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Charles Dickens > A Tale Of Two Cities > Book 3 - 8

A Tale Of Two Cities

Book 3 - 8

A Hand at Cards

Happily unconscious of the new calamity at home, Miss Pross threaded
her way along the narrow streets and crossed the river by the bridge
of the Pont-Neuf, reckoning in her mind the number of indispensable
purchases she had to make. Mr. Cruncher, with the basket, walked at
her side. They both looked to the right and to the left into most of
the shops they passed, had a wary eye for all gregarious assemblages
of people, and turned out of their road to avoid any very excited
group of talkers. It was a raw evening, and the misty river, blurred
to the eye with blazing lights and to the ear with harsh noises,
showed where the barges were stationed in which the smiths worked,
making guns for the Army of the Republic. Woe to the man who played
tricks with THAT Army, or got undeserved promotion in it! Better
for him that his beard had never grown, for the National Razor shaved
him close.

Having purchased a few small articles of grocery, and a measure of
oil for the lamp, Miss Pross bethought herself of the wine they
wanted. After peeping into several wine-shops, she stopped at the
sign of the Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity, not far from the
National Palace, once (and twice) the Tuileries, where the aspect of
things rather took her fancy. It had a quieter look than any other
place of the same description they had passed, and, though red with
patriotic caps, was not so red as the rest. Sounding Mr. Cruncher,
and finding him of her opinion, Miss Pross resorted to the Good
Republican Brutus of Antiquity, attended by her cavalier.

Slightly observant of the smoky lights; of the people, pipe in mouth,
playing with limp cards and yellow dominoes; of the one bare-
breasted, bare-armed, soot-begrimed workman reading a journal aloud,
and of the others listening to him; of the weapons worn, or laid
aside to be resumed; of the two or three customers fallen forward
asleep, who in the popular high-shouldered shaggy black spencer
looked, in that attitude, like slumbering bears or dogs; the two
outlandish customers approached the counter, and showed what they wanted.

As their wine was measuring out, a man parted from another man in a
corner, and rose to depart. In going, he had to face Miss Pross.
No sooner did he face her, than Miss Pross uttered a scream, and
clapped her hands.

In a moment, the whole company were on their feet. That somebody was
assassinated by somebody vindicating a difference of opinion was the
likeliest occurrence. Everybody looked to see somebody fall, but
only saw a man and a woman standing staring at each other; the man
with all the outward aspect of a Frenchman and a thorough Republican;
the woman, evidently English.

What was said in this disappointing anti-climax, by the disciples of
the Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity, except that it was something
very voluble and loud, would have been as so much Hebrew or Chaldean
to Miss Pross and her protector, though they had been all ears. But,
they had no ears for anything in their surprise. For, it must be
recorded, that not only was Miss Pross lost in amazement and
agitation, but, Mr. Cruncher--though it seemed on his own separate
and individual account--was in a state of the greatest wonder.

"What is the matter?" said the man who had caused Miss Pross to scream;
speaking in a vexed, abrupt voice (though in a low tone), and in

"Oh, Solomon, dear Solomon!" cried Miss Pross, clapping her hands
again. "After not setting eyes upon you or hearing of you for so
long a time, do I find you here!"

"Don't call me Solomon. Do you want to be the death of me?" asked
the man, in a furtive, frightened way.

"Brother, brother!" cried Miss Pross, bursting into tears. "Have I
ever been so hard with you that you ask me such a cruel question?"

"Then hold your meddlesome tongue," said Solomon, "and come out, if
you want to speak to me. Pay for your wine, and come out.
Who's this man?"

Miss Pross, shaking her loving and dejected head at her by no means
affectionate brother, said through her tears, "Mr. Cruncher."

"Let him come out too," said Solomon. "Does he think me a ghost?"

