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Charles Dickens > A Tale Of Two Cities > Book 3 - 4

A Tale Of Two Cities

Book 3 - 4

Calm in Storm

Doctor Manette did not return until the morning of the fourth day of
his absence. So much of what had happened in that dreadful time as
could be kept from the knowledge of Lucie was so well concealed from
her, that not until long afterwards, when France and she were far apart,
did she know that eleven hundred defenceless prisoners of both sexes
and all ages had been killed by the populace; that four days and
nights had been darkened by this deed of horror; and that the air
around her had been tainted by the slain. She only knew that there
had been an attack upon the prisons, that all political prisoners had
been in danger, and that some had been dragged out by the crowd and

To Mr. Lorry, the Doctor communicated under an injunction of secrecy
on which he had no need to dwell, that the crowd had taken him
through a scene of carnage to the prison of La Force. That, in the
prison he had found a self-appointed Tribunal sitting, before which
the prisoners were brought singly, and by which they were rapidly
ordered to be put forth to be massacred, or to be released, or (in a
few cases) to be sent back to their cells. That, presented by his
conductors to this Tribunal, he had announced himself by name and
profession as having been for eighteen years a secret and unaccused
prisoner in the Bastille; that, one of the body so sitting in
judgment had risen and identified him, and that this man was Defarge.

That, hereupon he had ascertained, through the registers on the table,
that his son-in-law was among the living prisoners, and had pleaded
hard to the Tribunal--of whom some members were asleep and some awake,
some dirty with murder and some clean, some sober and some not--for
his life and liberty. That, in the first frantic greetings lavished
on himself as a notable sufferer under the overthrown system, it had
been accorded to him to have Charles Darnay brought before the lawless
Court, and examined. That, he seemed on the point of being at once
released, when the tide in his favour met with some unexplained check
(not intelligible to the Doctor), which led to a few words of secret
conference. That, the man sitting as President had then informed
Doctor Manette that the prisoner must remain in custody, but should,
for his sake, be held inviolate in safe custody. That, immediately,
on a signal, the prisoner was removed to the interior of the prison
again; but, that he, the Doctor, had then so strongly pleaded for
permission to remain and assure himself that his son-in-law was,
through no malice or mischance, delivered to the concourse whose
murderous yells outside the gate had often drowned the proceedings,
that he had obtained the permission, and had remained in that Hall of
Blood until the danger was over.

The sights he had seen there, with brief snatches of food and sleep
by intervals, shall remain untold. The mad joy over the prisoners
who were saved, had astounded him scarcely less than the mad ferocity
against those who were cut to pieces. One prisoner there was, he
said, who had been discharged into the street free, but at whom a
mistaken savage had thrust a pike as he passed out. Being besought
to go to him and dress the wound, the Doctor had passed out at the
same gate, and had found him in the arms of a company of Samaritans,
who were seated on the bodies of their victims. With an inconsistency
as monstrous as anything in this awful nightmare, they had helped the
healer, and tended the wounded man with the gentlest solicitude--
had made a litter for him and escorted him carefully from the spot--
had then caught up their weapons and plunged anew into a butchery so
dreadful, that the Doctor had covered his eyes with his hands, and
swooned away in the midst of it.

As Mr. Lorry received these confidences, and as he watched the face
of his friend now sixty-two years of age, a misgiving arose within
him that such dread experiences would revive the old danger.

But, he had never seen his friend in his present aspect: he had never
at all known him in his present character. For the first time the
Doctor felt, now, that his suffering was strength and power. For the
first time he felt that in that sharp fire, he had slowly forged the
iron which could break the prison door of his daughter's husband, and
deliver him. "It all tended to a good end, my friend; it was not
mere waste and ruin. As my beloved child was helpful in restoring me
to myself, I will be helpful now in restoring the dearest part of
herself to her; by the aid of Heaven I will do it!" Thus, Doctor
Manette. And when Jarvis Lorry saw the kindled eyes, the resolute
face, the calm strong look and bearing of the man whose life always
seemed to him to have been stopped, like a clock, for so many years,
and then set going again with an energy which had lain dormant during
the cessation of its usefulness, he believed.

Greater things than the Doctor had at that time to contend with,
would have yielded before his persevering purpose. While he kept
himself in his place, as a physician, whose business was with all
degrees of mankind, bond and free, rich and poor, bad and good, he
used his personal influence so wisely, that he was soon the inspecting
physician of three prisons, and among them of La Force. He could now
assure Lucie that her husband was no longer confined alone, but was
mixed with the general body of prisoners; he saw her husband weekly,
and brought sweet messages to her, straight from his lips; sometimes
her husband himself sent a letter to her (though never by the Doctor's
hand), but she was not permitted to write to him: for, among the many
wild suspicions of plots in the prisons, the wildest of all pointed
at emigrants who were known to have made friends or permanent
connections abroad.

