In that same juncture of time when the Fifty-Two awaited their fate Madam_efarge held darkly ominous council with The Vengeance and Jacques Three o_he Revolutionary Jury. Not in the wine-shop did Madame Defarge confer wit_hese ministers, but in the shed of the wood-sawyer, erst a mender of roads.
The sawyer himself did not participate in the conference, but abided at _ittle distance, like an outer satellite who was not to speak until required, or to offer an opinion until invited.
“But our Defarge,” said Jacques Three, “is undoubtedly a good Republican? Eh?”
“There is no better,” the voluble Vengeance protested in her shrill notes, “i_rance.”
“Peace, little Vengeance,” said Madame Defarge, laying her hand with a sligh_rown on her lieutenant’s lips, “hear me speak. My husband, fellow-citizen, i_ good Republican and a bold man; he has deserved well of the Republic, an_ossesses its confidence. But my husband has his weaknesses, and he is so wea_s to relent towards this Doctor.”
“It is a great pity,” croaked Jacques Three, dubiously shaking his head, wit_is cruel fingers at his hungry mouth; “it is not quite like a good citizen; it is a thing to regret.”
“See you,” said madame, “I care nothing for this Doctor, I. He may wear hi_ead or lose it, for any interest I have in him; it is all one to me. But, th_vremonde people are to be exterminated, and the wife and child must follo_he husband and father.”
“She has a fine head for it,” croaked Jacques Three. “I have seen blue eye_nd golden hair there, and they looked charming when Samson held them up.” Ogre that he was, he spoke like an epicure.
Madame Defarge cast down her eyes, and reflected a little.
“The child also,” observed Jacques Three, with a meditative enjoyment of hi_ords, “has golden hair and blue eyes. And we seldom have a child there. It i_ pretty sight!”
“In a word,” said Madame Defarge, coming out of her short abstraction, “_annot trust my husband in this matter. Not only do I feel, since last night, that I dare not confide to him the details of my projects; but also I fee_hat if I delay, there is danger of his giving warning, and then they migh_scape.”
“That must never be,” croaked Jacques Three; “no one must escape. We have no_alf enough as it is. We ought to have six score a day.”
“In a word,” Madame Defarge went on, “my husband has not my reason fo_ursuing this family to annihilation, and I have not his reason for regardin_his Doctor with any sensibility. I must act for myself, therefore. Com_ither, little citizen.”
The wood-sawyer, who held her in the respect, and himself in the submission, of mortal fear, advanced with his hand to his red cap.
“Touching those signals, little citizen,” said Madame Defarge, sternly, “tha_he made to the prisoners; you are ready to bear witness to them this ver_ay?”
“Ay, ay, why not!” cried the sawyer. “Every day, in all weathers, from two t_our, always signalling, sometimes with the little one, sometimes without. _now what I know. I have seen with my eyes.”
He made all manner of gestures while he spoke, as if in incidental imitatio_f some few of the great diversity of signals that he had never seen.
“Clearly plots,” said Jacques Three. “Transparently!”
“There is no doubt of the Jury?” inquired Madame Defarge, letting her eye_urn to him with a gloomy smile.
“Rely upon the patriotic Jury, dear citizeness. I answer for my fellow- Jurymen.”
“Now, let me see,” said Madame Defarge, pondering again. “Yet once more! Can _pare this Doctor to my husband? I have no feeling either way. Can I spar_im?”
“He would count as one head,” observed Jacques Three, in a low voice. “W_eally have not heads enough; it would be a pity, I think.”
“He was signalling with her when I saw her,” argued Madame Defarge; “I canno_peak of one without the other; and I must not be silent, and trust the cas_holly to him, this little citizen here. For, I am not a bad witness.”
The Vengeance and Jacques Three vied with each other in their ferven_rotestations that she was the most admirable and marvellous of witnesses. Th_ittle citizen, not to be outdone, declared her to be a celestial witness.
“He must take his chance,” said Madame Defarge. “No, I cannot spare him! Yo_re engaged at three o’clock; you are going to see the batch of to-da_xecuted.—You?”
The question was addressed to the wood-sawyer, who hurriedly replied in th_ffirmative: seizing the occasion to add that he was the most ardent o_epublicans, and that he would be in effect the most desolate of Republicans, if anything prevented him from enjoying the pleasure of smoking his afternoo_ipe in the contemplation of the droll national barber. He was so ver_emonstrative herein, that he might have been suspected (perhaps was, by th_ark eyes that looked contemptuously at him out of Madame Defarge’s head) o_aving his small individual fears for his own personal safety, every hour i_he day.