Apparently, Mr. Cruncher did, to judge from his looks. He said not a
word, however, and Miss Pross, exploring the depths of her reticule
through her tears with great difficulty paid for her wine. As she
did so, Solomon turned to the followers of the Good Republican Brutus
of Antiquity, and offered a few words of explanation in the French
language, which caused them all to relapse into their former places
and pursuits.

"Now," said Solomon, stopping at the dark street corner, "what do you want?"

"How dreadfully unkind in a brother nothing has ever turned my love
away from!" cried Miss Pross, "to give me such a greeting, and show
me no affection."

"There. Confound it! There," said Solomon, making a dab at Miss
Pross's lips with his own. "Now are you content?"

Miss Pross only shook her head and wept in silence.

"If you expect me to be surprised," said her brother Solomon, "I am
not surprised; I knew you were here; I know of most people who are
here. If you really don't want to endanger my existence--which I half
believe you do--go your ways as soon as possible, and let me go mine.
I am busy. I am an official."

"My English brother Solomon," mourned Miss Pross, casting up her
tear-fraught eyes, "that had the makings in him of one of the best
and greatest of men in his native country, an official among
foreigners, and such foreigners! I would almost sooner have seen the
dear boy lying in his--"

"I said so!" cried her brother, interrupting. "I knew it. You want
to be the death of me. I shall be rendered Suspected, by my own
sister. Just as I am getting on!"

"The gracious and merciful Heavens forbid!" cried Miss Pross. "Far
rather would I never see you again, dear Solomon, though I have ever
loved you truly, and ever shall. Say but one affectionate word to
me, and tell me there is nothing angry or estranged between us, and I
will detain you no longer."

Good Miss Pross! As if the estrangement between them had come of any
culpability of hers. As if Mr. Lorry had not known it for a fact,
years ago, in the quiet corner in Soho, that this precious brother
had spent her money and left her!

He was saying the affectionate word, however, with a far more
grudging condescension and patronage than he could have shown if
their relative merits and positions had been reversed (which is
invariably the case, all the world over), when Mr. Cruncher, touching
him on the shoulder, hoarsely and unexpectedly interposed with the
following singular question:

"I say! Might I ask the favour? As to whether your name is John
Solomon, or Solomon John?"

The official turned towards him with sudden distrust. He had not
previously uttered a word.

"Come!" said Mr. Cruncher. "Speak out, you know." (Which, by the
way, was more than he could do himself.) "John Solomon, or Solomon
John? She calls you Solomon, and she must know, being your sister.
And _I_ know you're John, you know. Which of the two goes first?
And regarding that name of Pross, likewise. That warn't your name
over the water."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I don't know all I mean, for I can't call to mind what your
name was, over the water."


"No. But I'll swear it was a name of two syllables."


"Yes. T'other one's was one syllable. I know you. You was a spy--
witness at the Bailey. What, in the name of the Father of Lies,
own father to yourself, was you called at that time?"

"Barsad," said another voice, striking in.

"That's the name for a thousand pound!" cried Jerry.

The speaker who struck in, was Sydney Carton. He had his hands
behind him under the skirts of his riding-coat, and he stood at
Mr. Cruncher's elbow as negligently as he might have stood at the Old
Bailey itself.

"Don't be alarmed, my dear Miss Pross. I arrived at Mr. Lorry's,
to his surprise, yesterday evening; we agreed that I would not
present myself elsewhere until all was well, or unless I could be
useful; I present myself here, to beg a little talk with your brother.
I wish you had a better employed brother than Mr. Barsad. I wish
for your sake Mr. Barsad was not a Sheep of the Prisons."

Sheep was a cant word of the time for a spy, under the gaolers.
The spy, who was pale, turned paler, and asked him how he dared--

"I'll tell you," said Sydney. "I lighted on you, Mr. Barsad, coming
out of the prison of the Conciergerie while I was contemplating the
walls, an hour or more ago. You have a face to be remembered, and I
remember faces well. Made curious by seeing you in that connection,
and having a reason, to which you are no stranger, for associating
you with the misfortunes of a friend now very unfortunate, I walked
in your direction. I walked into the wine-shop here, close after you,
and sat near you. I had no difficulty in deducing from your unreserved
conversation, and the rumour openly going about among your admirers,
the nature of your calling. And gradually, what I had done at random,
seemed to shape itself into a purpose, Mr. Barsad."

