A Tale of Two Cities – Day 126 of 141

Carton followed the lines and words of his paper, with a slow forefinger, and with a studious and absorbed face. They were all leaning their arms on the counter close together, speaking low. After a silence of a few moments, during which they all looked towards him without disturbing his outward attention from the Jacobin editor, they resumed their conversation.

“It is true what madame says,” observed Jacques Three. “Why stop? There is great force in that. Why stop?”

“Well, well,” reasoned Defarge, “but one must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where?”

“At extermination,” said madame.

“Magnificent!” croaked Jacques Three. The Vengeance, also, highly approved.

“Extermination is good doctrine, my wife,” said Defarge, rather troubled; “in general, I say nothing against it. But this Doctor has suffered much; you have seen him to-day; you have observed his face when the paper was read.”

“I have observed his face!” repeated madame, contemptuously and angrily. “Yes. I have observed his face. I have observed his face to be not the face of a true friend of the Republic. Let him take care of his face!”

“And you have observed, my wife,” said Defarge, in a deprecatory manner, “the anguish of his daughter, which must be a dreadful anguish to him!”

“I have observed his daughter,” repeated madame; “yes, I have observed his daughter, more times than one. I have observed her to-day, and I have observed her other days. I have observed her in the court, and I have observed her in the street by the prison. Let me but lift my finger–!” She seemed to raise it (the listener’s eyes were always on his paper), and to let it fall with a rattle on the ledge before her, as if the axe had dropped.

“The citizeness is superb!” croaked the Juryman.

“She is an Angel!” said The Vengeance, and embraced her.

“As to thee,” pursued madame, implacably, addressing her husband, “if it depended on thee–which, happily, it does not–thou wouldst rescue this man even now.”

“No!” protested Defarge. “Not if to lift this glass would do it! But I would leave the matter there. I say, stop there.”

“See you then, Jacques,” said Madame Defarge, wrathfully; “and see you, too, my little Vengeance; see you both! Listen! For other crimes as tyrants and oppressors, I have this race a long time on my register, doomed to destruction and extermination. Ask my husband, is that so.”

“It is so,” assented Defarge, without being asked.

“In the beginning of the great days, when the Bastille falls, he finds this paper of to-day, and he brings it home, and in the middle of the night when this place is clear and shut, we read it, here on this spot, by the light of this lamp. Ask him, is that so.”

“It is so,” assented Defarge.

“That night, I tell him, when the paper is read through, and the lamp is burnt out, and the day is gleaming in above those shutters and between those iron bars, that I have now a secret to communicate. Ask him, is that so.”

“It is so,” assented Defarge again.

“I communicate to him that secret. I smite this bosom with these two hands as I smite it now, and I tell him, ‘Defarge, I was brought up among the fishermen of the sea-shore, and that peasant family so injured by the two Evremonde brothers, as that Bastille paper describes, is my family. Defarge, that sister of the mortally wounded boy upon the ground was my sister, that husband was my sister’s husband, that unborn child was their child, that brother was my brother, that father was my father, those dead are my dead, and that summons to answer for those things descends to me!’ Ask him, is that so.”

“It is so,” assented Defarge once more.

“Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop,” returned madame; “but don’t tell me.”

Both her hearers derived a horrible enjoyment from the deadly nature of her wrath–the listener could feel how white she was, without seeing her–and both highly commended it. Defarge, a weak minority, interposed a few words for the memory of the compassionate wife of the Marquis; but only elicited from his own wife a repetition of her last reply. “Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!”

Customers entered, and the group was broken up. The English customer paid for what he had had, perplexedly counted his change, and asked, as a stranger, to be directed towards the National Palace. Madame Defarge took him to the door, and put her arm on his, in pointing out the road. The English customer was not without his reflections then, that it might be a good deed to seize that arm, lift it, and strike under it sharp and deep.

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