known to her before he left town for the Long Vacation. After some mental debating of the point, he came to the conclusion that it would be as well to get all the preliminaries done with, and they could then arrange at their leisure whether he should give her his hand a week or two before Michaelmas Term, or in the little Christmas vacation between it and Hilary.
As to the strength of his case, he had not a doubt about it, but clearly saw his way to the verdict. Argued with the jury on substantial worldly grounds–the only grounds ever worth taking into account– it was a plain case, and had not a weak spot in it. He called himself for the plaintiff, there was no getting over his evidence, the counsel for the defendant threw up his brief, and the jury did not even turn to consider. After trying it, Stryver, C. J., was satisfied that no plainer case could be.
Accordingly, Mr. Stryver inaugurated the Long Vacation with a formal proposal to take Miss Manette to Vauxhall Gardens; that failing, to Ranelagh; that unaccountably failing too, it behoved him to present himself in Soho, and there declare his noble mind.
Towards Soho, therefore, Mr. Stryver shouldered his way from the Temple, while the bloom of the Long Vacation’s infancy was still upon it. Anybody who had seen him projecting himself into Soho while he was yet on Saint Dunstan’s side of Temple Bar, bursting in his full-blown way along the pavement, to the jostlement of all weaker people, might have seen how safe and strong he was.
His way taking him past Tellson’s, and he both banking at Tellson’s and knowing Mr. Lorry as the intimate friend of the Manettes, it entered Mr. Stryver’s mind to enter the bank, and reveal to Mr. Lorry the brightness of the Soho horizon. So, he pushed open the door with the weak rattle in its throat, stumbled down the two steps, got past the two ancient cashiers, and shouldered himself into the musty back closet where Mr. Lorry sat at great books ruled for figures, with perpendicular iron bars to his window as if that were ruled for figures too, and everything under the clouds were a sum.
“Halloa!” said Mr. Stryver. “How do you do? I hope you are well!”
It was Stryver’s grand peculiarity that he always seemed too big for any place, or space. He was so much too big for Tellson’s, that old clerks in distant corners looked up with looks of remonstrance, as though he squeezed them against the wall. The House itself, magnificently reading the paper quite in the far-off perspective, lowered displeased, as if the Stryver head had been butted into its responsible waistcoat.
The discreet Mr. Lorry said, in a sample tone of the voice he would recommend under the circumstances, “How do you do, Mr. Stryver? How do you do, sir?” and shook hands. There was a peculiarity in his manner of shaking hands, always to be seen in any clerk at Tellson’s who shook hands with a customer when the House pervaded the air. He shook in a self-abnegating way, as one who shook for Tellson and Co.
“Can I do anything for you, Mr. Stryver?” asked Mr. Lorry, in his business character.
“Why, no, thank you; this is a private visit to yourself, Mr. Lorry; I have come for a private word.”
“Oh indeed!” said Mr. Lorry, bending down his ear, while his eye strayed to the House afar off.
“I am going,” said Mr. Stryver, leaning his arms confidentially on the desk: whereupon, although it was a large double one, there appeared to be not half desk enough for him: “I am going to make an offer of myself in marriage to your agreeable little friend, Miss Manette, Mr. Lorry.”
“Oh dear me!” cried Mr. Lorry, rubbing his chin, and looking at his visitor dubiously.
“Oh dear me, sir?” repeated Stryver, drawing back. “Oh dear you, sir? What may your meaning be, Mr. Lorry?”
“My meaning,” answered the man of business, “is, of course, friendly and appreciative, and that it does you the greatest credit, and– in short, my meaning is everything you could desire. But–really, you know, Mr. Stryver–” Mr. Lorry paused, and shook his head at him in the oddest manner, as if he were compelled against his will to add, internally, “you know there really is so much too much of you!”
“Well!” said Stryver, slapping the desk with his contentious hand, opening his eyes wider, and taking a long breath, “if I understand you, Mr. Lorry, I’ll be hanged!”
Mr. Lorry adjusted his little wig at both ears as a means towards that end, and bit the feather of a pen.
“D–n it all, sir!” said Stryver, staring at him, “am I not eligible?”
“Oh dear yes! Yes. Oh yes, you’re eligible!” said Mr. Lorry. “If you say eligible, you are eligible.”
“Am I not prosperous?” asked Stryver.
“Oh! if you come to prosperous, you are prosperous,” said Mr. Lorry.
“If you come to advancing you know,” said Mr. Lorry, delighted to be able to make another admission, “nobody can doubt that.”
“Then what on earth is your meaning, Mr. Lorry?” demanded Stryver, perceptibly crestfallen.
“Well! I–Were you going there now?” asked Mr. Lorry.
“Straight!” said Stryver, with a plump of his fist on the desk.
“Then I think I wouldn’t, if I was you.”
“Why?” said Stryver. “Now, I’ll put you in a corner,” forensically shaking a forefinger at him. “You are a man of business and bound to have a reason. State your reason. Why wouldn’t you go?”
“Because,” said Mr. Lorry, “I wouldn’t go on such an object without having some cause to believe that I should succeed.”
“D–n ME!” cried Stryver, “but this beats everything.”
Mr. Lorry glanced at the distant House, and glanced at the angry Stryver.
“Here’s a man of business–a man of years–a man of experience– IN a Bank,” said Stryver; “and having summed up three leading reasons for complete success, he says there’s no reason at all! Says it with his head on!” Mr. Stryver remarked upon the peculiarity as if it would have been infinitely less remarkable if he had said it with his head off.
“When I speak of success, I speak of success with the young lady; and when I speak of causes and reasons to make success probable, I speak of causes and reasons that will tell as such with the young lady. The young lady, my good sir,” said Mr. Lorry, mildly tapping the Stryver arm, “the young lady. The young lady goes before all.”
“Then you mean to tell me, Mr. Lorry,” said Stryver, squaring his elbows, “that it is your deliberate opinion that the young lady at present in question is a mincing Fool?”
“Not exactly so. I mean to tell you, Mr. Stryver,” said Mr. Lorry, reddening, “that I will hear no disrespectful word of that young lady from any lips; and that if I knew any man–which I hope I do not– whose taste was so coarse, and whose temper was so overbearing, that he could not restrain himself from speaking disrespectfully of that young lady at this desk, not even Tellson’s should prevent my giving him a piece of my mind.”
The necessity of being angry in a suppressed tone had put Mr. Stryver’s blood-vessels into a dangerous state when it was his turn to be angry; Mr. Lorry’s veins, methodical as their courses could usually be, were in no better state now it was his turn.
“That is what I mean to tell you, sir,” said Mr. Lorry. “Pray let there be no mistake about it.”
Mr. Stryver sucked the end of a ruler for a little while, and then stood hitting a tune out of his teeth with it, which probably gave him the toothache. He broke the awkward silence by saying:
“This is something new to me, Mr. Lorry. You deliberately advise me not to go up to Soho and offer myself–MYself, Stryver of the King’s Bench bar?”
“Do you ask me for my advice, Mr. Stryver?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Very good. Then I give it, and you have repeated it correctly.”
“And all I can say of it is,” laughed Stryver with a vexed laugh, “that this–ha, ha!–beats everything past, present, and to come.”
“Now understand me,” pursued Mr. Lorry. “As a man of business, I am not justified in saying anything about this matter, for, as a man of business, I know nothing of it. But, as an old fellow, who has carried Miss Manette in his arms, who is the trusted friend of Miss Manette and of her father too, and who has a great affection for them both, I have spoken. The confidence is not of my seeking, recollect. Now, you think I may not be right?”
“Not I!” said Stryver, whistling. “I can’t undertake to find third parties in common sense; I can only find it for myself. I suppose sense in certain quarters; you suppose mincing bread-and-butter nonsense. It’s new to me, but you are right, I dare say.”
“What I suppose, Mr. Stryver, I claim to characterise for myself–And understand me, sir,” said Mr. Lorry, quickly flushing again, “I will not–not even at Tellson’s–have it characterised for me by any gentleman breathing.”
“There! I beg your pardon!” said Stryver.