"What purpose?" the spy asked.

"It would be troublesome, and might be dangerous, to explain in the
street. Could you favour me, in confidence, with some minutes of
your company--at the office of Tellson's Bank, for instance?"

"Under a threat?"

"Oh! Did I say that?"

"Then, why should I go there?"

"Really, Mr. Barsad, I can't say, if you can't."

"Do you mean that you won't say, sir?" the spy irresolutely asked.

"You apprehend me very clearly, Mr. Barsad. I won't."

Carton's negligent recklessness of manner came powerfully in aid of
his quickness and skill, in such a business as he had in his secret
mind, and with such a man as he had to do with. His practised eye
saw it, and made the most of it.

"Now, I told you so," said the spy, casting a reproachful look at his
sister; "if any trouble comes of this, it's your doing."

"Come, come, Mr. Barsad!" exclaimed Sydney. "Don't be
ungrateful. But for my great respect for your sister, I might not
have led up so pleasantly to a little proposal that I wish to make
for our mutual satisfaction. Do you go with me to the Bank?"

"I'll hear what you have got to say. Yes, I'll go with you."

"I propose that we first conduct your sister safely to the corner of
her own street. Let me take your arm, Miss Pross. This is not a
good city, at this time, for you to be out in, unprotected; and as
your escort knows Mr. Barsad, I will invite him to Mr. Lorry's with us.
Are we ready? Come then!"

Miss Pross recalled soon afterwards, and to the end of her life
remembered, that as she pressed her hands on Sydney's arm and looked
up in his face, imploring him to do no hurt to Solomon, there was a
braced purpose in the arm and a kind of inspiration in the eyes,
which not only contradicted his light manner, but changed and raised
the man. She was too much occupied then with fears for the brother
who so little deserved her affection, and with Sydney's friendly
reassurances, adequately to heed what she observed.

They left her at the corner of the street, and Carton led the way to
Mr. Lorry's, which was within a few minutes' walk. John Barsad, or
Solomon Pross, walked at his side.

Mr. Lorry had just finished his dinner, and was sitting before a
cheery little log or two of fire--perhaps looking into their blaze
for the picture of that younger elderly gentleman from Tellson's, who
had looked into the red coals at the Royal George at Dover, now a
good many years ago. He turned his head as they entered, and showed
the surprise with which he saw a stranger.

"Miss Pross's brother, sir," said Sydney. "Mr. Barsad."

"Barsad?" repeated the old gentleman, "Barsad? I have an association
with the name--and with the face."

"I told you you had a remarkable face, Mr. Barsad," observed Carton,
coolly. "Pray sit down."

As he took a chair himself, he supplied the link that Mr. Lorry
wanted, by saying to him with a frown, "Witness at that trial."
Mr. Lorry immediately remembered, and regarded his new visitor with
an undisguised look of abhorrence.

"Mr. Barsad has been recognised by Miss Pross as the affectionate
brother you have heard of," said Sydney, "and has acknowledged the
relationship. I pass to worse news. Darnay has been arrested again."

Struck with consternation, the old gentleman exclaimed, "What do you
tell me! I left him safe and free within these two hours, and am
about to return to him!"

"Arrested for all that. When was it done, Mr. Barsad?"

"Just now, if at all."

"Mr. Barsad is the best authority possible, sir," said Sydney, "and I
have it from Mr. Barsad's communication to a friend and brother Sheep
over a bottle of wine, that the arrest has taken place. He left the
messengers at the gate, and saw them admitted by the porter.
There is no earthly doubt that he is retaken."

