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Chapter 15 Knitting

  • There had been earlier drinking than usual in the wine-shop of Monsieu_efarge. As early as six o’clock in the morning, sallow faces peeping throug_ts barred windows had descried other faces within, bending over measures o_ine. Monsieur Defarge sold a very thin wine at the best of times, but i_ould seem to have been an unusually thin wine that he sold at this time. _our wine, moreover, or a souring, for its influence on the mood of those wh_rank it was to make them gloomy. No vivacious Bacchanalian flame leaped ou_f the pressed grape of Monsieur Defarge: but, a smouldering fire that burn_n the dark, lay hidden in the dregs of it.
  • This had been the third morning in succession, on which there had been earl_rinking at the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge. It had begun on Monday, an_ere was Wednesday come. There had been more of early brooding than drinking; for, many men had listened and whispered and slunk about there from the tim_f the opening of the door, who could not have laid a piece of money on th_ounter to save their souls. These were to the full as interested in th_lace, however, as if they could have commanded whole barrels of wine; an_hey glided from seat to seat, and from corner to corner, swallowing talk i_ieu of drink, with greedy looks.
  • Notwithstanding an unusual flow of company, the master of the wine-shop wa_ot visible. He was not missed; for, nobody who crossed the threshold looke_or him, nobody asked for him, nobody wondered to see only Madame Defarge i_er seat, presiding over the distribution of wine, with a bowl of battere_mall coins before her, as much defaced and beaten out of their origina_mpress as the small coinage of humanity from whose ragged pockets they ha_ome.
  • A suspended interest and a prevalent absence of mind, were perhaps observed b_he spies who looked in at the wine-shop, as they looked in at every place, high and low, from the kings palace to the criminal’s gaol. Games at card_anguished, players at dominoes musingly built towers with them, drinkers dre_igures on the tables with spilt drops of wine, Madame Defarge herself picke_ut the pattern on her sleeve with her toothpick, and saw and heard somethin_naudible and invisible a long way off.
  • Thus, Saint Antoine in this vinous feature of his, until midday. It was hig_oontide, when two dusty men passed through his streets and under his swingin_amps: of whom, one was Monsieur Defarge: the other a mender of roads in _lue cap. All adust and athirst, the two entered the wine-shop. Their arriva_ad lighted a kind of fire in the breast of Saint Antoine, fast spreading a_hey came along, which stirred and flickered in flames of faces at most door_nd windows. Yet, no one had followed them, and no man spoke when they entere_he wine-shop, though the eyes of every man there were turned upon them.
  • “Good day, gentlemen!” said Monsieur Defarge.
  • It may have been a signal for loosening the general tongue. It elicited a_nswering chorus of “Good day!”
  • “It is bad weather, gentlemen,” said Defarge, shaking his head.
  • Upon which, every man looked at his neighbour, and then all cast down thei_yes and sat silent. Except one man, who got up and went out.
  • “My wife,” said Defarge aloud, addressing Madame Defarge: “I have travelle_ertain leagues with this good mender of roads, called Jacques. I met him—b_ccident—a day and half’s journey out of Paris. He is a good child, thi_ender of roads, called Jacques. Give him to drink, my wife!”
  • A second man got up and went out. Madame Defarge set wine before the mender o_oads called Jacques, who doffed his blue cap to the company, and drank. I_he breast of his blouse he carried some coarse dark bread; he ate of thi_etween whiles, and sat munching and drinking near Madame Defarge’s counter. _hird man got up and went out.
  • Defarge refreshed himself with a draught of wine—but, he took less than wa_iven to the stranger, as being himself a man to whom it was no rarity—an_tood waiting until the countryman had made his breakfast. He looked at no on_resent, and no one now looked at him; not even Madame Defarge, who had take_p her knitting, and was at work.
  • “Have you finished your repast, friend?” he asked, in due season.
  • “Yes, thank you.”
  • “Come, then! You shall see the apartment that I told you you could occupy. I_ill suit you to a marvel.”
  • Out of the wine-shop into the street, out of the street into a courtyard, ou_f the courtyard up a steep staircase, out of the staircase into _arret,—formerly the garret where a white-haired man sat on a low bench, stooping forward and very busy, making shoes.
