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Charles Dickens > A Tale Of Two Cities > Book 3 - 5

A Tale Of Two Cities

Book 3 - 5

The Wood-Sawyer

One year and three months. During all that time Lucie was never
sure, from hour to hour, but that the Guillotine would strike off her
husband's head next day. Every day, through the stony streets, the
tumbrils now jolted heavily, filled with Condemned. Lovely girls;
bright women, brown-haired, black-haired, and grey; youths; stalwart
men and old; gentle born and peasant born; all red wine for La
Guillotine, all daily brought into light from the dark cellars of the
loathsome prisons, and carried to her through the streets to slake
her devouring thirst. Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death;--the
last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!

If the suddenness of her calamity, and the whirling wheels of the
time, had stunned the Doctor's daughter into awaiting the result in
idle despair, it would but have been with her as it was with many.
But, from the hour when she had taken the white head to her fresh
young bosom in the garret of Saint Antoine, she had been true to her
duties. She was truest to them in the season of trial, as all the
quietly loyal and good will always be.

As soon as they were established in their new residence, and her
father had entered on the routine of his avocations, she arranged the
little household as exactly as if her husband had been there.
Everything had its appointed place and its appointed time. Little
Lucie she taught, as regularly, as if they had all been united in
their English home. The slight devices with which she cheated
herself into the show of a belief that they would soon be reunited--
the little preparations for his speedy return, the setting aside of
his chair and his books--these, and the solemn prayer at night for
one dear prisoner especially, among the many unhappy souls in prison
and the shadow of death--were almost the only outspoken reliefs of
her heavy mind.

She did not greatly alter in appearance. The plain dark dresses,
akin to mourning dresses, which she and her child wore, were as neat
and as well attended to as the brighter clothes of happy days.
She lost her colour, and the old and intent expression was a constant,
not an occasional, thing; otherwise, she remained very pretty and
comely. Sometimes, at night on kissing her father, she would burst
into the grief she had repressed all day, and would say that her sole
reliance, under Heaven, was on him. He always resolutely answered:
"Nothing can happen to him without my knowledge, and I know that I
can save him, Lucie."

They had not made the round of their changed life many weeks,
when her father said to her, on coming home one evening:

"My dear, there is an upper window in the prison, to which Charles
can sometimes gain access at three in the afternoon. When he can get
to it--which depends on many uncertainties and incidents--he might
see you in the street, he thinks, if you stood in a certain place
that I can show you. But you will not be able to see him, my poor
child, and even if you could, it would be unsafe for you to make a
sign of recognition."

"O show me the place, my father, and I will go there every day."

From that time, in all weathers, she waited there two hours.
As the clock struck two, she was there, and at four she turned
resignedly away. When it was not too wet or inclement for her child
to be with her, they went together; at other times she was alone;
but, she never missed a single day.

It was the dark and dirty corner of a small winding street.
The hovel of a cutter of wood into lengths for burning, was the only
house at that end; all else was wall. On the third day of her being
there, he noticed her.

"Good day, citizeness."

"Good day, citizen."

This mode of address was now prescribed by decree. It had been
established voluntarily some time ago, among the more thorough
patriots; but, was now law for everybody.

"Walking here again, citizeness?"

"You see me, citizen!"

The wood-sawyer, who was a little man with a redundancy of gesture
(he had once been a mender of roads), cast a glance at the prison,
pointed at the prison, and putting his ten fingers before his face to
represent bars, peeped through them jocosely.

"But it's not my business," said he. And went on sawing his wood.

Next day he was looking out for her, and accosted her the moment she

"What? Walking here again, citizeness?"

"Yes, citizen."

"Ah! A child too! Your mother, is it not, my little citizeness?"

"Do I say yes, mamma?" whispered little Lucie, drawing close to her.

"Yes, dearest."

"Yes, citizen."

"Ah! But it's not my business. My work is my business. See my saw!
I call it my Little Guillotine. La, la, la; La, la, la! And off his
head comes!"

The billet fell as he spoke, and he threw it into a basket.

"I call myself the Samson of the firewood guillotine. See here again!
Loo, loo, loo; Loo, loo, loo! And off HER head comes! Now, a child.
Tickle, tickle; Pickle, pickle! And off ITS head comes. All the family!"

Lucie shuddered as he threw two more billets into his basket, but it
was impossible to be there while the wood-sawyer was at work, and not
be in his sight. Thenceforth, to secure his good will, she always
spoke to him first, and often gave him drink-money, which he readily

He was an inquisitive fellow, and sometimes when she had quite
forgotten him in gazing at the prison roof and grates, and in lifting
her heart up to her husband, she would come to herself to find him
looking at her, with his knee on his bench and his saw stopped in its
work. "But it's not my business!" he would generally say at those
times, and would briskly fall to his sawing again.

In all weathers, in the snow and frost of winter, in the bitter winds
of spring, in the hot sunshine of summer, in the rains of autumn, and
again in the snow and frost of winter, Lucie passed two hours of
every day at this place; and every day on leaving it, she kissed the
prison wall. Her husband saw her (so she learned from her father) it
might be once in five or six times: it might be twice or thrice running:
it might be, not for a week or a fortnight together. It was enough
that he could and did see her when the chances served, and on that
possibility she would have waited out the day, seven days a week.