Mr. Lorry's business eye read in the speaker's face that it was loss
of time to dwell upon the point. Confused, but sensible that
something might depend on his presence of mind, he commanded himself,
and was silently attentive.

"Now, I trust," said Sydney to him, "that the name and influence of
Doctor Manette may stand him in as good stead to-morrow--you said he
would be before the Tribunal again to-morrow, Mr. Barsad?--"

"Yes; I believe so."

"--In as good stead to-morrow as to-day. But it may not be so.
I own to you, I am shaken, Mr. Lorry, by Doctor Manette's not having
had the power to prevent this arrest."

"He may not have known of it beforehand," said Mr. Lorry.

"But that very circumstance would be alarming, when we remember how
identified he is with his son-in-law."

"That's true," Mr. Lorry acknowledged, with his troubled hand at his
chin, and his troubled eyes on Carton.

"In short," said Sydney, "this is a desperate time, when desperate
games are played for desperate stakes. Let the Doctor play the
winning game; I will play the losing one. No man's life here is
worth purchase. Any one carried home by the people to-day, may be
condemned tomorrow. Now, the stake I have resolved to play for, in
case of the worst, is a friend in the Conciergerie. And the friend I
purpose to myself to win, is Mr. Barsad."

"You need have good cards, sir," said the spy.

"I'll run them over. I'll see what I hold,--Mr. Lorry, you know
what a brute I am; I wish you'd give me a little brandy."

It was put before him, and he drank off a glassful--drank off another
glassful--pushed the bottle thoughtfully away.

"Mr. Barsad," he went on, in the tone of one who really was looking
over a hand at cards: "Sheep of the prisons, emissary of Republican
committees, now turnkey, now prisoner, always spy and secret
informer, so much the more valuable here for being English that an
Englishman is less open to suspicion of subornation in those
characters than a Frenchman, represents himself to his employers
under a false name. That's a very good card. Mr. Barsad, now in the
employ of the republican French government, was formerly in the
employ of the aristocratic English government, the enemy of France
and freedom. That's an excellent card. Inference clear as day in
this region of suspicion, that Mr. Barsad, still in the pay of the
aristocratic English government, is the spy of Pitt, the treacherous
foe of the Republic crouching in its bosom, the English traitor and
agent of all mischief so much spoken of and so difficult to find.
That's a card not to be beaten. Have you followed my hand, Mr. Barsad?"

"Not to understand your play," returned the spy, somewhat uneasily.

"I play my Ace, Denunciation of Mr. Barsad to the nearest Section
Committee. Look over your hand, Mr. Barsad, and see what you have.
Don't hurry."

He drew the bottle near, poured out another glassful of brandy,
and drank it off. He saw that the spy was fearful of his drinking
himself into a fit state for the immediate denunciation of him.
Seeing it, he poured out and drank another glassful.

"Look over your hand carefully, Mr. Barsad. Take time."

It was a poorer hand than he suspected. Mr. Barsad saw losing cards
in it that Sydney Carton knew nothing of. Thrown out of his
honourable employment in England, through too much unsuccessful hard
swearing there--not because he was not wanted there; our English
reasons for vaunting our superiority to secrecy and spies are of very
modern date--he knew that he had crossed the Channel, and accepted
service in France: first, as a tempter and an eavesdropper among his
own countrymen there: gradually, as a tempter and an eavesdropper
among the natives. He knew that under the overthrown government he
had been a spy upon Saint Antoine and Defarge's wine-shop; had
received from the watchful police such heads of information
concerning Doctor Manette's imprisonment, release, and history, as
should serve him for an introduction to familiar conversation with
the Defarges; and tried them on Madame Defarge, and had broken down
with them signally. He always remembered with fear and trembling,
that that terrible woman had knitted when he talked with her, and had
looked ominously at him as her fingers moved. He had since seen her,
in the Section of Saint Antoine, over and over again produce her
knitted registers, and denounce people whose lives the guillotine
then surely swallowed up. He knew, as every one employed as he was
did, that he was never safe; that flight was impossible; that he was
tied fast under the shadow of the axe; and that in spite of his
utmost tergiversation and treachery in furtherance of the reigning
terror, a word might bring it down upon him. Once denounced, and on
such grave grounds as had just now been suggested to his mind, he
foresaw that the dreadful woman of whose unrelenting character he had
seen many proofs, would produce against him that fatal register, and
would quash his last chance of life. Besides that all secret men are
men soon terrified, here were surely cards enough of one black suit,
to justify the holder in growing rather livid as he turned them over.

