The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > A Tale Of Two Cities > Book 2 - 22

A Tale Of Two Cities

Book 2 - 22

The Sea Still Rises

Haggard Saint Antoine had had only one exultant week, in which to
soften his modicum of hard and bitter bread to such extent as he
could, with the relish of fraternal embraces and congratulations,
when Madame Defarge sat at her counter, as usual, presiding over the
customers. Madame Defarge wore no rose in her head, for the great
brotherhood of Spies had become, even in one short week, extremely
chary of trusting themselves to the saint's mercies. The lamps across
his streets had a portentously elastic swing with them.

Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat,
contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several
knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now with a manifest sense
of power enthroned on their distress. The raggedest nightcap, awry on
the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: "I know how
hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself;
but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to
destroy life in you?" Every lean bare arm, that had been without work
before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike.
The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that
they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine;
the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the
last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was
to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her
sisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of a
starved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenant
had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance.

"Hark!" said The Vengeance. "Listen, then! Who comes?"

As if a train of powder laid from the outermost bound of Saint Antoine
Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading
murmur came rushing along.

"It is Defarge," said madame. "Silence, patriots!"

Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked
around him! "Listen, everywhere!" said madame again. "Listen to him!"
Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and open
mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop had
sprung to their feet.

"Say then, my husband. What is it?"

"News from the other world!"

"How, then?" cried madame, contemptuously. "The other world?"

"Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people
that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?"

"Everybody!" from all throats.

"The news is of him. He is among us!"

"Among us!" from the universal throat again. "And dead?"

"Not dead! He feared us so much--and with reason--that he caused
himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. But
they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him
in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a
prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all!
HAD he reason?"

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten, if he had
never known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts if
he could have heard the answering cry.

A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked
steadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of
a drum was heard as she moved it at her feet behind the counter.

"Patriots!" said Defarge, in a determined voice, "are we ready?"

Instantly Madame Defarge's knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating
in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and
The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about
her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to
house, rousing the women.

The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked
from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into
the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From
such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their
children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground
famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one
another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions.
Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother!
Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into
the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and
screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people they
might eat grass! Foulon who told my old father that he might eat
grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my baby it
might suck grass, when these breasts where dry with want! O mother
of God, this Foulon! O Heaven our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby
and my withered father: I swear on my knees, on these stones, to avenge
you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men, Give us the blood
of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon, Give us the heart of Foulon,
Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rend Foulon to pieces, and dig
him into the ground, that grass may grow from him! With these cries,
numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy, whirled about, striking
and tearing at their own friends until they dropped into a passionate
swoon, and were only saved by the men belonging to them from being
trampled under foot.

Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was
at the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine
knew his own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and women
flocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs
after them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an
hour there was not a human creature in Saint Antoine's bosom but a
few old crones and the wailing children.

No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where
this old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent
open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, The Vengeance,
and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no great distance
from him in the Hall.

"See!" cried madame, pointing with her knife. "See the old villain
bound with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon
his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!" Madame
put her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.

The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of
her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explaining
to others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resounded with
the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours of drawl,
and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge's frequent
expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness,
at a distance: the more readily, because certain men who had by some
wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the external architecture to
look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted as a
telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope
or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner's head. The favour
was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust and chaff that
had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and Saint Antoine had
got him!

It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge
had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded the miserable
wretch in a deadly embrace--Madame Defarge had but followed and turned
her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied--The Vengeance
and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows
had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high
perches--when the cry seemed to go up, all over the city, "Bring him
out! Bring him to the lamp!"

Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on
his knees; now, on his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at,
and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his
face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting, bleeding, yet always
entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of
action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one
another back that they might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through
a forest of legs; he was hauled to the nearest street corner where one
of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him go--as a
cat might have done to a mouse--and silently and composedly looked
at him while they made ready, and while he besought her: the women
passionately screeching at him all the time, and the men sternly
calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went
aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; twice, he went
aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope
was merciful, and held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with
grass enough in the mouth for all Saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.

Nor was this the end of the day's bad work, for Saint Antoine so
shouted and danced his angry blood up, that it boiled again, on
hearing when the day closed in that the son-in-law of the despatched,
another of the people's enemies and insulters, was coming into Paris
under a guard five hundred strong, in cavalry alone. Saint Antoine
wrote his crimes on flaring sheets of paper, seized him--would have
torn him out of the breast of an army to bear Foulon company--set
his head and heart on pikes, and carried the three spoils of the day,
in Wolf-procession through the streets.

Not before dark night did the men and women come back to the children,
wailing and breadless. Then, the miserable bakers' shops were beset
by long files of them, patiently waiting to buy bad bread; and while
they waited with stomachs faint and empty, they beguiled the time by
embracing one another on the triumphs of the day, and achieving them
again in gossip. Gradually, these strings of ragged people shortened
and frayed away; and then poor lights began to shine in high windows,
and slender fires were made in the streets, at which neighbours cooked
in common, afterwards supping at their doors.

Scanty and insufficient suppers those, and innocent of meat, as of
most other sauce to wretched bread. Yet, human fellowship infused
some nourishment into the flinty viands, and struck some sparks of
cheerfulness out of them. Fathers and mothers who had had their full
share in the worst of the day, played gently with their meagre
children; and lovers, with such a world around them and before them,
loved and hoped.

It was almost morning, when Defarge's wine-shop parted with its last
knot of customers, and Monsieur Defarge said to madame his wife, in
husky tones, while fastening the door:

"At last it is come, my dear!"

"Eh well!" returned madame. "Almost."

Saint Antoine slept, the Defarges slept: even The Vengeance slept with
her starved grocer, and the drum was at rest. The drum's was the only
voice in Saint Antoine that blood and hurry had not changed. The
Vengeance, as custodian of the drum, could have wakened him up and had
the same speech out of him as before the Bastille fell, or old Foulon
was seized; not so with the hoarse tones of the men and women in Saint
Antoine's bosom.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.