“I,” said madame, “am equally engaged at the same place. After it is over-sa_t eight to-night—come you to me, in Saint Antoine, and we will giv_nformation against these people at my Section.”
The wood-sawyer said he would be proud and flattered to attend the citizeness.
The citizeness looking at him, he became embarrassed, evaded her glance as _mall dog would have done, retreated among his wood, and hid his confusio_ver the handle of his saw.
Madame Defarge beckoned the Juryman and The Vengeance a little nearer to th_oor, and there expounded her further views to them thus:
“She will now be at home, awaiting the moment of his death. She will b_ourning and grieving. She will be in a state of mind to impeach the justic_f the Republic. She will be full of sympathy with its enemies. I will go t_er.”
“What an admirable woman; what an adorable woman!” exclaimed Jacques Three, rapturously. “Ah, my cherished!” cried The Vengeance; and embraced her.
“Take you my knitting,” said Madame Defarge, placing it in her lieutenant’_ands, “and have it ready for me in my usual seat. Keep me my usual chair. G_ou there, straight, for there will probably be a greater concourse tha_sual, to-day.”
“I willingly obey the orders of my Chief,” said The Vengeance with alacrity, and kissing her cheek. “You will not be late?”
“I shall be there before the commencement.”
“And before the tumbrils arrive. Be sure you are there, my soul,” said Th_engeance, calling after her, for she had already turned into the street, “before the tumbrils arrive!”
Madame Defarge slightly waved her hand, to imply that she heard, and might b_elied upon to arrive in good time, and so went through the mud, and round th_orner of the prison wall. The Vengeance and the Juryman, looking after her a_he walked away, were highly appreciative of her fine figure, and her super_oral endowments.
There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a dreadfull_isfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more to be dreaded tha_his ruthless woman, now taking her way along the streets. Of a strong an_earless character, of shrewd sense and readiness, of great determination, o_hat kind of beauty which not only seems to impart to its possessor firmnes_nd animosity, but to strike into others an instinctive recognition of thos_ualities; the troubled time would have heaved her up, under an_ircumstances. But, imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into _igress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue i_er, it had quite gone out of her.
It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for the sins of hi_orefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her, that his wif_as to be made a widow and his daughter an orphan; that was insufficien_unishment, because they were her natural enemies and her prey, and as suc_ad no right to live. To appeal to her, was made hopeless by her having n_ense of pity, even for herself. If she had been laid low in the streets, i_ny of the many encounters in which she had been engaged, she would not hav_itied herself; nor, if she had been ordered to the axe to-morrow, would sh_ave gone to it with any softer feeling than a fierce desire to change place_ith the man who sent here there.
Such a heart Madame Defarge carried under her rough robe. Carelessly worn, i_as a becoming robe enough, in a certain weird way, and her dark hair looke_ich under her coarse red cap. Lying hidden in her bosom, was a loaded pistol.
Lying hidden at her waist, was a sharpened dagger. Thus accoutred, and walkin_ith the confident tread of such a character, and with the supple freedom of _oman who had habitually walked in her girlhood, bare-foot and bare-legged, o_he brown sea-sand, Madame Defarge took her way along the streets.
Now, when the journey of the travelling coach, at that very moment waiting fo_he completion of its load, had been planned out last night, the difficulty o_aking Miss Pross in it had much engaged Mr. Lorry’s attention. It was no_erely desirable to avoid overloading the coach, but it was of the highes_mportance that the time occupied in examining it and its passengers, shoul_e reduced to the utmost; since their escape might depend on the saving o_nly a few seconds here and there. Finally, he had proposed, after anxious
consideration, that Miss Pross and Jerry, who were at liberty to leave th_ity, should leave it at three o’clock in the lightest-wheeled conveyanc_nown to that period. Unencumbered with luggage, they would soon overtake th_oach, and, passing it and preceding it on the road, would order its horses i_dvance, and greatly facilitate its progress during the precious hours of th_ight, when delay was the most to be dreaded.
Seeing in this arrangement the hope of rendering real service in that pressin_mergency, Miss Pross hailed it with joy. She and Jerry had beheld the coac_tart, had known who it was that Solomon brought, had passed some ten minute_n tortures of suspense, and were now concluding their arrangements to follo_he coach, even as Madame Defarge, taking her way through the streets, no_rew nearer and nearer to the else-deserted lodging in which they held thei_onsultation.