  • No white-haired man was there now; but, the three men were there who had gon_ut of the wine-shop singly. And between them and the white-haired man afa_ff, was the one small link, that they had once looked in at him through th_hinks in the wall.
  • Defarge closed the door carefully, and spoke in a subdued voice:
  • “Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques Three! This is the witness encountered b_ppointment, by me, Jacques Four. He will tell you all. Speak, Jacques Five!”
  • The mender of roads, blue cap in hand, wiped his swarthy forehead with it, an_aid, “Where shall I commence, monsieur?”
  • “Commence,” was Monsieur Defarge’s not unreasonable reply, “at th_ommencement.”
  • “I saw him then, messieurs,” began the mender of roads, “a year ago thi_unning summer, underneath the carriage of the Marquis, hanging by the chain.
  • Behold the manner of it. I leaving my work on the road, the sun going to bed, the carriage of the Marquis slowly ascending the hill, he hanging by th_hain—like this.”
  • Again the mender of roads went through the whole performance; in which h_ught to have been perfect by that time, seeing that it had been th_nfallible resource and indispensable entertainment of his village during _hole year.
  • Jacques One struck in, and asked if he had ever seen the man before?
  • “Never,” answered the mender of roads, recovering his perpendicular.
  • Jacques Three demanded how he afterwards recognised him then?
  • “By his tall figure,” said the mender of roads, softly, and with his finger a_is nose. “When Monsieur the Marquis demands that evening, ‘Say, what is h_ike?’ I make response, ‘Tall as a spectre.’”
  • “You should have said, short as a dwarf,” returned Jacques Two.
  • “But what did I know? The deed was not then accomplished, neither did h_onfide in me. Observe! Under those circumstances even, I do not offer m_estimony. Monsieur the Marquis indicates me with his finger, standing nea_ur little fountain, and says, ‘To me! Bring that rascal!’ My faith, messieurs, I offer nothing.”
  • “He is right there, Jacques,” murmured Defarge, to him who had interrupted.
  • “Go on!”
  • “Good!” said the mender of roads, with an air of mystery. “The tall man i_ost, and he is sought—how many months? Nine, ten, eleven?”
  • “No matter, the number,” said Defarge. “He is well hidden, but at last he i_nluckily found. Go on!”
  • “I am again at work upon the hill-side, and the sun is again about to go t_ed. I am collecting my tools to descend to my cottage down in the villag_elow, where it is already dark, when I raise my eyes, and see coming over th_ill six soldiers. In the midst of them is a tall man with his arms bound—tie_o his sides—like this!”
  • With the aid of his indispensable cap, he represented a man with his elbow_ound fast at his hips, with cords that were knotted behind him.
  • “I stand aside, messieurs, by my heap of stones, to see the soldiers and thei_risoner pass (for it is a solitary road, that, where any spectacle is wel_orth looking at), and at first, as they approach, I see no more than tha_hey are six soldiers with a tall man bound, and that they are almost black t_y sight—except on the side of the sun going to bed, where they have a re_dge, messieurs. Also, I see that their long shadows are on the hollow ridg_n the opposite side of the road, and are on the hill above it, and are lik_he shadows of giants. Also, I see that they are covered with dust, and tha_he dust moves with them as they come, tramp, tramp! But when they advanc_uite near to me, I recognise the tall man, and he recognises me. Ah, but h_ould be well content to precipitate himself over the hill-side once again, a_n the evening when he and I first encountered, close to the same spot!”
  • He described it as if he were there, and it was evident that he saw i_ividly; perhaps he had not seen much in his life.
  • “I do not show the soldiers that I recognise the tall man; he does not sho_he soldiers that he recognises me; we do it, and we know it, with our eyes.
  • ‘Come on!’ says the chief of that company, pointing to the village, ‘bring hi_ast to his tomb!’ and they bring him faster. I follow. His arms are swelle_ecause of being bound so tight, his wooden shoes are large and clumsy, and h_s lame. Because he is lame, and consequently slow, they drive him with thei_uns—like this!”
  • He imitated the action of a man’s being impelled forward by the butt-ends o_uskets.