“Granted. Thank you. Well, Mr. Stryver, I was about to say:–it might be painful to you to find yourself mistaken, it might be painful to Doctor Manette to have the task of being explicit with you, it might be very painful to Miss Manette to have the task of being explicit with you. You know the terms upon which I have the honour and happiness to stand with the family. If you please, committing you in no way, representing you in no way, I will undertake to correct my advice by the exercise of a little new observation and judgment expressly brought to bear upon it. If you should then be dissatisfied with it, you can but test its soundness for yourself; if, on the other hand, you should be satisfied with it, and it should be what it now is, it may spare all sides what is best spared. What do you say?”
“How long would you keep me in town?”
“Oh! It is only a question of a few hours. I could go to Soho in the evening, and come to your chambers afterwards.”
“Then I say yes,” said Stryver: “I won’t go up there now, I am not so hot upon it as that comes to; I say yes, and I shall expect you to look in to-night. Good morning.”
Then Mr. Stryver turned and burst out of the Bank, causing such a concussion of air on his passage through, that to stand up against it bowing behind the two counters, required the utmost remaining strength of the two ancient clerks. Those venerable and feeble persons were always seen by the public in the act of bowing, and were popularly believed, when they had bowed a customer out, still to keep on bowing in the empty office until they bowed another customer in.
The barrister was keen enough to divine that the banker would not have gone so far in his expression of opinion on any less solid ground than moral certainty. Unprepared as he was for the large pill he had to swallow, he got it down. “And now,” said Mr. Stryver, shaking his forensic forefinger at the Temple in general, when it was down, “my way out of this, is, to put you all in the wrong.”
It was a bit of the art of an Old Bailey tactician, in which he found great relief. “You shall not put me in the wrong, young lady,” said Mr. Stryver; “I’ll do that for you.”
Accordingly, when Mr. Lorry called that night as late as ten o’clock, Mr. Stryver, among a quantity of books and papers littered out for the purpose, seemed to have nothing less on his mind than the subject of the morning. He even showed surprise when he saw Mr. Lorry, and was altogether in an absent and preoccupied state.
“Well!” said that good-natured emissary, after a full half-hour of bootless attempts to bring him round to the question. “I have been to Soho.”
“To Soho?” repeated Mr. Stryver, coldly. “Oh, to be sure! What am I thinking of!”
“And I have no doubt,” said Mr. Lorry, “that I was right in the conversation we had. My opinion is confirmed, and I reiterate my advice.”
“I assure you,” returned Mr. Stryver, in the friendliest way, “that I am sorry for it on your account, and sorry for it on the poor father’s account. I know this must always be a sore subject with the family; let us say no more about it.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Mr. Lorry.
“I dare say not,” rejoined Stryver, nodding his head in a smoothing and final way; “no matter, no matter.”
“But it does matter,” Mr. Lorry urged.
“No it doesn’t; I assure you it doesn’t. Having supposed that there was sense where there is no sense, and a laudable ambition where there is not a laudable ambition, I am well out of my mistake, and no harm is done. Young women have committed similar follies often before, and have repented them in poverty and obscurity often before. In an unselfish aspect, I am sorry that the thing is dropped, because it would have been a bad thing for me in a worldly point of view; in a selfish aspect, I am glad that the thing has dropped, because it would have been a bad thing for me in a worldly point of view– it is hardly necessary to say I could have gained nothing by it. There is no harm at all done. I have not proposed to the young lady, and, between ourselves, I am by no means certain, on reflection, that I ever should have committed myself to that extent. Mr. Lorry, you cannot control the mincing vanities and giddinesses of empty-headed girls; you must not expect to do it, or you will always be disappointed. Now, pray say no more about it. I tell you, I regret it on account of others, but I am satisfied on my own account. And I am really very much obliged to you for allowing me to sound you, and for giving me your advice; you know the young lady better than I do; you were right, it never would have done.”
Mr. Lorry was so taken aback, that he looked quite stupidly at Mr. Stryver shouldering him towards the door, with an appearance of showering generosity, forbearance, and goodwill, on his erring head. “Make the best of it, my dear sir,” said Stryver; “say no more about it; thank you again for allowing me to sound you; good night!”
Mr. Lorry was out in the night, before he knew where he was. Mr. Stryver was lying back on his sofa, winking at his ceiling.
The Fellow of No Delicacy
If Sydney Carton ever shone anywhere, he certainly never shone in the house of Doctor Manette. He had been there often, during a whole year, and had always been the same moody and morose lounger there. When he cared to talk, he talked well; but, the cloud of caring for nothing, which overshadowed him with such a fatal darkness, was very rarely pierced by the light within him.
And yet he did care something for the streets that environed that house, and for the senseless stones that made their pavements. Many a night he vaguely and unhappily wandered there, when wine had brought no transitory gladness to him; many a dreary daybreak revealed his solitary figure lingering there, and still lingering there when the first beams of the sun brought into strong relief, removed beauties of architecture in spires of churches and lofty buildings, as perhaps the quiet time brought some sense of better things, else forgotten and unattainable, into his mind. Of late, the neglected bed in the Temple Court had known him more scantily than ever; and often when he had thrown himself upon it no longer than a few minutes, he had got up again, and haunted that neighbourhood.
On a day in August, when Mr. Stryver (after notifying to his jackal that “he had thought better of that marrying matter”) had carried his delicacy into Devonshire, and when the sight and scent of flowers in the City streets had some waifs of goodness in them for the worst, of health for the sickliest, and of youth for the oldest, Sydney’s feet still trod those stones. From being irresolute and purposeless, his feet became animated by an intention, and, in the working out of that intention, they took him to the Doctor’s door.
He was shown up-stairs, and found Lucie at her work, alone. She had never been quite at her ease with him, and received him with some little embarrassment as he seated himself near her table. But, looking up at his face in the interchange of the first few common-places, she observed a change in it.
“I fear you are not well, Mr. Carton!”
“No. But the life I lead, Miss Manette, is not conducive to health. What is to be expected of, or by, such profligates?”
“Is it not–forgive me; I have begun the question on my lips–a pity to live no better life?”
“God knows it is a shame!”
“Then why not change it?”
Looking gently at him again, she was surprised and saddened to see that there were tears in his eyes. There were tears in his voice too, as he answered:
“It is too late for that. I shall never be better than I am. I shall sink lower, and be worse.”
He leaned an elbow on her table, and covered his eyes with his hand. The table trembled in the silence that followed.
She had never seen him softened, and was much distressed. He knew her to be so, without looking at her, and said:
“Pray forgive me, Miss Manette. I break down before the knowledge of what I want to say to you. Will you hear me?”
“If it will do you any good, Mr. Carton, if it would make you happier, it would make me very glad!”
“God bless you for your sweet compassion!”
He unshaded his face after a little while, and spoke steadily.
“Don’t be afraid to hear me. Don’t shrink from anything I say. I am like one who died young. All my life might have been.”
“No, Mr. Carton. I am sure that the best part of it might still be; I am sure that you might be much, much worthier of yourself.”
“Say of you, Miss Manette, and although I know better–although in the mystery of my own wretched heart I know better–I shall never forget it!”
She was pale and trembling. He came to her relief with a fixed despair of himself which made the interview unlike any other that could have been holden.
“If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man you see before yourself–flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be–he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful that it cannot be.”
“Without it, can I not save you, Mr. Carton? Can I not recall you– forgive me again!–to a better course? Can I in no way repay your confidence? I know this is a confidence,” she modestly said, after a little hesitation, and in earnest tears, “I know you would say this to no one else. Can I turn it to no good account for yourself, Mr. Carton?”
He shook his head.
“To none. No, Miss Manette, to none. If you will hear me through a very little more, all you can ever do for me is done. I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul. In my degradation I have not been so degraded but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me. Since I knew you, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward, that I thought were silent for ever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.”
“Will nothing of it remain? O Mr. Carton, think again! Try again!”
“No, Miss Manette; all through it, I have known myself to be quite undeserving. And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire–a fire, however, inseparable in its nature from myself, quickening nothing, lighting nothing, doing no service, idly burning away.”
“Since it is my misfortune, Mr. Carton, to have made you more unhappy than you were before you knew me–”
“Don’t say that, Miss Manette, for you would have reclaimed me, if anything could. You will not be the cause of my becoming worse.”
