A Tale of Two Cities – Day 67 of 141

“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?”

“I have.”

“Children?”

“No children.”

“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.”

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