  • “As they descend the hill like madmen running a race, he falls. They laugh an_ick him up again. His face is bleeding and covered with dust, but he canno_ouch it; thereupon they laugh again. They bring him into the village; all th_illage runs to look; they take him past the mill, and up to the prison; al_he village sees the prison gate open in the darkness of the night, an_wallow him—like this!”
  • He opened his mouth as wide as he could, and shut it with a sounding snap o_is teeth. Observant of his unwillingness to mar the effect by opening i_gain, Defarge said, “Go on, Jacques.”
  • “All the village,” pursued the mender of roads, on tiptoe and in a low voice, “withdraws; all the village whispers by the fountain; all the village sleeps; all the village dreams of that unhappy one, within the locks and bars of th_rison on the crag, and never to come out of it, except to perish. In th_orning, with my tools upon my shoulder, eating my morsel of black bread as _o, I make a circuit by the prison, on my way to my work. There I see him, high up, behind the bars of a lofty iron cage, bloody and dusty as last night, looking through. He has no hand free, to wave to me; I dare not call to him; he regards me like a dead man.”
  • Defarge and the three glanced darkly at one another. The looks of all of the_ere dark, repressed, and revengeful, as they listened to the countryman’_tory; the manner of all of them, while it was secret, was authoritative too.
  • They had the air of a rough tribunal; Jacques One and Two sitting on the ol_allet-bed, each with his chin resting on his hand, and his eyes intent on th_oad-mender; Jacques Three, equally intent, on one knee behind them, with hi_gitated hand always gliding over the network of fine nerves about his mout_nd nose; Defarge standing between them and the narrator, whom he ha_tationed in the light of the window, by turns looking from him to them, an_rom them to him.
  • “Go on, Jacques,” said Defarge.
  • “He remains up there in his iron cage some days. The village looks at him b_tealth, for it is afraid. But it always looks up, from a distance, at th_rison on the crag; and in the evening, when the work of the day is achieve_nd it assembles to gossip at the fountain, all faces are turned towards th_rison. Formerly, they were turned towards the posting-house; now, they ar_urned towards the prison. They whisper at the fountain, that althoug_ondemned to death he will not be executed; they say that petitions have bee_resented in Paris, showing that he was enraged and made mad by the death o_is child; they say that a petition has been presented to the King himself.
  • What do I know? It is possible. Perhaps yes, perhaps no.”
  • “Listen then, Jacques,” Number One of that name sternly interposed. “Know tha_ petition was presented to the King and Queen. All here, yourself excepted, saw the King take it, in his carriage in the street, sitting beside the Queen.
  • It is Defarge whom you see here, who, at the hazard of his life, darted ou_efore the horses, with the petition in his hand.”
  • “And once again listen, Jacques!” said the kneeling Number Three: his finger_ver wandering over and over those fine nerves, with a strikingly greedy air, as if he hungered for something—that was neither food nor drink; “the guard, horse and foot, surrounded the petitioner, and struck him blows. You hear?”
  • “I hear, messieurs.”
  • “Go on then,” said Defarge.
  • “Again; on the other hand, they whisper at the fountain,” resumed th_ountryman, “that he is brought down into our country to be executed on th_pot, and that he will very certainly be executed. They even whisper tha_ecause he has slain Monseigneur, and because Monseigneur was the father o_is tenants—serfs—what you will—he will be executed as a parricide. One ol_an says at the fountain, that his right hand, armed with the knife, will b_urnt off before his face; that, into wounds which will be made in his arms, his breast, and his legs, there will be poured boiling oil, melted lead, ho_esin, wax, and sulphur; finally, that he will be torn limb from limb by fou_trong horses. That old man says, all this was actually done to a prisoner wh_ade an attempt on the life of the late King, Louis Fifteen. But how do I kno_f he lies? I am not a scholar.”
  • “Listen once again then, Jacques!” said the man with the restless hand and th_raving air. “The name of that prisoner was Damiens, and it was all done i_pen day, in the open streets of this city of Paris; and nothing was mor_oticed in the vast concourse that saw it done, than the crowd of ladies o_uality and fashion, who were full of eager attention to the last—to the last, Jacques, prolonged until nightfall, when he had lost two legs and an arm, an_till breathed! And it was done—why, how old are you?”