“Since the state of your mind that you describe, is, at all events, attributable to some influence of mine–this is what I mean, if I can make it plain–can I use no influence to serve you? Have I no power for good, with you, at all?”
“The utmost good that I am capable of now, Miss Manette, I have come here to realise. Let me carry through the rest of my misdirected life, the remembrance that I opened my heart to you, last of all the world; and that there was something left in me at this time which you could deplore and pity.”
“Which I entreated you to believe, again and again, most fervently, with all my heart, was capable of better things, Mr. Carton!”
“Entreat me to believe it no more, Miss Manette. I have proved myself, and I know better. I distress you; I draw fast to an end. Will you let me believe, when I recall this day, that the last confidence of my life was reposed in your pure and innocent breast, and that it lies there alone, and will be shared by no one?”
“If that will be a consolation to you, yes.”
“Not even by the dearest one ever to be known to you?”
“Mr. Carton,” she answered, after an agitated pause, “the secret is yours, not mine; and I promise to respect it.”
“Thank you. And again, God bless you.”
He put her hand to his lips, and moved towards the door.
“Be under no apprehension, Miss Manette, of my ever resuming this conversation by so much as a passing word. I will never refer to it again. If I were dead, that could not be surer than it is henceforth. In the hour of my death, I shall hold sacred the one good remembrance– and shall thank and bless you for it–that my last avowal of myself was made to you, and that my name, and faults, and miseries were gently carried in your heart. May it otherwise be light and happy!”
He was so unlike what he had ever shown himself to be, and it was so sad to think how much he had thrown away, and how much he every day kept down and perverted, that Lucie Manette wept mournfully for him as he stood looking back at her.
“Be comforted!” he said, “I am not worth such feeling, Miss Manette. An hour or two hence, and the low companions and low habits that I scorn but yield to, will render me less worth such tears as those, than any wretch who creeps along the streets. Be comforted! But, within myself, I shall always be, towards you, what I am now, though outwardly I shall be what you have heretofore seen me. The last supplication but one I make to you, is, that you will believe this of me.”
“I will, Mr. Carton.”
“My last supplication of all, is this; and with it, I will relieve you of a visitor with whom I well know you have nothing in unison, and between whom and you there is an impassable space. It is useless to say it, I know, but it rises out of my soul. For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. The time will come, the time will not be long in coming, when new ties will be formed about you–ties that will bind you yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn–the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you. O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”
He said, “Farewell!” said a last “God bless you!” and left her.
The Honest Tradesman
To the eyes of Mr. Jeremiah Cruncher, sitting on his stool in Fleet-street with his grisly urchin beside him, a vast number and variety of objects in movement were every day presented. Who could sit upon anything in Fleet-street during the busy hours of the day, and not be dazed and deafened by two immense processions, one ever tending westward with the sun, the other ever tending eastward from the sun, both ever tending to the plains beyond the range of red and purple where the sun goes down!
With his straw in his mouth, Mr. Cruncher sat watching the two streams, like the heathen rustic who has for several centuries been on duty watching one stream–saving that Jerry had no expectation of their ever running dry. Nor would it have been an expectation of a hopeful kind, since a small part of his income was derived from the pilotage of timid women (mostly of a full habit and past the middle term of life) from Tellson’s side of the tides to the opposite shore. Brief as such companionship was in every separate instance, Mr. Cruncher never failed to become so interested in the lady as to express a strong desire to have the honour of drinking her very good health. And it was from the gifts bestowed upon him towards the execution of this benevolent purpose, that he recruited his finances, as just now observed.
Time was, when a poet sat upon a stool in a public place, and mused in the sight of men. Mr. Cruncher, sitting on a stool in a public place, but not being a poet, mused as little as possible, and looked about him.
It fell out that he was thus engaged in a season when crowds were few, and belated women few, and when his affairs in general were so unprosperous as to awaken a strong suspicion in his breast that Mrs. Cruncher must have been “flopping” in some pointed manner, when an unusual concourse pouring down Fleet-street westward, attracted his attention. Looking that way, Mr. Cruncher made out that some kind of funeral was coming along, and that there was popular objection to this funeral, which engendered uproar.
“Young Jerry,” said Mr. Cruncher, turning to his offspring, “it’s a buryin’.”
“Hooroar, father!” cried Young Jerry.
The young gentleman uttered this exultant sound with mysterious significance. The elder gentleman took the cry so ill, that he watched his opportunity, and smote the young gentleman on the ear.
“What d’ye mean? What are you hooroaring at? What do you want to conwey to your own father, you young Rip? This boy is a getting too many for ME!” said Mr. Cruncher, surveying him. “Him and his hooroars! Don’t let me hear no more of you, or you shall feel some more of me. D’ye hear?”
“I warn’t doing no harm,” Young Jerry protested, rubbing his cheek.
“Drop it then,” said Mr. Cruncher; “I won’t have none of YOUR no harms. Get a top of that there seat, and look at the crowd.”
His son obeyed, and the crowd approached; they were bawling and hissing round a dingy hearse and dingy mourning coach, in which mourning coach there was only one mourner, dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position. The position appeared by no means to please him, however, with an increasing rabble surrounding the coach, deriding him, making grimaces at him, and incessantly groaning and calling out: “Yah! Spies! Tst! Yaha! Spies!” with many compliments too numerous and forcible to repeat.
Funerals had at all times a remarkable attraction for Mr. Cruncher; he always pricked up his senses, and became excited, when a funeral passed Tellson’s. Naturally, therefore, a funeral with this uncommon attendance excited him greatly, and he asked of the first man who ran against him:
“What is it, brother? What’s it about?”
“_I_ don’t know,” said the man. “Spies! Yaha! Tst! Spies!”
He asked another man. “Who is it?”
“_I_ don’t know,” returned the man, clapping his hands to his mouth nevertheless, and vociferating in a surprising heat and with the greatest ardour, “Spies! Yaha! Tst, tst! Spi–ies!”
At length, a person better informed on the merits of the case, tumbled against him, and from this person he learned that the funeral was the funeral of one Roger Cly.
“Was He a spy?” asked Mr. Cruncher.
“Old Bailey spy,” returned his informant. “Yaha! Tst! Yah! Old Bailey Spi–i–ies!”
“Why, to be sure!” exclaimed Jerry, recalling the Trial at which he had assisted. “I’ve seen him. Dead, is he?”
“Dead as mutton,” returned the other, “and can’t be too dead. Have ’em out, there! Spies! Pull ’em out, there! Spies!”
The idea was so acceptable in the prevalent absence of any idea, that the crowd caught it up with eagerness, and loudly repeating the suggestion to have ’em out, and to pull ’em out, mobbed the two vehicles so closely that they came to a stop. On the crowd’s opening the coach doors, the one mourner scuffled out of himself and was in their hands for a moment; but he was so alert, and made such good use of his time, that in another moment he was scouring away up a bye-street, after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, white pocket-handkerchief, and other symbolical tears.
These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide with great enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded. They had already got the length of opening the hearse to take the coffin out, when some brighter genius proposed instead, its being escorted to its destination amidst general rejoicing. Practical suggestions being much needed, this suggestion, too, was received with acclamation, and the coach was immediately filled with eight inside and a dozen out, while as many people got on the roof of the hearse as could by any exercise of ingenuity stick upon it. Among the first of these volunteers was Jerry Cruncher himself, who modestly concealed his spiky head from the observation of Tellson’s, in the further corner of the mourning coach.
The officiating undertakers made some protest against these changes in the ceremonies; but, the river being alarmingly near, and several voices remarking on the efficacy of cold immersion in bringing refractory members of the profession to reason, the protest was faint and brief. The remodelled procession started, with a chimney-sweep driving the hearse–advised by the regular driver, who was perched beside him, under close inspection, for the purpose–and with a pieman, also attended by his cabinet minister, driving the mourning coach. A bear-leader, a popular street character of the time, was impressed as an additional ornament, before the cavalcade had gone far down the Strand; and his bear, who was black and very mangy, gave quite an Undertaking air to that part of the procession in which he walked.