“Now what do you think, Mr. Cruncher,” said Miss Pross, whose agitation was s_reat that she could hardly speak, or stand, or move, or live: “what do yo_hink of our not starting from this courtyard? Another carriage having alread_one from here to-day, it might awaken suspicion.”
“My opinion, miss,” returned Mr. Cruncher, “is as you’re right. Likewise wo_’ll stand by you, right or wrong.”
“I am so distracted with fear and hope for our precious creatures,” said Mis_ross, wildly crying, “that I am incapable of forming any plan. Are yo_apable of forming any plan, my dear good Mr. Cruncher?”
“Respectin’ a future spear o’ life, miss,” returned Mr. Cruncher, “I hope so.
Respectin’ any present use o’ this here blessed old head o’ mind, I think not.
Would you do me the favour, miss, to take notice o’ two promises and wows wo_t is my wishes fur to record in this here crisis?”
“Oh, for gracious sake!” cried Miss Pross, still wildly crying, “record the_t once, and get them out of the way, like an excellent man.”
“First,” said Mr. Cruncher, who was all in a tremble, and who spoke with a_shy and solemn visage, “them poor things well out o’ this, never no more wil_ do it, never no more!”
“I am quite sure, Mr. Cruncher,” returned Miss Pross, “that you never will d_t again, whatever it is, and I beg you not to think it necessary to mentio_ore particularly what it is.”
“No, miss,” returned Jerry, “it shall not be named to you. Second: them poo_hings well out o’ this, and never no more will I interfere with Mrs.
Cruncher’s flopping, never no more!”
“Whatever housekeeping arrangement that may be,” said Miss Pross, striving t_ry her eyes and compose herself, “I have no doubt it is best that Mrs.
Cruncher should have it entirely under her own superintendence.—O my poo_arlings!”
“I go so far as to say, miss, moreover,” proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with a mos_larming tendency to hold forth as from a pulpit—“and let my words be too_own and took to Mrs. Cruncher through yourself—that wot my opinion_espectin’ flopping has undergone a change, and that wot I only hope with al_y heart as Mrs. Cruncher may be a flopping at the present time.”
“There, there, there! I hope she is, my dear man,” cried the distracted Mis_ross, “and I hope she finds it answering her expectations.”
“Forbid it,” proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with additional solemnity, additiona_lowness, and additional tendency to hold forth and hold out, “as anything wo_ have ever said or done should be wisited on my earnest wishes for them poo_reeturs now! Forbid it as we shouldn’t all flop (if it was anyway_onwenient) to get ’em out o’ this here dismal risk! Forbid it, miss! Wot _ay, for-bid it!” This was Mr. Cruncher’s conclusion after a protracted bu_ain endeavour to find a better one.
And still Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came nearer an_earer.
“If we ever get back to our native land,” said Miss Pross, “you may rely upo_y telling Mrs. Cruncher as much as I may be able to remember and understan_f what you have so impressively said; and at all events you may be sure tha_ shall bear witness to your being thoroughly in earnest at this dreadfu_ime. Now, pray let us think! My esteemed Mr. Cruncher, let us think!”
Still, Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came nearer an_earer.
“If you were to go before,” said Miss Pross, “and stop the vehicle and horse_rom coming here, and were to wait somewhere for me; wouldn’t that be best?”
Mr. Cruncher thought it might be best.
“Where could you wait for me?” asked Miss Pross.
Mr. Cruncher was so bewildered that he could think of no locality but Templ_ar. Alas! Temple Bar was hundreds of miles away, and Madame Defarge wa_rawing very near indeed.
“By the cathedral door,” said Miss Pross. “Would it be much out of the way, t_ake me in, near the great cathedral door between the two towers?”
“No, miss,” answered Mr. Cruncher.
“Then, like the best of men,” said Miss Pross, “go to the posting-hous_traight, and make that change.”
“I am doubtful,” said Mr. Cruncher, hesitating and shaking his head, “abou_eaving of you, you see. We don’t know what may happen.”
“Heaven knows we don’t,” returned Miss Pross, “but have no fear for me. Tak_e in at the cathedral, at Three o’Clock, or as near it as you can, and I a_ure it will be better than our going from here. I feel certain of it. There!
Bless you, Mr. Cruncher! Think-not of me, but of the lives that may depend o_oth of us!”
This exordium, and Miss Pross’s two hands in quite agonised entreaty claspin_is, decided Mr. Cruncher. With an encouraging nod or two, he immediately wen_ut to alter the arrangements, and left her by herself to follow as she ha_roposed.
The having originated a precaution which was already in course of execution, was a great relief to Miss Pross. The necessity of composing her appearance s_hat it should attract no special notice in the streets, was another relief.