  • “Thirty-five,” said the mender of roads, who looked sixty.
  • “It was done when you were more than ten years old; you might have seen it.”
  • “Enough!” said Defarge, with grim impatience. “Long live the Devil! Go on.”
  • “Well! Some whisper this, some whisper that; they speak of nothing else; eve_he fountain appears to fall to that tune. At length, on Sunday night when al_he village is asleep, come soldiers, winding down from the prison, and thei_uns ring on the stones of the little street. Workmen dig, workmen hammer, soldiers laugh and sing; in the morning, by the fountain, there is raised _allows forty feet high, poisoning the water.”
  • The mender of roads looked through rather than at the low ceiling, and pointe_s if he saw the gallows somewhere in the sky.
  • “All work is stopped, all assemble there, nobody leads the cows out, the cow_re there with the rest. At midday, the roll of drums. Soldiers have marche_nto the prison in the night, and he is in the midst of many soldiers. He i_ound as before, and in his mouth there is a gag—tied so, with a tight string, making him look almost as if he laughed.” He suggested it, by creasing hi_ace with his two thumbs, from the corners of his mouth to his ears. “On th_op of the gallows is fixed the knife, blade upwards, with its point in th_ir. He is hanged there forty feet high—and is left hanging, poisoning th_ater.”
  • They looked at one another, as he used his blue cap to wipe his face, on whic_he perspiration had started afresh while he recalled the spectacle.
  • “It is frightful, messieurs. How can the women and the children draw water!
  • Who can gossip of an evening, under that shadow! Under it, have I said? When _eft the village, Monday evening as the sun was going to bed, and looked bac_rom the hill, the shadow struck across the church, across the mill, acros_he prison—seemed to strike across the earth, messieurs, to where the sk_ests upon it!”
  • The hungry man gnawed one of his fingers as he looked at the other three, an_is finger quivered with the craving that was on him.
  • “That’s all, messieurs. I left at sunset (as I had been warned to do), and _alked on, that night and half next day, until I met (as I was warned _hould) this comrade. With him, I came on, now riding and now walking, throug_he rest of yesterday and through last night. And here you see me!”
  • After a gloomy silence, the first Jacques said, “Good! You have acted an_ecounted faithfully. Will you wait for us a little, outside the door?”
  • “Very willingly,” said the mender of roads. Whom Defarge escorted to the to_f the stairs, and, leaving seated there, returned.
  • The three had risen, and their heads were together when he came back to th_arret.
  • “How say you, Jacques?” demanded Number One. “To be registered?”
  • “To be registered, as doomed to destruction,” returned Defarge.
  • “Magnificent!” croaked the man with the craving.
  • “The chateau, and all the race?” inquired the first.
  • “The chateau and all the race,” returned Defarge. “Extermination.”
  • The hungry man repeated, in a rapturous croak, “Magnificent!” and bega_nawing another finger.
  • “Are you sure,” asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, “that no embarrassment ca_rise from our manner of keeping the register? Without doubt it is safe, fo_o one beyond ourselves can decipher it; but shall we always be able t_ecipher it—or, I ought to say, will she?”
  • “Jacques,” returned Defarge, drawing himself up, “if madame my wife undertoo_o keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it—no_ syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it wil_lways be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would b_asier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register o_adame Defarge.”
  • There was a murmur of confidence and approval, and then the man who hungered, asked: “Is this rustic to be sent back soon? I hope so. He is very simple; i_e not a little dangerous?”
  • “He knows nothing,” said Defarge; “at least nothing more than would easil_levate himself to a gallows of the same height. I charge myself with him; le_im remain with me; I will take care of him, and set him on his road. H_ishes to see the fine world—the King, the Queen, and Court; let him see the_n Sunday.”
  • “What?” exclaimed the hungry man, staring. “Is it a good sign, that he wishe_o see Royalty and Nobility?”
  • “Jacques,” said Defarge; “judiciously show a cat milk, if you wish her t_hirst for it. Judiciously show a dog his natural prey, if you wish him t_ring it down one day.”
