A Tale of Two Cities – Day 109 of 141

“Yes; I believe so.”

“–In as good stead to-morrow as to-day. But it may not be so. I own to you, I am shaken, Mr. Lorry, by Doctor Manette’s not having had the power to prevent this arrest.”

“He may not have known of it beforehand,” said Mr. Lorry.

“But that very circumstance would be alarming, when we remember how identified he is with his son-in-law.”

“That’s true,” Mr. Lorry acknowledged, with his troubled hand at his chin, and his troubled eyes on Carton.

“In short,” said Sydney, “this is a desperate time, when desperate games are played for desperate stakes. Let the Doctor play the winning game; I will play the losing one. No man’s life here is worth purchase. Any one carried home by the people to-day, may be condemned tomorrow. Now, the stake I have resolved to play for, in case of the worst, is a friend in the Conciergerie. And the friend I purpose to myself to win, is Mr. Barsad.”

“You need have good cards, sir,” said the spy.

“I’ll run them over. I’ll see what I hold,–Mr. Lorry, you know what a brute I am; I wish you’d give me a little brandy.”

It was put before him, and he drank off a glassful–drank off another glassful–pushed the bottle thoughtfully away.

“Mr. Barsad,” he went on, in the tone of one who really was looking over a hand at cards: “Sheep of the prisons, emissary of Republican committees, now turnkey, now prisoner, always spy and secret informer, so much the more valuable here for being English that an Englishman is less open to suspicion of subornation in those characters than a Frenchman, represents himself to his employers under a false name. That’s a very good card. Mr. Barsad, now in the employ of the republican French government, was formerly in the employ of the aristocratic English government, the enemy of France and freedom. That’s an excellent card. Inference clear as day in this region of suspicion, that Mr. Barsad, still in the pay of the aristocratic English government, is the spy of Pitt, the treacherous foe of the Republic crouching in its bosom, the English traitor and agent of all mischief so much spoken of and so difficult to find. That’s a card not to be beaten. Have you followed my hand, Mr. Barsad?”

“Not to understand your play,” returned the spy, somewhat uneasily.

“I play my Ace, Denunciation of Mr. Barsad to the nearest Section Committee. Look over your hand, Mr. Barsad, and see what you have. Don’t hurry.”

He drew the bottle near, poured out another glassful of brandy, and drank it off. He saw that the spy was fearful of his drinking himself into a fit state for the immediate denunciation of him. Seeing it, he poured out and drank another glassful.

“Look over your hand carefully, Mr. Barsad. Take time.”

It was a poorer hand than he suspected. Mr. Barsad saw losing cards in it that Sydney Carton knew nothing of. Thrown out of his honourable employment in England, through too much unsuccessful hard swearing there–not because he was not wanted there; our English reasons for vaunting our superiority to secrecy and spies are of very modern date–he knew that he had crossed the Channel, and accepted service in France: first, as a tempter and an eavesdropper among his own countrymen there: gradually, as a tempter and an eavesdropper among the natives. He knew that under the overthrown government he had been a spy upon Saint Antoine and Defarge’s wine-shop; had received from the watchful police such heads of information concerning Doctor Manette’s imprisonment, release, and history, as should serve him for an introduction to familiar conversation with the Defarges; and tried them on Madame Defarge, and had broken down with them signally. He always remembered with fear and trembling, that that terrible woman had knitted when he talked with her, and had looked ominously at him as her fingers moved. He had since seen her, in the Section of Saint Antoine, over and over again produce her knitted registers, and denounce people whose lives the guillotine then surely swallowed up. He knew, as every one employed as he was did, that he was never safe; that flight was impossible; that he was tied fast under the shadow of the axe; and that in spite of his utmost tergiversation and treachery in furtherance of the reigning terror, a word might bring it down upon him. Once denounced, and on such grave grounds as had just now been suggested to his mind, he foresaw that the dreadful woman of whose unrelenting character he had seen many proofs, would produce against him that fatal register, and would quash his last chance of life. Besides that all secret men are men soon terrified, here were surely cards enough of one black suit, to justify the holder in growing rather livid as he turned them over.

“You scarcely seem to like your hand,” said Sydney, with the greatest composure. “Do you play?”

“I think, sir,” said the spy, in the meanest manner, as he turned to Mr. Lorry, “I may appeal to a gentleman of your years and benevolence, to put it to this other gentleman, so much your junior, whether he can under any circumstances reconcile it to his station to play that Ace of which he has spoken. I admit that I am a spy, and that it is considered a discreditable station–though it must be filled by somebody; but this gentleman is no spy, and why should he so demean himself as to make himself one?”

“I play my Ace, Mr. Barsad,” said Carton, taking the answer on himself, and looking at his watch, “without any scruple, in a very few minutes.”

“I should have hoped, gentlemen both,” said the spy, always striving to hook Mr. Lorry into the discussion, “that your respect for my sister–“

“I could not better testify my respect for your sister than by finally relieving her of her brother,” said Sydney Carton.

“You think not, sir?”

“I have thoroughly made up my mind about it.”

The smooth manner of the spy, curiously in dissonance with his ostentatiously rough dress, and probably with his usual demeanour, received such a check from the inscrutability of Carton,–who was a mystery to wiser and honester men than he,–that it faltered here and failed him. While he was at a loss, Carton said, resuming his former air of contemplating cards:

“And indeed, now I think again, I have a strong impression that I have another good card here, not yet enumerated. That friend and fellow-Sheep, who spoke of himself as pasturing in the country prisons; who was he?”

“French. You don’t know him,” said the spy, quickly.

“French, eh?” repeated Carton, musing, and not appearing to notice him at all, though he echoed his word. “Well; he may be.”

“Is, I assure you,” said the spy; “though it’s not important.”

“Though it’s not important,” repeated Carton, in the same mechanical way–“though it’s not important–No, it’s not important. No. Yet I know the face.”

“I think not. I am sure not. It can’t be,” said the spy.

“It-can’t-be,” muttered Sydney Carton, retrospectively, and idling his glass (which fortunately was a small one) again. “Can’t-be. Spoke good French. Yet like a foreigner, I thought?”

“Provincial,” said the spy.

“No. Foreign!” cried Carton, striking his open hand on the table, as a light broke clearly on his mind. “Cly! Disguised, but the same man. We had that man before us at the Old Bailey.”

“Now, there you are hasty, sir,” said Barsad, with a smile that gave his aquiline nose an extra inclination to one side; “there you really give me an advantage over you. Cly (who I will unreservedly admit, at this distance of time, was a partner of mine) has been dead several years. I attended him in his last illness. He was buried in London, at the church of Saint Pancras-in-the-Fields. His unpopularity with the blackguard multitude at the moment prevented my following his remains, but I helped to lay him in his coffin.”

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