She looked at her watch, and it was twenty minutes past two. She had no tim_o lose, but must get ready at once.
Afraid, in her extreme perturbation, of the loneliness of the deserted rooms, and of half-imagined faces peeping from behind every open door in them, Mis_ross got a basin of cold water and began laving her eyes, which were swolle_nd red. Haunted by her feverish apprehensions, she could not bear to have he_ight obscured for a minute at a time by the dripping water, but constantl_aused and looked round to see that there was no one watching her. In one o_hose pauses she recoiled and cried out, for she saw a figure standing in th_oom.
The basin fell to the ground broken, and the water flowed to the feet o_adame Defarge. By strange stern ways, and through much staining blood, thos_eet had come to meet that water.
Madame Defarge looked coldly at her, and said, “The wife of Evremonde; wher_s she?”
It flashed upon Miss Pross’s mind that the doors were all standing open, an_ould suggest the flight. Her first act was to shut them. There were four i_he room, and she shut them all. She then placed herself before the door o_he chamber which Lucie had occupied.
Madame Defarge’s dark eyes followed her through this rapid movement, an_ested on her when it was finished. Miss Pross had nothing beautiful abou_er; years had not tamed the wildness, or softened the grimness, of he_ppearance; but, she too was a determined woman in her different way, and sh_easured Madame Defarge with her eyes, every inch.
“You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer,” said Miss Pross, i_er breathing. “Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of me. I am a_nglishwoman.”
Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something of Mis_ross’s own perception that they two were at bay. She saw a tight, hard, wir_oman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in the same figure a woman with _trong hand, in the years gone by. She knew full well that Miss Pross was th_amily’s devoted friend; Miss Pross knew full well that Madame Defarge was th_amily’s malevolent enemy.
“On my way yonder,” said Madame Defarge, with a slight movement of her han_owards the fatal spot, “where they reserve my chair and my knitting for me, _m come to make my compliments to her in passing. I wish to see her.”
“I know that your intentions are evil,” said Miss Pross, “and you may depen_pon it, I’ll hold my own against them.”
Each spoke in her own language; neither understood the other’s words; bot_ere very watchful, and intent to deduce from look and manner, what th_nintelligible words meant.
“It will do her no good to keep herself concealed from me at this moment,” said Madame Defarge. “Good patriots will know what that means. Let me see her.
Go tell her that I wish to see her. Do you hear?”
“If those eyes of yours were bed-winches,” returned Miss Pross, “and I was a_nglish four-poster, they shouldn’t loose a splinter of me. No, you wicke_oreign woman; I am your match.”
Madame Defarge was not likely to follow these idiomatic remarks in detail; but, she so far understood them as to perceive that she was set at naught.
“Woman imbecile and pig-like!” said Madame Defarge, frowning. “I take n_nswer from you. I demand to see her. Either tell her that I demand to se_er, or stand out of the way of the door and let me go to her!” This, with a_ngry explanatory wave of her right arm.
“I little thought,” said Miss Pross, “that I should ever want to understan_our nonsensical language; but I would give all I have, except the clothes _ear, to know whether you suspect the truth, or any part of it.”
Neither of them for a single moment released the other’s eyes. Madame Defarg_ad not moved from the spot where she stood when Miss Pross first became awar_f her; but, she now advanced one step.
“I am a Briton,” said Miss Pross, “I am desperate. I don’t care an Englis_wopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hop_here is for my Ladybird. I’ll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon you_ead, if you lay a finger on me!”
Thus Miss Pross, with a shake of her head and a flash of her eyes betwee_very rapid sentence, and every rapid sentence a whole breath. Thus Mis_ross, who had never struck a blow in her life.
But, her courage was of that emotional nature that it brought th_rrepressible tears into her eyes. This was a courage that Madame Defarge s_ittle comprehended as to mistake for weakness. “Ha, ha!” she laughed, “yo_oor wretch! What are you worth! I address myself to that Doctor.” Then sh_aised her voice and called out, “Citizen Doctor! Wife of Evremonde! Child o_vremonde! Any person but this miserable fool, answer the Citizeness Defarge!”
Perhaps the following silence, perhaps some latent disclosure in th_xpression of Miss Pross’s face, perhaps a sudden misgiving apart from eithe_uggestion, whispered to Madame Defarge that they were gone. Three of th_oors she opened swiftly, and looked in.
“Those rooms are all in disorder, there has been hurried packing, there ar_dds and ends upon the ground. There is no one in that room behind you! Let m_ook.”
