A Tale of Two Cities – Day 64 of 141

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?”

“Many things.”

“For instance–“

“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!”

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