These occupations brought her round to the December month, wherein
her father walked among the terrors with a steady head. On a
lightly-snowing afternoon she arrived at the usual corner. It was a
day of some wild rejoicing, and a festival. She had seen the houses,
as she came along, decorated with little pikes, and with little red
caps stuck upon them; also, with tricoloured ribbons; also, with the
standard inscription (tricoloured letters were the favourite),
Republic One and Indivisible. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!

The miserable shop of the wood-sawyer was so small, that its whole
surface furnished very indifferent space for this legend. He had got
somebody to scrawl it up for him, however, who had squeezed Death in
with most inappropriate difficulty. On his house-top, he displayed
pike and cap, as a good citizen must, and in a window he had
stationed his saw inscribed as his "Little Sainte Guillotine"--
for the great sharp female was by that time popularly canonised.
His shop was shut and he was not there, which was a relief to Lucie,
and left her quite alone.

But, he was not far off, for presently she heard a troubled movement
and a shouting coming along, which filled her with fear. A moment
afterwards, and a throng of people came pouring round the corner by
the prison wall, in the midst of whom was the wood-sawyer hand in
hand with The Vengeance. There could not be fewer than five hundred
people, and they were dancing like five thousand demons. There was
no other music than their own singing. They danced to the popular
Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of
teeth in unison. Men and women danced together, women danced
together, men danced together, as hazard had brought them together.
At first, they were a mere storm of coarse red caps and coarse
woollen rags; but, as they filled the place, and stopped to dance
about Lucie, some ghastly apparition of a dance-figure gone raving
mad arose among them. They advanced, retreated, struck at one
another's hands, clutched at one another's heads, spun round alone,
caught one another and spun round in pairs, until many of them
dropped. While those were down, the rest linked hand in hand, and
all spun round together: then the ring broke, and in separate rings
of two and four they turned and turned until they all stopped at
once, began again, struck, clutched, and tore, and then reversed the
spin, and all spun round another way. Suddenly they stopped again,
paused, struck out the time afresh, formed into lines the width of
the public way, and, with their heads low down and their hands high
up, swooped screaming off. No fight could have been half so terrible
as this dance. It was so emphatically a fallen sport--a something,
once innocent, delivered over to all devilry--a healthy pastime
changed into a means of angering the blood, bewildering the senses,
and steeling the heart. Such grace as was visible in it, made it the
uglier, showing how warped and perverted all things good by nature
were become. The maidenly bosom bared to this, the pretty
almost-child's head thus distracted, the delicate foot mincing in
this slough of blood and dirt, were types of the disjointed time.

This was the Carmagnole. As it passed, leaving Lucie frightened and
bewildered in the doorway of the wood-sawyer's house, the feathery
snow fell as quietly and lay as white and soft, as if it had never been.

"O my father!" for he stood before her when she lifted up the eyes
she had momentarily darkened with her hand; "such a cruel, bad sight."

"I know, my dear, I know. I have seen it many times. Don't be
frightened! Not one of them would harm you."

"I am not frightened for myself, my father. But when I think of my
husband, and the mercies of these people--"

"We will set him above their mercies very soon. I left him climbing
to the window, and I came to tell you. There is no one here to see.
You may kiss your hand towards that highest shelving roof."

"I do so, father, and I send him my Soul with it!"

"You cannot see him, my poor dear?"

"No, father," said Lucie, yearning and weeping as she kissed her hand,

A footstep in the snow. Madame Defarge. "I salute you, citizeness,"
from the Doctor. "I salute you, citizen." This in passing. Nothing
more. Madame Defarge gone, like a shadow over the white road.

"Give me your arm, my love. Pass from here with an air of cheerfulness
and courage, for his sake. That was well done;" they had left the spot;
"it shall not be in vain. Charles is summoned for to-morrow."

"For to-morrow!"

"There is no time to lose. I am well prepared, but there are
precautions to be taken, that could not be taken until he was actually
summoned before the Tribunal. He has not received the notice yet,
but I know that he will presently be summoned for to-morrow, and
removed to the Conciergerie; I have timely information.
You are not afraid?"

She could scarcely answer, "I trust in you."

"Do so, implicitly. Your suspense is nearly ended, my darling; he
shall be restored to you within a few hours; I have encompassed him
with every protection. I must see Lorry."

He stopped. There was a heavy lumbering of wheels within hearing.
They both knew too well what it meant. One. Two. Three. Three
tumbrils faring away with their dread loads over the hushing snow.

"I must see Lorry," the Doctor repeated, turning her another way.

The staunch old gentleman was still in his trust; had never left it.
He and his books were in frequent requisition as to property
confiscated and made national. What he could save for the owners, he
saved. No better man living to hold fast by what Tellson's had in
keeping, and to hold his peace.

A murky red and yellow sky, and a rising mist from the Seine, denoted
the approach of darkness. It was almost dark when they arrived at
the Bank. The stately residence of Monseigneur was altogether
blighted and deserted. Above a heap of dust and ashes in the court,
ran the letters: National Property. Republic One and Indivisible.
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!

Who could that be with Mr. Lorry--the owner of the riding-coat upon
the chair--who must not be seen? From whom newly arrived, did he come
out, agitated and surprised, to take his favourite in his arms? To
whom did he appear to repeat her faltering words, when, raising his
voice and turning his head towards the door of the room from which he
had issued, he said: "Removed to the Conciergerie, and summoned for

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