Thus, with beer-drinking, pipe-smoking, song-roaring, and infinite caricaturing of woe, the disorderly procession went its way, recruiting at every step, and all the shops shutting up before it. Its destination was the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in the fields. It got there in course of time; insisted on pouring into the burial-ground; finally, accomplished the interment of the deceased Roger Cly in its own way, and highly to its own satisfaction.
The dead man disposed of, and the crowd being under the necessity of providing some other entertainment for itself, another brighter genius (or perhaps the same) conceived the humour of impeaching casual passers-by, as Old Bailey spies, and wreaking vengeance on them. Chase was given to some scores of inoffensive persons who had never been near the Old Bailey in their lives, in the realisation of this fancy, and they were roughly hustled and maltreated. The transition to the sport of window-breaking, and thence to the plundering of public-houses, was easy and natural. At last, after several hours, when sundry summer-houses had been pulled down, and some area-railings had been torn up, to arm the more belligerent spirits, a rumour got about that the Guards were coming. Before this rumour, the crowd gradually melted away, and perhaps the Guards came, and perhaps they never came, and this was the usual progress of a mob.
Mr. Cruncher did not assist at the closing sports, but had remained behind in the churchyard, to confer and condole with the undertakers. The place had a soothing influence on him. He procured a pipe from a neighbouring public-house, and smoked it, looking in at the railings and maturely considering the spot.
“Jerry,” said Mr. Cruncher, apostrophising himself in his usual way, “you see that there Cly that day, and you see with your own eyes that he was a young ‘un and a straight made ‘un.”
Having smoked his pipe out, and ruminated a little longer, he turned himself about, that he might appear, before the hour of closing, on his station at Tellson’s. Whether his meditations on mortality had touched his liver, or whether his general health had been previously at all amiss, or whether he desired to show a little attention to an eminent man, is not so much to the purpose, as that he made a short call upon his medical adviser–a distinguished surgeon–on his way back.
Young Jerry relieved his father with dutiful interest, and reported No job in his absence. The bank closed, the ancient clerks came out, the usual watch was set, and Mr. Cruncher and his son went home to tea.
“Now, I tell you where it is!” said Mr. Cruncher to his wife, on entering. “If, as a honest tradesman, my wenturs goes wrong to-night, I shall make sure that you’ve been praying again me, and I shall work you for it just the same as if I seen you do it.”
The dejected Mrs. Cruncher shook her head.
“Why, you’re at it afore my face!” said Mr. Cruncher, with signs of angry apprehension.
“I am saying nothing.”
“Well, then; don’t meditate nothing. You might as well flop as meditate. You may as well go again me one way as another. Drop it altogether.”
“Yes, Jerry,” repeated Mr. Cruncher sitting down to tea. “Ah! It IS yes, Jerry. That’s about it. You may say yes, Jerry.”
Mr. Cruncher had no particular meaning in these sulky corroborations, but made use of them, as people not unfrequently do, to express general ironical dissatisfaction.
“You and your yes, Jerry,” said Mr. Cruncher, taking a bite out of his bread-and-butter, and seeming to help it down with a large invisible oyster out of his saucer. “Ah! I think so. I believe you.”
“You are going out to-night?” asked his decent wife, when he took another bite.
“Yes, I am.”
“May I go with you, father?” asked his son, briskly.
“No, you mayn’t. I’m a going–as your mother knows–a fishing. That’s where I’m going to. Going a fishing.”
“Your fishing-rod gets rayther rusty; don’t it, father?”
“Never you mind.”
“Shall you bring any fish home, father?”
“If I don’t, you’ll have short commons, to-morrow,” returned that gentleman, shaking his head; “that’s questions enough for you; I ain’t a going out, till you’ve been long abed.”
He devoted himself during the remainder of the evening to keeping a most vigilant watch on Mrs. Cruncher, and sullenly holding her in conversation that she might be prevented from meditating any petitions to his disadvantage. With this view, he urged his son to hold her in conversation also, and led the unfortunate woman a hard life by dwelling on any causes of complaint he could bring against her, rather than he would leave her for a moment to her own reflections. The devoutest person could have rendered no greater homage to the efficacy of an honest prayer than he did in this distrust of his wife. It was as if a professed unbeliever in ghosts should be frightened by a ghost story.
“And mind you!” said Mr. Cruncher. “No games to-morrow! If I, as a honest tradesman, succeed in providing a jinte of meat or two, none of your not touching of it, and sticking to bread. If I, as a honest tradesman, am able to provide a little beer, none of your declaring on water. When you go to Rome, do as Rome does. Rome will be a ugly customer to you, if you don’t. _I_’m your Rome, you know.”
Then he began grumbling again:
“With your flying into the face of your own wittles and drink! I don’t know how scarce you mayn’t make the wittles and drink here, by your flopping tricks and your unfeeling conduct. Look at your boy: he IS your’n, ain’t he? He’s as thin as a lath. Do you call yourself a mother, and not know that a mother’s first duty is to blow her boy out?”
This touched Young Jerry on a tender place; who adjured his mother to perform her first duty, and, whatever else she did or neglected, above all things to lay especial stress on the discharge of that maternal function so affectingly and delicately indicated by his other parent.
Thus the evening wore away with the Cruncher family, until Young Jerry was ordered to bed, and his mother, laid under similar injunctions, obeyed them. Mr. Cruncher beguiled the earlier watches of the night with solitary pipes, and did not start upon his excursion until nearly one o’clock. Towards that small and ghostly hour, he rose up from his chair, took a key out of his pocket, opened a locked cupboard, and brought forth a sack, a crowbar of convenient size, a rope and chain, and other fishing tackle of that nature. Disposing these articles about him in skilful manner, he bestowed a parting defiance on Mrs. Cruncher, extinguished the light, and went out.
Young Jerry, who had only made a feint of undressing when he went to bed, was not long after his father. Under cover of the darkness he followed out of the room, followed down the stairs, followed down the court, followed out into the streets. He was in no uneasiness concerning his getting into the house again, for it was full of lodgers, and the door stood ajar all night.
Impelled by a laudable ambition to study the art and mystery of his father’s honest calling, Young Jerry, keeping as close to house fronts, walls, and doorways, as his eyes were close to one another, held his honoured parent in view. The honoured parent steering Northward, had not gone far, when he was joined by another disciple of Izaak Walton, and the two trudged on together.
Within half an hour from the first starting, they were beyond the winking lamps, and the more than winking watchmen, and were out upon a lonely road. Another fisherman was picked up here–and that so silently, that if Young Jerry had been superstitious, he might have supposed the second follower of the gentle craft to have, all of a sudden, split himself into two.
The three went on, and Young Jerry went on, until the three stopped under a bank overhanging the road. Upon the top of the bank was a low brick wall, surmounted by an iron railing. In the shadow of bank and wall the three turned out of the road, and up a blind lane, of which the wall–there, risen to some eight or ten feet high–formed one side. Crouching down in a corner, peeping up the lane, the next object that Young Jerry saw, was the form of his honoured parent, pretty well defined against a watery and clouded moon, nimbly scaling an iron gate. He was soon over, and then the second fisherman got over, and then the third. They all dropped softly on the ground within the gate, and lay there a little–listening perhaps. Then, they moved away on their hands and knees.
It was now Young Jerry’s turn to approach the gate: which he did, holding his breath. Crouching down again in a corner there, and looking in, he made out the three fishermen creeping through some rank grass! and all the gravestones in the churchyard–it was a large churchyard that they were in–looking on like ghosts in white, while the church tower itself looked on like the ghost of a monstrous giant. They did not creep far, before they stopped and stood upright. And then they began to fish.
They fished with a spade, at first. Presently the honoured parent appeared to be adjusting some instrument like a great corkscrew. Whatever tools they worked with, they worked hard, until the awful striking of the church clock so terrified Young Jerry, that he made off, with his hair as stiff as his father’s.
But, his long-cherished desire to know more about these matters, not only stopped him in his running away, but lured him back again. They were still fishing perseveringly, when he peeped in at the gate for the second time; but, now they seemed to have got a bite. There was a screwing and complaining sound down below, and their bent figures were strained, as if by a weight. By slow degrees the weight broke away the earth upon it, and came to the surface. Young Jerry very well knew what it would be; but, when he saw it, and saw his honoured parent about to wrench it open, he was so frightened, being new to the sight, that he made off again, and never stopped until he had run a mile or more.
