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

A Tale Of Two Cities

Book 2 - 2

A Sight

"You know the Old Bailey, well, no doubt?" said one of the oldest of
clerks to Jerry the messenger.

"Ye-es, sir," returned Jerry, in something of a dogged manner. "I
DO know the Bailey."

"Just so. And you know Mr. Lorry."

"I know Mr. Lorry, sir, much better than I know the Bailey. Much
better," said Jerry, not unlike a reluctant witness at the
establishment in question, "than I, as a honest tradesman, wish to
know the Bailey."

"Very well. Find the door where the witnesses go in, and show the
door-keeper this note for Mr. Lorry. He will then let you in."

"Into the court, sir?"

"Into the court."

Mr. Cruncher's eyes seemed to get a little closer to one another, and
to interchange the inquiry, "What do you think of this?"

"Am I to wait in the court, sir?" he asked, as the result of that

"I am going to tell you. The door-keeper will pass the note to Mr.
Lorry, and do you make any gesture that will attract Mr. Lorry's
attention, and show him where you stand. Then what you have to do,
is, to remain there until he wants you."

"Is that all, sir?"

"That's all. He wishes to have a messenger at hand. This is to tell
him you are there."

As the ancient clerk deliberately folded and superscribed the note,
Mr. Cruncher, after surveying him in silence until he came to the
blotting-paper stage, remarked:

"I suppose they'll be trying Forgeries this morning?"


"That's quartering," said Jerry. "Barbarous!"

"It is the law," remarked the ancient clerk, turning his surprised
spectacles upon him. "It is the law."

"It's hard in the law to spile a man, I think. Ifs hard enough to
kill him, but it's wery hard to spile him, sir."

"Not at all," retained the ancient clerk. "Speak well of the law.
Take care of your chest and voice, my good friend, and leave the law
to take care of itself. I give you that advice."

"It's the damp, sir, what settles on my chest and voice," said Jerry.
"I leave you to judge what a damp way of earning a living mine is."

"Well, well," said the old clerk; "we all have our various ways of
gaining a livelihood. Some of us have damp ways, and some of us have
dry ways. Here is the letter. Go along."

Jerry took the letter, and, remarking to himself with less internal
deference than he made an outward show of, "You are a lean old one,
too," made his bow, informed his son, in passing, of his destination,
and went his way.

They hanged at Tyburn, in those days, so the street outside Newgate
had not obtained one infamous notoriety that has since attached to
it. But, the gaol was a vile place, in which most kinds of
debauchery and villainy were practised, and where dire diseases were
bred, that came into court with the prisoners, and sometimes rushed
straight from the dock at my Lord Chief Justice himself, and pulled
him off the bench. It had more than once happened, that the Judge in
the black cap pronounced his own doom as certainly as the prisoner's,
and even died before him. For the rest, the Old Bailey was famous as
a kind of deadly inn-yard, from which pale travellers set out
continually, in carts and coaches, on a violent passage into the
other world: traversing some two miles and a half of public street
and road, and shaming few good citizens, if any. So powerful is use,
and so desirable to be good use in the beginning. It was famous,
too, for the pillory, a wise old institution, that inflicted a
punishment of which no one could foresee the extent; also, for the
whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and
softening to behold in action; also, for extensive transactions in
blood-money, another fragment of ancestral wisdom, systematically
leading to the most frightful mercenary crimes that could be
committed under Heaven. Altogether, the Old Bailey, at that date,
was a choice illustration of the precept, that "Whatever is is right;"
an aphorism that would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include
the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever was, was wrong.

Making his way through the tainted crowd, dispersed up and down this
hideous scene of action, with the skill of a man accustomed to make
his way quietly, the messenger found out the door he sought, and
handed in his letter through a trap in it. For, people then paid to
see the play at the Old Bailey, just as they paid to see the play in
Bedlam--only the former entertainment was much the dearer. Therefore,
all the Old Bailey doors were well guarded--except, indeed, the
social doors by which the criminals got there, and those were always
left wide open.

After some delay and demur, the door grudgingly turned on its hinges
a very little way, and allowed Mr. Jerry Cruncher to squeeze himself
into court.

"What's on?" he asked, in a whisper, of the man he found himself next to.

"Nothing yet."

"What's coming on?"

"The Treason case."

"The quartering one, eh?"

"Ah!" returned the man, with a relish; "he'll be drawn on a hurdle
to be half hanged, and then he'll be taken down and sliced before
his own face, and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while
he looks on, and then his head will be chopped off, and he'll be
cut into quarters. That's the sentence."

"If he's found Guilty, you mean to say?" Jerry added, by way of proviso.

"Oh! they'll find him guilty," said the other. "Don't you be afraid of that."

Mr. Cruncher's attention was here diverted to the door-keeper, whom
he saw making his way to Mr. Lorry, with the note in his hand. Mr.
Lorry sat at a table, among the gentlemen in wigs: not far from a
wigged gentleman, the prisoner's counsel, who had a great bundle of
papers before him: and nearly opposite another wigged gentleman with
his hands in his pockets, whose whole attention, when Mr. Cruncher
looked at him then or afterwards, seemed to be concentrated on the
ceiling of the court. After some gruff coughing and rubbing of his
chin and signing with his hand, Jerry attracted the notice of
Mr. Lorry, who had stood up to look for him, and who quietly nodded
and sat down again.

"What's HE got to do with the case?" asked the man he had spoken with.

"Blest if I know," said Jerry.

"What have YOU got to do with it, then, if a person may inquire?"

"Blest if I know that either," said Jerry.

The entrance of the Judge, and a consequent great stir and settling
down in the court, stopped the dialogue. Presently, the dock became
the central point of interest. Two gaolers, who had been standing
there, wont out, and the prisoner was brought in, and put to the bar.