“Never!” said Miss Pross, who understood the request as perfectly as Madam_efarge understood the answer.
“If they are not in that room, they are gone, and can be pursued and brough_ack,” said Madame Defarge to herself.
“As long as you don’t know whether they are in that room or not, you ar_ncertain what to do,” said Miss Pross to herself; “and you shall not kno_hat, if I can prevent your knowing it; and know that, or not know that, yo_hall not leave here while I can hold you.”
“I have been in the streets from the first, nothing has stopped me, I wil_ear you to pieces, but I will have you from that door,” said Madame Defarge.
“We are alone at the top of a high house in a solitary courtyard, we are no_ikely to be heard, and I pray for bodily strength to keep you here, whil_very minute you are here is worth a hundred thousand guineas to my darling,” said Miss Pross.
Madame Defarge made at the door. Miss Pross, on the instinct of the moment, seized her round the waist in both her arms, and held her tight. It was i_ain for Madame Defarge to struggle and to strike; Miss Pross, with th_igorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate, clasped he_ight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle that they had. Th_wo hands of Madame Defarge buffeted and tore her face; but, Miss Pross, wit_er head down, held her round the waist, and clung to her with more than th_old of a drowning woman.
Soon, Madame Defarge’s hands ceased to strike, and felt at her encircle_aist. “It is under my arm,” said Miss Pross, in smothered tones, “you shal_ot draw it. I am stronger than you, I bless Heaven for it. I hold you til_ne or other of us faints or dies!”
Madame Defarge’s hands were at her bosom. Miss Pross looked up, saw what i_as, struck at it, struck out a flash and a crash, and stood alone—blinde_ith smoke.
All this was in a second. As the smoke cleared, leaving an awful stillness, i_assed out on the air, like the soul of the furious woman whose body la_ifeless on the ground.
In the first fright and horror of her situation, Miss Pross passed the body a_ar from it as she could, and ran down the stairs to call for fruitless help.
Happily, she bethought herself of the consequences of what she did, in time t_heck herself and go back. It was dreadful to go in at the door again; but, she did go in, and even went near it, to get the bonnet and other things tha_he must wear. These she put on, out on the staircase, first shutting an_ocking the door and taking away the key. She then sat down on the stairs _ew moments to breathe and to cry, and then got up and hurried away.
By good fortune she had a veil on her bonnet, or she could hardly have gon_long the streets without being stopped. By good fortune, too, she wa_aturally so peculiar in appearance as not to show disfigurement like an_ther woman. She needed both advantages, for the marks of gripping finger_ere deep in her face, and her hair was torn, and her dress (hastily compose_ith unsteady hands) was clutched and dragged a hundred ways.
In crossing the bridge, she dropped the door key in the river. Arriving at th_athedral some few minutes before her escort, and waiting there, she thought, what if the key were already taken in a net, what if it were identified, wha_f the door were opened and the remains discovered, what if she were stoppe_t the gate, sent to prison, and charged with murder! In the midst of thes_luttering thoughts, the escort appeared, took her in, and took her away.
“Is there any noise in the streets?” she asked him.
“The usual noises,” Mr. Cruncher replied; and looked surprised by the questio_nd by her aspect.
“I don’t hear you,” said Miss Pross. “What do you say?”
It was in vain for Mr. Cruncher to repeat what he said; Miss Pross could no_ear him. “So I’ll nod my head,” thought Mr. Cruncher, amazed, “at all event_he’ll see that.” And she did.
“Is there any noise in the streets now?” asked Miss Pross again, presently.
Again Mr. Cruncher nodded his head.
“I don’t hear it.”
“Gone deaf in an hour?” said Mr. Cruncher, ruminating, with his mind muc_isturbed; “wot’s come to her?”
“I feel,” said Miss Pross, “as if there had been a flash and a crash, and tha_rash was the last thing I should ever hear in this life.”
“Blest if she ain’t in a queer condition!” said Mr. Cruncher, more and mor_isturbed. “Wot can she have been a takin’, to keep her courage up? Hark!
There’s the roll of them dreadful carts! You can hear that, miss?”
“I can hear,” said Miss Pross, seeing that he spoke to her, “nothing. O, m_ood man, there was first a great crash, and then a great stillness, and tha_tillness seems to be fixed and unchangeable, never to be broken any more a_ong as my life lasts.”
“If she don’t hear the roll of those dreadful carts, now very nigh thei_ourney’s end,” said Mr. Cruncher, glancing over his shoulder, “it’s m_pinion that indeed she never will hear anything else in this world.”