He would not have stopped then, for anything less necessary than breath, it being a spectral sort of race that he ran, and one highly desirable to get to the end of. He had a strong idea that the coffin he had seen was running after him; and, pictured as hopping on behind him, bolt upright, upon its narrow end, always on the point of overtaking him and hopping on at his side–perhaps taking his arm– it was a pursuer to shun. It was an inconsistent and ubiquitous fiend too, for, while it was making the whole night behind him dreadful, he darted out into the roadway to avoid dark alleys, fearful of its coming hopping out of them like a dropsical boy’s-Kite without tail and wings. It hid in doorways too, rubbing its horrible shoulders against doors, and drawing them up to its ears, as if it were laughing. It got into shadows on the road, and lay cunningly on its back to trip him up. All this time it was incessantly hopping on behind and gaining on him, so that when the boy got to his own door he had reason for being half dead. And even then it would not leave him, but followed him upstairs with a bump on every stair, scrambled into bed with him, and bumped down, dead and heavy, on his breast when he fell asleep.
From his oppressed slumber, Young Jerry in his closet was awakened after daybreak and before sunrise, by the presence of his father in the family room. Something had gone wrong with him; at least, so Young Jerry inferred, from the circumstance of his holding Mrs. Cruncher by the ears, and knocking the back of her head against the head-board of the bed.
“I told you I would,” said Mr. Cruncher, “and I did.”
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!” his wife implored.
“You oppose yourself to the profit of the business,” said Jerry, “and me and my partners suffer. You was to honour and obey; why the devil don’t you?”
“I try to be a good wife, Jerry,” the poor woman protested, with tears.
“Is it being a good wife to oppose your husband’s business? Is it honouring your husband to dishonour his business? Is it obeying your husband to disobey him on the wital subject of his business?”
“You hadn’t taken to the dreadful business then, Jerry.”
“It’s enough for you,” retorted Mr. Cruncher, “to be the wife of a honest tradesman, and not to occupy your female mind with calculations when he took to his trade or when he didn’t. A honouring and obeying wife would let his trade alone altogether. Call yourself a religious woman? If you’re a religious woman, give me a irreligious one! You have no more nat’ral sense of duty than the bed of this here Thames river has of a pile, and similarly it must be knocked into you.”
The altercation was conducted in a low tone of voice, and terminated in the honest tradesman’s kicking off his clay-soiled boots, and lying down at his length on the floor. After taking a timid peep at him lying on his back, with his rusty hands under his head for a pillow, his son lay down too, and fell asleep again.
There was no fish for breakfast, and not much of anything else. Mr. Cruncher was out of spirits, and out of temper, and kept an iron pot-lid by him as a projectile for the correction of Mrs. Cruncher, in case he should observe any symptoms of her saying Grace. He was brushed and washed at the usual hour, and set off with his son to pursue his ostensible calling.
Young Jerry, walking with the stool under his arm at his father’s side along sunny and crowded Fleet-street, was a very different Young Jerry from him of the previous night, running home through darkness and solitude from his grim pursuer. His cunning was fresh with the day, and his qualms were gone with the night–in which particulars it is not improbable that he had compeers in Fleet-street and the City of London, that fine morning.
“Father,” said Young Jerry, as they walked along: taking care to keep at arm’s length and to have the stool well between them: “what’s a Resurrection-Man?”
Mr. Cruncher came to a stop on the pavement before he answered, “How should I know?”
“I thought you knowed everything, father,” said the artless boy.
“Hem! Well,” returned Mr. Cruncher, going on again, and lifting off his hat to give his spikes free play, “he’s a tradesman.”
“What’s his goods, father?” asked the brisk Young Jerry.
“His goods,” said Mr. Cruncher, after turning it over in his mind, “is a branch of Scientific goods.”
“Persons’ bodies, ain’t it, father?” asked the lively boy.
“I believe it is something of that sort,” said Mr. Cruncher.
“Oh, father, I should so like to be a Resurrection-Man when I’m quite growed up!”
Mr. Cruncher was soothed, but shook his head in a dubious and moral way. “It depends upon how you dewelop your talents. Be careful to dewelop your talents, and never to say no more than you can help to nobody, and there’s no telling at the present time what you may not come to be fit for.” As Young Jerry, thus encouraged, went on a few yards in advance, to plant the stool in the shadow of the Bar, Mr. Cruncher added to himself: “Jerry, you honest tradesman, there’s hopes wot that boy will yet be a blessing to you, and a recompense to you for his mother!”
There had been earlier drinking than usual in the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge. As early as six o’clock in the morning, sallow faces peeping through its barred windows had descried other faces within, bending over measures of wine. Monsieur Defarge sold a very thin wine at the best of times, but it would seem to have been an unusually thin wine that he sold at this time. A sour wine, moreover, or a souring, for its influence on the mood of those who drank it was to make them gloomy. No vivacious Bacchanalian flame leaped out of the pressed grape of Monsieur Defarge: but, a smouldering fire that burnt in the dark, lay hidden in the dregs of it.
This had been the third morning in succession, on which there had been early drinking at the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge. It had begun on Monday, and here was Wednesday come. There had been more of early brooding than drinking; for, many men had listened and whispered and slunk about there from the time of the opening of the door, who could not have laid a piece of money on the counter to save their souls. These were to the full as interested in the place, however, as if they could have commanded whole barrels of wine; and they glided from seat to seat, and from corner to corner, swallowing talk in lieu of drink, with greedy looks.
Notwithstanding an unusual flow of company, the master of the wine-shop was not visible. He was not missed; for, nobody who crossed the threshold looked for him, nobody asked for him, nobody wondered to see only Madame Defarge in her seat, presiding over the distribution of wine, with a bowl of battered small coins before her, as much defaced and beaten out of their original impress as the small coinage of humanity from whose ragged pockets they had come.
A suspended interest and a prevalent absence of mind, were perhaps observed by the spies who looked in at the wine-shop, as they looked in at every place, high and low, from the kings palace to the criminal’s gaol. Games at cards languished, players at dominoes musingly built towers with them, drinkers drew figures on the tables with spilt drops of wine, Madame Defarge herself picked out the pattern on her sleeve with her toothpick, and saw and heard something 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 streets and under his swinging lamps: of whom, one was Monsieur Defarge: the other a mender of roads in a blue cap. All adust and athirst, the two entered the wine-shop. Their arrival had lighted a kind of fire in the breast of Saint Antoine, fast spreading as they came along, which stirred and flickered in flames of faces at most doors and windows. Yet, no one had followed them, and no man spoke when they entered the wine-shop, though the eyes of every man there were turned upon them.
“Good day, gentlemen!” said Monsieur Defarge.
It may have been a signal for loosening the general tongue. It elicited 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 cast down their eyes and sat silent. Except one man, who got up and went out.
“My wife,” said Defarge aloud, addressing Madame Defarge: “I have travelled certain leagues with this good mender of roads, called Jacques. I met him–by accident–a day and half’s journey out of Paris. 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 the mender of roads called Jacques, who doffed his blue cap to the company, and drank. In the breast of his blouse he carried some coarse dark bread; he ate of this between whiles, and sat munching and drinking near Madame Defarge’s counter. A third man got up and went out.
Defarge refreshed himself with a draught of wine–but, he took less than was given to the stranger, as being himself a man to whom it was no rarity–and stood waiting until the countryman had made his breakfast. He looked at no one present, and no one now looked at him; not even Madame Defarge, who had taken up her knitting, and was at 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 could occupy. It will suit you to a marvel.”
Out of the wine-shop into the street, out of the street into a courtyard, out of the courtyard up a steep staircase, out of the staircase into a garret,–formerly the garret where a white-haired man sat on a low bench, stooping forward and very busy, making shoes.
No white-haired man was there now; but, the three men were there who had gone out of the wine-shop singly. And between them and the white-haired man afar off, was the one small link, that they had once 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 witness encountered 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 forehead with it, and said, “Where shall I commence, monsieur?”
“Commence,” was Monsieur Defarge’s not unreasonable reply, “at the commencement.”