Everybody present, except the one wigged gentleman who looked at the
ceiling, stared at him. All the human breath in the place, rolled at
him, like a sea, or a wind, or a fire. Eager faces strained round
pillars and corners, to get a sight of him; spectators in back rows
stood up, not to miss a hair of him; people on the floor of the
court, laid their hands on the shoulders of the people before them,
to help themselves, at anybody's cost, to a view of him--stood
a-tiptoe, got upon ledges, stood upon next to nothing, to see every
inch of him. Conspicuous among these latter, like an animated bit of
the spiked wall of Newgate, Jerry stood: aiming at the prisoner the
beery breath of a whet he had taken as he came along, and discharging
it to mingle with the waves of other beer, and gin, and tea, and
coffee, and what not, that flowed at him, and already broke upon the
great windows behind him in an impure mist and rain.

The object of all this staring and blaring, was a young man of about
five-and-twenty, well-grown and well-looking, with a sunburnt cheek
and a dark eye. His condition was that of a young gentleman. He was
plainly dressed in black, or very dark grey, and his hair, which was
long and dark, was gathered in a ribbon at the back of his neck; more
to be out of his way than for ornament. As an emotion of the mind
will express itself through any covering of the body, so the paleness
which his situation engendered came through the brown upon his cheek,
showing the soul to be stronger than the sun. He was otherwise quite
self-possessed, bowed to the Judge, and stood quiet.

The sort of interest with which this man was stared and breathed at,
was not a sort that elevated humanity. Had he stood in peril of a
less horrible sentence--had there been a chance of any one of its
savage details being spared--by just so much would he have lost in
his fascination. The form that was to be doomed to be so shamefully
mangled, was the sight; the immortal creature that was to be so
butchered and torn asunder, yielded the sensation. Whatever gloss
the various spectators put upon the interest, according to their
several arts and powers of self-deceit, the interest was, at the
root of it, Ogreish.

Silence in the court! Charles Darnay had yesterday pleaded Not Guilty
to an indictment denouncing him (with infinite jingle and jangle) for
that he was a false traitor to our serene, illustrious, excellent,
and so forth, prince, our Lord the King, by reason of his having, on
divers occasions, and by divers means and ways, assisted Lewis, the
French King, in his wars against our said serene, illustrious,
excellent, and so forth; that was to say, by coming and going,
between the dominions of our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and
so forth, and those of the said French Lewis, and wickedly, falsely,
traitorously, and otherwise evil-adverbiously, revealing to the said
French Lewis what forces our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and
so forth, had in preparation to send to Canada and North America.
This much, Jerry, with his head becoming more and more spiky as the
law terms bristled it, made out with huge satisfaction, and so
arrived circuitously at the understanding that the aforesaid, and
over and over again aforesaid, Charles Darnay, stood there before him
upon his trial; that the jury were swearing in; and that
Mr. Attorney-General was making ready to speak.

The accused, who was (and who knew he was) being mentally hanged,
beheaded, and quartered, by everybody there, neither flinched from
the situation, nor assumed any theatrical air in it. He was quiet
and attentive; watched the opening proceedings with a grave interest;
and stood with his hands resting on the slab of wood before him, so
composedly, that they had not displaced a leaf of the herbs with
which it was strewn. The court was all bestrewn with herbs and
sprinkled with vinegar, as a precaution against gaol air and gaol

Over the prisoner's head there was a mirror, to throw the light down
upon him. Crowds of the wicked and the wretched had been reflected
in it, and had passed from its surface and this earth's together.
Haunted in a most ghastly manner that abominable place would have
been, if the glass could ever have rendered back its reflections, as
the ocean is one day to give up its dead. Some passing thought of
the infamy and disgrace for which it had been reserved, may have
struck the prisoner's mind. Be that as it may, a change in his
position making him conscious of a bar of light across his face, he
looked up; and when he saw the glass his face flushed, and his right
hand pushed the herbs away.

It happened, that the action turned his face to that side of the
court which was on his left. About on a level with his eyes, there
sat, in that corner of the Judge's bench, two persons upon whom his look
immediately rested; so immediately, and so much to the changing of his aspect,
that all the eyes that were tamed upon him, turned to them.

The spectators saw in the two figures, a young lady of little more
than twenty, and a gentleman who was evidently her father; a man of
a very remarkable appearance in respect of the absolute whiteness
of his hair, and a certain indescribable intensity of face: not of
an active kind, but pondering and self-communing. When this expression
was upon him, he looked as if he were old; but when it was stirred
and broken up--as it was now, in a moment, on his speaking to his
daughter--he became a handsome man, not past the prime of life.

His daughter had one of her hands drawn through his arm, as she sat
by him, and the other pressed upon it. She had drawn close to him,
in her dread of the scene, and in her pity for the prisoner. Her
forehead had been strikingly expressive of an engrossing terror and
compassion that saw nothing but the peril of the accused. This had
been so very noticeable, so very powerfully and naturally shown, that
starers who had had no pity for him were touched by her; and the
whisper went about, "Who are they?"

Jerry, the messenger, who had made his own observations, in his own
manner, and who had been sucking the rust off his fingers in his
absorption, stretched his neck to hear who they were. The crowd
about him had pressed and passed the inquiry on to the nearest
attendant, and from him it had been more slowly pressed and passed
back; at last it got to Jerry:


"For which side?"


"Against what side?"

"The prisoner's."

The Judge, whose eyes had gone in the general direction, recalled
them, leaned back in his seat, and looked steadily at the man whose
life was in his hand, as Mr. Attorney-General rose to spin the rope,
grind the axe, and hammer the nails into the scaffold.

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