"You scarcely seem to like your hand," said Sydney, with the greatest
composure. "Do you play?"

"I think, sir," said the spy, in the meanest manner, as he turned to
Mr. Lorry, "I may appeal to a gentleman of your years and benevolence,
to put it to this other gentleman, so much your junior, whether he
can under any circumstances reconcile it to his station to play that
Ace of which he has spoken. I admit that _I_ am a spy, and that it
is considered a discreditable station--though it must be filled by
somebody; but this gentleman is no spy, and why should he so demean
himself as to make himself one?"

"I play my Ace, Mr. Barsad," said Carton, taking the answer on himself,
and looking at his watch, "without any scruple, in a very few minutes."

"I should have hoped, gentlemen both," said the spy, always striving
to hook Mr. Lorry into the discussion, "that your respect for my

"I could not better testify my respect for your sister than by
finally relieving her of her brother," said Sydney Carton.

"You think not, sir?"

"I have thoroughly made up my mind about it."

The smooth manner of the spy, curiously in dissonance with his
ostentatiously rough dress, and probably with his usual demeanour,
received such a check from the inscrutability of Carton,--who was a
mystery to wiser and honester men than he,--that it faltered here and
failed him. While he was at a loss, Carton said, resuming his former
air of contemplating cards:

"And indeed, now I think again, I have a strong impression that I
have another good card here, not yet enumerated. That friend and
fellow-Sheep, who spoke of himself as pasturing in the country prisons;
who was he?"

"French. You don't know him," said the spy, quickly.

"French, eh?" repeated Carton, musing, and not appearing to notice
him at all, though he echoed his word. "Well; he may be."

"Is, I assure you," said the spy; "though it's not important."

"Though it's not important," repeated Carton, in the same mechanical
way--"though it's not important--No, it's not important. No. Yet I
know the face."

"I think not. I am sure not. It can't be," said the spy.

"It-can't-be," muttered Sydney Carton, retrospectively, and idling
his glass (which fortunately was a small one) again. "Can't-be.
Spoke good French. Yet like a foreigner, I thought?"

"Provincial," said the spy.

"No. Foreign!" cried Carton, striking his open hand on the table, as
a light broke clearly on his mind. "Cly! Disguised, but the same man.
We had that man before us at the Old Bailey."

"Now, there you are hasty, sir," said Barsad, with a smile that gave
his aquiline nose an extra inclination to one side; "there you really
give me an advantage over you. Cly (who I will unreservedly admit,
at this distance of time, was a partner of mine) has been dead
several years. I attended him in his last illness. He was buried in
London, at the church of Saint Pancras-in-the-Fields. His unpopularity
with the blackguard multitude at the moment prevented my following
his remains, but I helped to lay him in his coffin."

Here, Mr. Lorry became aware, from where he sat, of a most remarkable
goblin shadow on the wall. Tracing it to its source, he discovered
it to be caused by a sudden extraordinary rising and stiffening of
all the risen and stiff hair on Mr. Cruncher's head.

"Let us be reasonable," said the spy, "and let us be fair. To show
you how mistaken you are, and what an unfounded assumption yours is,
I will lay before you a certificate of Cly's burial, which I happened
to have carried in my pocket-book," with a hurried hand he produced
and opened it, "ever since. There it is. Oh, look at it, look at it!
You may take it in your hand; it's no forgery."