“I saw him then, messieurs,” began the mender of roads, “a year ago this running summer, underneath the carriage of the Marquis, hanging by the chain. Behold the manner of it. I leaving my work on the road, the sun going to bed, the carriage of the Marquis slowly ascending the hill, he hanging by the chain–like this.”
Again the mender of roads went through the whole performance; in which he ought to have been perfect by that time, seeing that it had been the infallible resource and indispensable entertainment of his village 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 his finger 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, neither did he confide in me. Observe! Under those circumstances even, I do not offer my testimony. Monsieur the Marquis indicates me with his finger, standing near our little fountain, and says, `To me! Bring that rascal!’ My faith, messieurs, I offer nothing.”
“He is right there, Jacques,” murmured Defarge, to him who had interrupted. “Go on!”
“Good!” said the mender of roads, with an air of mystery. “The tall man is lost, and he is sought–how many months? Nine, ten, eleven?”
“No matter, the number,” said Defarge. “He is well hidden, but at last he is unluckily found. Go on!”
“I am again at work upon the hill-side, and the sun is again about to go to bed. I am collecting my tools to descend to my cottage down in the village below, where it is already dark, when I raise my eyes, and see coming over the hill six soldiers. In the midst of them 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 his elbows bound fast at his hips, with cords that were knotted behind him.
“I stand aside, messieurs, by my heap of stones, to see the soldiers and their prisoner pass (for it is a solitary road, that, where any spectacle is well worth looking at), and at first, as they approach, I see no more than that they are six soldiers with a tall man bound, and that they are almost black to my sight–except on the side of the sun going to bed, where they have a red edge, messieurs. Also, I see that their long shadows are on the hollow ridge on the opposite side of the road, and are on the hill above it, and are like the shadows of giants. Also, I see that they are covered with dust, and that the dust moves with them as they come, tramp, tramp! But when they advance quite near to me, I recognise the tall man, and he recognises me. Ah, but he would be well content to precipitate himself over the hill-side once again, as on the evening when he and I first encountered, close to the same spot!”
He described it as if he were there, and it was evident that he saw it vividly; perhaps he had not seen much in his life.
“I do not show the soldiers that I recognise the tall man; he does not 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, pointing to the village, `bring him fast to his tomb!’ and they bring him faster. I follow. His arms are swelled because of being bound so tight, his wooden shoes are large and clumsy, and he is lame. Because he is lame, and consequently slow, they drive him with their guns–like this!”
He imitated the action of a man’s being impelled forward by the butt-ends of muskets.
“As they descend the hill like madmen running a race, he falls. They laugh and pick him up again. His face is bleeding and covered with dust, but he cannot touch it; thereupon they laugh again. They bring him into the village; all the village runs to look; they take him past the mill, and up to the prison; all the village sees the prison gate open 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 sounding snap of his teeth. Observant of his unwillingness to mar the effect by opening it again, Defarge said, “Go on, Jacques.”
“All the village,” pursued the mender of roads, on tiptoe and in a low voice, “withdraws; all the village whispers by the fountain; all the village sleeps; all the village dreams of that unhappy one, within the locks and bars of the prison on the crag, and never to come out of it, except to perish. In the morning, with my tools upon my shoulder, eating my morsel of black bread as I go, I make a circuit by the prison, on my way to my work. There I see him, high up, behind the bars of a lofty iron cage, bloody and dusty as last night, looking through. 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 of all of them were dark, repressed, and revengeful, as they listened to the countryman’s story; the manner of all of them, while it was secret, was authoritative too. They had the air of a rough tribunal; Jacques One and Two sitting on the old pallet-bed, each with his chin resting on his hand, and his eyes intent on the road-mender; Jacques Three, equally intent, on one knee behind them, with his agitated hand always gliding over the network of fine nerves about his mouth and nose; Defarge standing between them and the narrator, whom he had stationed in the light of the window, by turns looking from him to them, and from them to him.
“Go on, Jacques,” said Defarge.
“He remains up there in his iron cage some days. The village looks at him by stealth, for it is afraid. But it always looks up, from a distance, at the prison on the crag; and in the evening, when the work of the day is achieved and it assembles to gossip at the fountain, all faces are turned towards the prison. Formerly, they were turned towards the posting-house; now, they are turned towards the prison. They whisper at the fountain, that although condemned to death he will not 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 sternly interposed. “Know that a petition was presented to the King and Queen. All here, yourself excepted, saw the King take it, in his carriage in the street, sitting beside the Queen. It is Defarge whom you see here, 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 a strikingly greedy air, as if he hungered for something–that was neither food nor drink; “the guard, horse and foot, surrounded the petitioner, and struck him blows. You hear?”
“I hear, messieurs.”
“Go on then,” said Defarge.
“Again; on the other hand, they whisper at the fountain,” resumed the countryman, “that he is brought down into our country to be executed on the spot, and that he will very certainly be executed. They even whisper that because he has slain Monseigneur, and because Monseigneur was the father of his tenants–serfs–what you will–he will be executed as a parricide. One old man says at the fountain, that his right hand, armed with the knife, will be burnt off before his face; that, into wounds which will be made in his arms, his breast, and his legs, there will be poured boiling oil, melted lead, hot resin, wax, and sulphur; finally, that he will be torn limb from limb by four strong horses. That old man says, all this was actually done 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 restless hand 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 of Paris; and nothing was more noticed in the vast concourse that saw it done, than the crowd of ladies of quality and fashion, who were full of eager attention to the last–to the last, Jacques, prolonged until nightfall, when he had lost two legs and an arm, and still breathed! 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 have seen it.”
“Enough!” said Defarge, with grim impatience. “Long live the Devil! Go on.”
“Well! Some whisper this, some whisper that; they speak of nothing else; even the fountain appears to fall to that tune. At length, on Sunday night when all the village is asleep, come soldiers, winding down from the prison, and their guns ring on the stones of the little street. Workmen dig, workmen hammer, soldiers laugh and sing; in the morning, by the fountain, there is raised a gallows forty feet 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 the midst of many soldiers. He is bound as before, and in his mouth there is a gag–tied so, with a tight string, making him look almost as if he laughed.” He suggested it, by creasing his face with his two thumbs, from the corners of his mouth to his ears. “On the top of the gallows is fixed the knife, blade upwards, with its point in the air. 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 his face, on which the perspiration had started afresh while he recalled the spectacle.
“It is frightful, messieurs. How can the women and the children draw water! Who can gossip of an evening, under that shadow! Under it, have I said? When I left the village, Monday evening as the sun was going to bed, and looked back from the hill, the shadow struck across the church, across the mill, across the prison–seemed to strike across the earth, messieurs, to where the sky rests upon it!”
The hungry man gnawed one of his fingers as he looked at the other three, and his finger quivered with the craving that was on him.
“That’s all, messieurs. I left at sunset (as I had been warned to do), and I walked on, that night and half next day, until I met (as I was warned I should) this comrade. With him, I came on, now riding and 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 have acted and recounted faithfully. Will you wait for us a little, outside the door?”
“Very willingly,” said the mender of roads. Whom Defarge escorted to the top of the stairs, and, leaving seated there, returned.
The three had risen, and their heads were together when he came back to 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!” and began gnawing another finger.
“Are you sure,” asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, “that no embarrassment 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, will she?”
“Jacques,” returned Defarge, drawing himself up, “if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it–not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge.”
There was a murmur of confidence and approval, and then the man who hungered, asked: “Is this rustic to be sent back soon? I hope so. He is very simple; is he not a little dangerous?”
“He knows nothing,” said Defarge; “at least nothing more than would easily elevate himself to a gallows of the same height. I charge myself 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 wish her to thirst for it. Judiciously show a dog his natural prey, if you wish him to bring it down one day.”
Nothing more was said, and the mender of roads, being found already dozing on the topmost stair, was advised to lay himself down on the pallet-bed and take some rest. He needed no persuasion, and was soon asleep.