  • Nothing more was said, and the mender of roads, being found already dozing o_he topmost stair, was advised to lay himself down on the pallet-bed and tak_ome rest. He needed no persuasion, and was soon asleep.
  • Worse quarters than Defarge’s wine-shop, could easily have been found in Pari_or a provincial slave of that degree. Saving for a mysterious dread of madam_y which he was constantly haunted, his life was very new and agreeable. But, madame sat all day at her counter, so expressly unconscious of him, and s_articularly determined not to perceive that his being there had any connexio_ith anything below the surface, that he shook in his wooden shoes wheneve_is eye lighted on her. For, he contended with himself that it was impossibl_o foresee what that lady might pretend next; and he felt assured that if sh_hould take it into her brightly ornamented head to pretend that she had see_im do a murder and afterwards flay the victim, she would infallibly g_hrough with it until the play was played out.
  • Therefore, when Sunday came, the mender of roads was not enchanted (though h_aid he was) to find that madame was to accompany monsieur and himself t_ersailles. It was additionally disconcerting to have madame knitting all th_ay there, in a public conveyance; it was additionally disconcerting yet, t_ave madame in the crowd in the afternoon, still with her knitting in he_ands as the crowd waited to see the carriage of the King and Queen.
  • “You work hard, madame,” said a man near her.
  • “Yes,” answered Madame Defarge; “I have a good deal to do.”
  • “What do you make, madame?”
  • “Many things.”
  • “For instance—”
  • “For instance,” returned Madame Defarge, composedly, “shrouds.”
  • The man moved a little further away, as soon as he could, and the mender o_oads fanned himself with his blue cap: feeling it mightily close an_ppressive. If he needed a King and Queen to restore him, he was fortunate i_aving his remedy at hand; for, soon the large-faced King and the fair-face_ueen came in their golden coach, attended by the shining Bull’s Eye of thei_ourt, a glittering multitude of laughing ladies and fine lords; and in jewel_nd silks and powder and splendour and elegantly spurning figures an_andsomely disdainful faces of both sexes, the mender of roads bathed himself, so much to his temporary intoxication, that he cried Long live the King, Lon_ive the Queen, Long live everybody and everything! as if he had never hear_f ubiquitous Jacques in his time. Then, there were gardens, courtyards, terraces, fountains, green banks, more King and Queen, more Bull’s Eye,mor_ords and ladies, more Long live they all! until he absolutely wept wit_entiment. During the whole of this scene, which lasted some three hours, h_ad plenty of shouting and weeping and sentimental company, and throughou_efarge held him by the collar, as if to restrain him from flying at th_bjects of his brief devotion and tearing them to pieces.
  • “Bravo!” said Defarge, clapping him on the back when it was over, like _atron; “you are a good boy!”
  • The mender of roads was now coming to himself, and was mistrustful of havin_ade a mistake in his late demonstrations; but no.
  • “You are the fellow we want,” said Defarge, in his ear; “you make these fool_elieve that it will last for ever. Then, they are the more insolent, and i_s the nearer ended.”
  • “Hey!” cried the mender of roads, reflectively; “that’s true.”
  • “These fools know nothing. While they despise your breath, and would stop i_or ever and ever, in you or in a hundred like you rather than in one of thei_wn horses or dogs, they only know what your breath tells them. Let it deceiv_hem, then, a little longer; it cannot deceive them too much.”
  • Madame Defarge looked superciliously at the client, and nodded i_onfirmation.
  • “As to you,” said she, “you would shout and shed tears for anything, if i_ade a show and a noise. Say! Would you not?”
  • “Truly, madame, I think so. For the moment.”
  • “If you were shown a great heap of dolls, and were set upon them to pluck the_o pieces and despoil them for your own advantage, you would pick out th_ichest and gayest. Say! Would you not?”
  • “Truly yes, madame.”
  • “Yes. And if you were shown a flock of birds, unable to fly, and were set upo_hem to strip them of their feathers for your own advantage, you would se_pon the birds of the finest feathers; would you not?”
  • “It is true, madame.”
  • “You have seen both dolls and birds to-day,” said Madame Defarge, with a wav_f her hand towards the place where they had last been apparent; “now, g_ome!”