appearance as not to showdisfigurement like any other woman. She needed both advantages, forthe marks of griping fingers were deep in her face, and her hair wastorn, and her dress (hastily composed with unsteady hands) wasclutched and dragged a hundred ways.
In crossing the bridge, she dropped the door key in the river.Arriving at the cathedral some few minutes before her escort, andwaiting there, she thought, what if the key were already taken in anet, what if it were identified, what if the door were opened andthe remains discovered, what if she were stopped at the gate, sentto prison, and charged with murder! In the midst of these flutteringthoughts, the escort appeared, took her in, and took her away.
"Is there any noise in the streets?" she asked him.
"The usual noises," Mr. Cruncher replied; and looked surprised bythe question and by her aspect.
"I don't hear you," said Miss Pross. "What do you say?"
It was in vain for Mr. Cruncher to repeat what he said; Miss Prosscould not hear him. "So I'll nod my head," thought Mr. Cruncher,amazed, "at all events she'll see that." And she did.
"Is there any noise in the streets now?" asked Miss Pross again,presently.
Again Mr. Cruncher nodded his head.
"I don't hear it."
"Gone deaf in an hour?" said Mr. Cruncher, ruminating, with his mindmuch disturbed; "wot's come to her?"
"I feel," said Miss Pross, "as if there had been a flash and acrash, and that crash was the last thing I should ever hear in thislife."
"Blest if she ain't in a queer condition!" said Mr. Cruncher, moreand more disturbed. "Wot can she have been a takin', to keep hercourage up? Hark! There's the roll of them dreadful carts! You canhear that, miss?"
"I can hear," said Miss Pross, seeing that he spoke to her,"nothing. O, my good man, there was first a great crash, and then agreat stillness, and that stillness seems to be fixed andunchangeable, never to be broken any more as long as my life lasts."
"If she don't hear the roll of those dreadful carts, now very nightheir journey's end," said Mr. Cruncher, glancing over his shoulder,"it's my opinion that indeed she never will hear anything else in thisworld."
And indeed she never did.