Worse quarters than Defarge’s wine-shop, could easily have been found in Paris for a provincial slave of that degree. Saving for a mysterious dread of madame by which he was constantly haunted, his life was very new and agreeable. But, madame sat all day at her counter, so expressly unconscious of him, and so particularly determined not to perceive that his being there had any connection with anything below the surface, that he shook in his wooden shoes whenever his eye lighted on her. For, he contended with himself that it was impossible to foresee what that lady might pretend next; and he felt assured that if she should take it into her brightly ornamented head to pretend that she had seen him do a murder and afterwards flay the victim, she would infallibly go through with it until the play 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 accompany monsieur and himself to Versailles. It was additionally disconcerting to have madame knitting all the way there, in a public conveyance; it was additionally disconcerting yet, to have madame in the crowd in the afternoon, still with her knitting in her hands as the 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?”
“For instance,” returned Madame Defarge, composedly, “shrouds.”
The man moved a little further away, as soon as he could, and the mender of roads fanned himself with his blue cap: feeling it mightily close and oppressive. If he needed a King and Queen to restore him, he was fortunate in having his remedy at hand; for, soon the large-faced King and the fair-faced Queen came in their golden coach, attended by the shining Bull’s Eye of their Court, a glittering multitude of laughing ladies and fine lords; and in jewels and silks and powder and splendour and elegantly spurning figures and handsomely disdainful faces of both sexes, the mender of roads bathed himself, so much to his temporary intoxication, that he cried Long live the King, Long live the Queen, Long live everybody and everything! as if he had never heard of ubiquitous Jacques in his time. Then, there were gardens, courtyards, terraces, fountains, green banks, 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, he had plenty of shouting and weeping and sentimental company, and throughout Defarge held him by the collar, as if to restrain him from flying at the objects of his brief devotion and tearing them to pieces.
“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 mistrustful of having made a mistake in his late demonstrations; but no.
“You are the fellow we want,” said Defarge, in his ear; “you make these fools believe that it will last for ever. Then, they are the more 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 would stop it for ever and ever, in you or in a hundred like you rather than in one of their own horses or dogs, they only know what your breath tells them. Let it deceive them, then, a little longer; it cannot deceive them too much.”
Madame Defarge looked superciliously at the client, and nodded in confirmation.
“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 them to pluck them to pieces and despoil them for your own advantage, you would 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, and were set upon them to strip them of their feathers for your own advantage, 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 been apparent; “now, go home!”
Madame Defarge and monsieur her husband returned amicably to the bosom of Saint Antoine, while a speck in a blue cap toiled through the darkness, and through the dust, and down the weary miles of avenue by the wayside, slowly tending towards that point of the compass where the chateau of Monsieur the Marquis, now in his grave, listened to the whispering trees. Such ample leisure had the stone faces, now, for listening to the trees and to the fountain, that the few village scarecrows who, in their quest for herbs to eat and fragments of dead stick to burn, strayed within sight of the great stone courtyard and terrace staircase, had it borne in upon their starved fancy that the expression of the faces was altered. A rumour just lived in the village–had a faint and bare existence there, as its people had–that when the knife struck home, the faces changed, from faces of pride to faces of anger and pain; also, that when that dangling figure was hauled up forty feet above the fountain, they changed again, and bore a cruel look of being avenged, which they would henceforth bear for ever. In the stone face over the great window of the bed-chamber where the murder was done, two fine dints were pointed out in the sculptured nose, which everybody recognised, and which nobody had seen of old; and on the scarce occasions when two or three ragged peasants emerged from the crowd to take a hurried peep at Monsieur the Marquis petrified, a skinny finger would not have pointed to it for a minute, before they all started away among the moss and leaves, like the more fortunate hares who could find a living there.
Chateau and hut, stone face and dangling figure, the red stain on the stone floor, and the pure water in the village well–thousands of acres of land–a whole province of France–all France itself–lay under the night sky, concentrated into a faint hair-breadth line. So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyse the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it.
The Defarges, husband and wife, came lumbering under the starlight, in their public vehicle, to that gate of Paris whereunto their journey naturally tended. There was the usual stoppage at the barrier guardhouse, and the usual lanterns came glancing forth for the usual examination and inquiry. Monsieur Defarge alighted; knowing one or two of the soldiery there, and one of the police. The latter he was intimate with, and affectionately embraced.
When Saint Antoine had again enfolded the Defarges in his dusky wings, and they, having finally alighted near the Saint’s boundaries, were picking their way on foot through the black mud and offal 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 spy commissioned for our quarter. There may be many more, for all that he can say, but he knows of one.”
“Eh well!” said Madame Defarge, raising her eyebrows with a cool business air. “It is necessary to register him. How do they call that man?”
“He is English.”
“So much the better. His name?”
“Barsad,” said Defarge, making it French by pronunciation. But, he had been so careful to get it accurately, that he then spelt it with perfect correctness.
“Barsad,” repeated madame. “Good. Christian name?”
“John Barsad,” repeated madame, after murmuring it once to herself. “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, face thin, long, and sallow; nose aquiline, but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek; expression, therefore, sinister.”
“Eh my faith. It is a portrait!” said madame, laughing. “He shall be registered to-morrow.”
They turned into the wine-shop, which was closed (for it was midnight), and where Madame Defarge immediately took her post at her desk, counted the small moneys that had been taken during her absence, examined the stock, went through the entries in the book, made other entries of her own, checked the serving man in every possible way, and finally dismissed him to bed. Then she turned out the contents of the bowl of money for the second time, and began knotting them up in her handkerchief, in a chain of separate knots, for safe keeping through the night. All this while, Defarge, with his pipe in his mouth, walked up and down, complacently admiring, but never interfering; in which condition, indeed, as to the business and his domestic affairs, he walked up and down through life.
The night was hot, and the shop, close shut and surrounded by so foul a neighbourhood, was ill-smelling. Monsieur Defarge’s olfactory sense was by no means delicate, but the stock of wine smelt much stronger than it ever tasted, and so did the stock of rum and brandy and aniseed. He whiffed the compound of scents away, as he put down his smoked-out pipe.
“You are fatigued,” said madame, raising her glance as she knotted the 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 had never been so intent on the accounts, but they had had a ray or two for 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 his breast, “it IS a long time.”
“It is a long time,” repeated his wife; “and when is it not a long time? 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 and store the lightning? Tell me.”
Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.
“It does not take a long time,” said madame, “for an earthquake to swallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?”
“A long time, I suppose,” said Defarge.
“But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything 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, for emphasis, “that although it is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming. I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing. Look around and consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie 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 head a little bent, and his hands clasped at his back, like a docile and attentive pupil before his catechist, “I do not question all this. But it 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 if there were another enemy strangled.
“Well!” said Defarge, with a half complaining and half apologetic shrug. “We shall not see the triumph.”
“We shall have helped it,” returned madame, with her extended hand in 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, even if 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 with cowardice; “I too, my dear, will stop at nothing.”
“Yes! But it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see your victim and your opportunity, to sustain you. Sustain yourself without 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 striking her little counter with her chain of money as if she knocked its brains out, and then gathering the heavy handkerchief under her arm in a serene manner, and observing that it was time to go to bed.
Next noontide saw the admirable woman in her usual place in the wine-shop, knitting away assiduously. A rose lay beside her, and if she now and then glanced at the flower, it was with no infraction of her usual preoccupied air. There were a few customers, drinking or not drinking, standing or seated, sprinkled about. The day was very hot, and heaps of flies, who were extending their inquisitive and adventurous perquisitions into all the glutinous little glasses near madame, fell dead at the bottom. Their decease made no impression on the other flies out promenading, who looked at them in the coolest manner (as if they themselves were elephants, or something as far removed), until they met the same fate. Curious to consider how heedless flies are!–perhaps they thought as much at Court that sunny summer day.
A figure entering at the door threw a shadow on Madame Defarge which she felt to be a new one. She laid down her knitting, and began to pin her rose in her head-dress, before she looked at the figure.
It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, the customers ceased talking, and began gradually to drop out of the wine-shop.
“Good day, madame,” said the new-comer.
“Good day, monsieur.”
She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: “Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, 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 a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!”
“Have the goodness to give me a little glass of old cognac, and a mouthful 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 complemented, and Madame Defarge 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 the opportunity 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 while her 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 kind of coquetry, “I’ll use it!”