Here, Mr. Lorry perceived the reflection on the wall to elongate, and
Mr. Cruncher rose and stepped forward. His hair could not have been
more violently on end, if it had been that moment dressed by the Cow
with the crumpled horn in the house that Jack built.

Unseen by the spy, Mr. Cruncher stood at his side, and touched him on
the shoulder like a ghostly bailiff.

"That there Roger Cly, master," said Mr. Cruncher, with a taciturn
and iron-bound visage. "So YOU put him in his coffin?"

"I did."

"Who took him out of it?"

Barsad leaned back in his chair, and stammered, "What do you mean?"

"I mean," said Mr. Cruncher, "that he warn't never in it. No! Not he!
I'll have my head took off, if he was ever in it."

The spy looked round at the two gentlemen; they both looked in
unspeakable astonishment at Jerry.

"I tell you," said Jerry, "that you buried paving-stones and earth in
that there coffin. Don't go and tell me that you buried Cly. It was
a take in. Me and two more knows it."

"How do you know it?"

"What's that to you? Ecod!" growled Mr. Cruncher, "it's you I have got
a old grudge again, is it, with your shameful impositions upon tradesmen!
I'd catch hold of your throat and choke you for half a guinea."

Sydney Carton, who, with Mr. Lorry, had been lost in amazement at
this turn of the business, here requested Mr. Cruncher to moderate
and explain himself.

"At another time, sir," he returned, evasively, "the present time is
ill-conwenient for explainin'. What I stand to, is, that he knows
well wot that there Cly was never in that there coffin. Let him say
he was, in so much as a word of one syllable, and I'll either catch
hold of his throat and choke him for half a guinea;" Mr. Cruncher
dwelt upon this as quite a liberal offer; "or I'll out and announce him."

"Humph! I see one thing," said Carton. "I hold another card,
Mr. Barsad. Impossible, here in raging Paris, with Suspicion filling
the air, for you to outlive denunciation, when you are in communication
with another aristocratic spy of the same antecedents as yourself,
who, moreover, has the mystery about him of having feigned death and
come to life again! A plot in the prisons, of the foreigner against
the Republic. A strong card--a certain Guillotine card! Do you play?"

"No!" returned the spy. "I throw up. I confess that we were so
unpopular with the outrageous mob, that I only got away from England
at the risk of being ducked to death, and that Cly was so ferreted up
and down, that he never would have got away at all but for that sham.
Though how this man knows it was a sham, is a wonder of wonders to me."

"Never you trouble your head about this man," retorted the
contentious Mr. Cruncher; "you'll have trouble enough with giving
your attention to that gentleman. And look here! Once more!"--
Mr. Cruncher could not be restrained from making rather an ostentatious
parade of his liberality--"I'd catch hold of your throat and choke
you for half a guinea."

The Sheep of the prisons turned from him to Sydney Carton, and said,
with more decision, "It has come to a point. I go on duty soon, and
can't overstay my time. You told me you had a proposal; what is it?
Now, it is of no use asking too much of me. Ask me to do anything in
my office, putting my head in great extra danger, and I had better
trust my life to the chances of a refusal than the chances of consent.
In short, I should make that choice. You talk of desperation.
We are all desperate here. Remember! I may denounce you if I think
proper, and I can swear my way through stone walls, and so can others.
Now, what do you want with me?"

"Not very much. You are a turnkey at the Conciergerie?"

"I tell you once for all, there is no such thing as an escape possible,"
said the spy, firmly.

"Why need you tell me what I have not asked? You are a turnkey at the

"I am sometimes."

"You can be when you choose?"

"I can pass in and out when I choose."

Sydney Carton filled another glass with brandy, poured it slowly out
upon the hearth, and watched it as it dropped. It being all spent,
he said, rising:

"So far, we have spoken before these two, because it was as well that
the merits of the cards should not rest solely between you and me.
Come into the dark room here, and let us have one final word alone."

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