This new life of the Doctor's was an anxious life, no doubt; still,
the sagacious Mr. Lorry saw that there was a new sustaining pride in it.
Nothing unbecoming tinged the pride; it was a natural and worthy one;
but he observed it as a curiosity. The Doctor knew, that up to that
time, his imprisonment had been associated in the minds of his
daughter and his friend, with his personal affliction, deprivation,
and weakness. Now that this was changed, and he knew himself to be
invested through that old trial with forces to which they both looked
for Charles's ultimate safety and deliverance, he became so far exalted
by the change, that he took the lead and direction, and required them
as the weak, to trust to him as the strong. The preceding relative
positions of himself and Lucie were reversed, yet only as the
liveliest gratitude and affection could reverse them, for he could
have had no pride but in rendering some service to her who had
rendered so much to him. "All curious to see," thought Mr. Lorry,
in his amiably shrewd way, "but all natural and right; so, take the
lead, my dear friend, and keep it; it couldn't be in better hands."

But, though the Doctor tried hard, and never ceased trying, to get
Charles Darnay set at liberty, or at least to get him brought to trial,
the public current of the time set too strong and fast for him.
The new era began; the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded; the
Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared for
victory or death against the world in arms; the black flag waved
night and day from the great towers of Notre Dame; three hundred
thousand men, summoned to rise against the tyrants of the earth, rose
from all the varying soils of France, as if the dragon's teeth had
been sown broadcast, and had yielded fruit equally on hill and plain,
on rock, in gravel, and alluvial mud, under the bright sky of the
South and under the clouds of the North, in fell and forest, in the
vineyards and the olive-grounds and among the cropped grass and the
stubble of the corn, along the fruitful banks of the broad rivers,
and in the sand of the sea-shore. What private solicitude could rear
itself against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty--the deluge
rising from below, not falling from above, and with the windows of
Heaven shut, not opened!

There was no pause, no pity, no peace, no interval of relenting rest,
no measurement of time. Though days and nights circled as regularly
as when time was young, and the evening and morning were the first
day, other count of time there was none. Hold of it was lost in the
raging fever of a nation, as it is in the fever of one patient.
Now, breaking the unnatural silence of a whole city, the executioner
showed the people the head of the king--and now, it seemed almost in
the same breath, the head of his fair wife which had had eight weary
months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey.

And yet, observing the strange law of contradiction which obtains in
all such cases, the time was long, while it flamed by so fast.
A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty or fifty thousand
revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected,
which struck away all security for liberty or life, and delivered
over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one; prisons
gorged with people who had committed no offence, and could obtain no
hearing; these things became the established order and nature of
appointed things, and seemed to be ancient usage before they were
many weeks old. Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if
it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the
world--the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine.

It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for
headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it
imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National
Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through
the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the
regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of
it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it
was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.

It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most
polluted, were a rotten red. It was taken to pieces, like a
toy-puzzle for a young Devil, and was put together again when the
occasion wanted it. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful,
abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public
mark, twenty-one living and one dead, it had lopped the heads off,
in one morning, in as many minutes. The name of the strong man of
Old Scripture had descended to the chief functionary who worked it;
but, so armed, he was stronger than his namesake, and blinder, and
tore away the gates of God's own Temple every day.

Among these terrors, and the brood belonging to them, the Doctor
walked with a steady head: confident in his power, cautiously
persistent in his end, never doubting that he would save Lucie's
husband at last. Yet the current of the time swept by, so strong and
deep, and carried the time away so fiercely, that Charles had lain in
prison one year and three months when the Doctor was thus steady and
confident. So much more wicked and distracted had the Revolution
grown in that December month, that the rivers of the South were
encumbered with the bodies of the violently drowned by night, and
prisoners were shot in lines and squares under the southern wintry sun.
Still, the Doctor walked among the terrors with a steady head.
No man better known than he, in Paris at that day; no man in a
stranger situation. Silent, humane, indispensable in hospital and
prison, using his art equally among assassins and victims, he was a
man apart. In the exercise of his skill, the appearance and the
story of the Bastille Captive removed him from all other men. He was
not suspected or brought in question, any more than if he had indeed
been recalled to life some eighteen years before, or were a Spirit
moving among mortals.

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