It was remarkable; but, the taste of Saint Antoine seemed to be decidedly opposed to a rose on the head-dress of Madame Defarge. Two men had entered separately, and had been about to order drink, when, catching sight of that novelty, they faltered, made a pretence of looking about as if for some friend who was not there, and went away. Nor, of those who had been there when this visitor entered, was there one left. They had all dropped off. The spy had kept his eyes open, but had been able to detect no sign. They had lounged away in a poverty-stricken, purposeless, accidental manner, quite natural and unimpeachable.
“JOHN,” thought madame, checking off her work as her fingers knitted, and her eyes looked at the stranger. “Stay long enough, and I shall 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 you say.”
“As YOU say,” madame retorted, correcting him, and deftly knitting an extra something into his name that boded him no good.
“Pardon me; certainly it was I who said so, but you naturally think so. Of course.”
“_I_ think?” returned madame, in a high voice. “I and my husband have enough to do to keep this wine-shop open, without thinking. All we think, here, is how to live. That is the subject WE think of, and it gives us, from morning to night, enough to think about, without embarrassing 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 sinister face; but, stood with an air of gossiping gallantry, leaning his elbow on Madame Defarge’s little counter, and occasionally sipping his cognac.
“A bad business this, madame, of Gaspard’s execution. Ah! the poor Gaspard!” With a sigh of great compassion.
“My faith!” returned madame, coolly and lightly, “if people use knives for such purposes, they have to pay for it. He knew beforehand what the price of his luxury was; he has paid the price.”
“I believe,” said the spy, dropping his soft voice to a tone that invited confidence, and expressing an injured revolutionary susceptibility in every muscle of his wicked face: “I believe there is much compassion and anger in this neighbourhood, touching the poor fellow? 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 spy saluted 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 much confidence, or quite so easy a smile under the stare.
“You deceive yourself, monsieur,” returned the keeper of the wine-shop. “You mistake me for another. That is not my name. I am Ernest 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 chatting when you entered, that they tell me there is–and no wonder!–much sympathy and anger in Saint Antoine, touching the unhappy fate of poor Gaspard.”
“No one has told me so,” said Defarge, shaking his head. “I know nothing of it.”
Having said it, he passed behind the little counter, and stood with his hand on the back of his wife’s chair, looking over that barrier at the person to whom they were both opposed, and whom either of them would have shot with the greatest satisfaction.
The spy, well used to his business, did not change his unconscious attitude, but drained his little glass of cognac, took a sip of fresh water, and asked for another glass of cognac. Madame Defarge poured it out for him, took to her knitting again, and hummed a little song over it.
“You seem to know this quarter well; that is to say, better than I do?” observed Defarge.
“Not at all, but I hope to know it better. I am so profoundly interested in its miserable inhabitants.”
“Hah!” muttered Defarge.
“The pleasure of conversing with you, Monsieur Defarge, recalls to me,” pursued the spy, “that I have the honour of cherishing some interesting associations with your name.”
“Indeed!” said Defarge, with much indifference.
“Yes, indeed. When Doctor Manette was released, you, his old domestic, 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 it conveyed to him, in an accidental touch of his wife’s elbow as she knitted and warbled, that he would do best to answer, but always with brevity.
“It was to you,” said the spy, “that his daughter came; and it was from your care that his daughter took him, accompanied by a neat brown monsieur; how is he called?–in a little wig–Lorry–of the bank of Tellson and Company–over to England.”
“Such is the fact,” repeated Defarge.
“Very interesting remembrances!” said the spy. “I have known Doctor 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 her little song, “we never hear about them. We received the news of their 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 be married.”
“Going?” echoed madame. “She was pretty enough to have been married 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 tongue is, I suppose the man is.”
He did not take the identification as a compliment; but he made the best of it, and turned it off with a laugh. After sipping his cognac 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 of Gaspard (ah, poor Gaspard! It was cruel, cruel!), it is a curious thing that she is going to marry the nephew of Monsieur the Marquis, for whom Gaspard was exalted to that height of so many feet; in other words, the present Marquis. But he lives unknown in England, he is no Marquis there; he is Mr. Charles Darnay. D’Aulnais is the name of his mother’s family.”
Madame Defarge knitted steadily, but the intelligence had a palpable effect upon her husband. Do what he would, behind the little counter, as to the striking of a light and the lighting of his pipe, he was troubled, and his hand was not trustworthy. The spy would have been no spy if he had failed to see it, or to record it in his mind.
Having made, at least, this one hit, whatever it might prove to be worth, and no customers coming in to help him to any other, Mr. Barsad paid for what he had drunk, and took his leave: taking occasion to say, in a genteel manner, before he departed, that he looked forward to the pleasure of seeing Monsieur and Madame Defarge again. For some minutes after he had emerged into the outer presence of Saint Antoine, 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 at his 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 usual composure, “will take him where he is to go, and will lead him to the 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 this moment, 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 they are both here for their merits; that is enough.”
She roiled up her knitting when she had said those words, and presently took the rose out of the handkerchief that was wound about her head. Either Saint Antoine had an instinctive sense that the objectionable decoration was gone, or Saint Antoine was on the watch for its disappearance; howbeit, the Saint took courage to lounge in, very shortly afterwards, and the wine-shop recovered its habitual aspect.
In the evening, at which season of all others Saint Antoine turned himself inside out, and sat on door-steps and window-ledges, and came 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 from place to place and from group to group: a Missionary–there were many like her–such as the world will do well never to breed again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched.
But, as the fingers went, the eyes went, and the thoughts. And as Madame Defarge moved on from group to group, all three went quicker and 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, a frightfully grand woman!”
Darkness closed around, and then came the ringing of church bells and 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, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.
Never did the sun go down with a brighter glory on the quiet corner in Soho, than one memorable evening when the Doctor and his daughter sat under the plane-tree together. Never did the moon rise with a milder radiance over great London, than on that night when it found them still seated under the tree, and shone upon their faces through its leaves.
Lucie was to be married to-morrow. She had reserved this last evening for her father, and they sat alone under the plane-tree.
“You are happy, my dear father?”
“Quite, my child.”
They had said little, though they had been there a long time. When it was yet light enough to work and read, she had neither engaged herself in her usual work, nor had she read to him. She had employed herself in both ways, at his side under the tree, many and many a time; but, this time was not quite like any other, and nothing could make it so.
“And I am very happy to-night, dear father. I am deeply happy in the love that Heaven has so blessed–my love for Charles, and Charles’s love for me. But, if my life were not to be still consecrated to you, or if my marriage were so arranged as that it would part us, even by the length of a few of these streets, I should be more unhappy and self-reproachful now than I can tell you. Even as it is–”
Even as it was, she could not command her voice.
In the sad moonlight, she clasped him by the neck, and laid her face upon his breast. In the moonlight which is always sad, as the light of the sun itself is–as the light called human life is–at its coming and its going.
“Dearest dear! Can you tell me, this last time, that you feel quite, quite sure, no new affections of mine, and no new duties of mine, will ever interpose between us? _I_ know it well, but do you know it? In your own heart, do you feel quite certain?”
Her father answered, with a cheerful firmness of conviction he could scarcely have assumed, “Quite sure, my darling! More than that,” he added, as he tenderly kissed her: “my future is far brighter, Lucie, seen through your marriage, than it could have been–nay, than it ever was–without it.”
“If I could hope THAT, my father!–”
“Believe it, love! Indeed it is so. Consider how natural and how plain it is, my dear, that it should be so. You, devoted and young, cannot fully appreciate the anxiety I have felt that your life should not be wasted–”
She moved her hand towards his lips, but he took it in his, and repeated the word.
“–wasted, my child–should not be wasted, struck aside from the natural order of things–for my sake. Your unselfishness cannot entirely comprehend how much my mind has gone on this; but, only ask yourself, how could my happiness be perfect, while yours was incomplete?”
“If I had never seen Charles, my father, I should have been quite happy with you.”
He smiled at her unconscious admission that she would have been unhappy without Charles, having seen him; and replied:
“My child, you did see him, and it is Charles. If it had not been Charles, it would have been another. Or, if it had been no other, I should have been the cause, and then the dark part of my life would have cast its shadow beyond myself, and would have fallen on you.”
It was the first time, except at the trial, of her ever hearing him refer to the period of his suffering. It gave her a strange and new sensation while his words were in her ears; and she remembered it long afterwards.