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Chapter 16 Still Knitting

  • Madame Defarge and monsieur her husband returned amicably to the bosom o_aint Antoine, while a speck in a blue cap toiled through the darkness, an_hrough the dust, and down the weary miles of avenue by the wayside, slowl_ending towards that point of the compass where the chateau of Monsieur th_arquis, now in his grave, listened to the whispering trees. Such ampl_eisure had the stone faces, now, for listening to the trees and to th_ountain, that the few village scarecrows who, in their quest for herbs to ea_nd fragments of dead stick to burn, strayed within sight of the great ston_ourtyard and terrace staircase, had it borne in upon their starved fancy tha_he expression of the faces was altered. A rumour just lived in th_illage—had a faint and bare existence there, as its people had—that when th_nife struck home, the faces changed, from faces of pride to faces of ange_nd pain; also, that when that dangling figure was hauled up forty feet abov_he fountain, they changed again, and bore a cruel look of being avenged, which they would henceforth bear for ever. In the stone face over the grea_indow of the bed-chamber where the murder was done, two fine dints wer_ointed out in the sculptured nose, which everybody recognised, and whic_obody had seen of old; and on the scarce occasions when two or three ragge_easants emerged from the crowd to take a hurried peep at Monsieur the Marqui_etrified, a skinny finger would not have pointed to it for a minute, befor_hey all started away among the moss and leaves, like the more fortunate hare_ho could find a living there.
  • Chateau and hut, stone face and dangling figure, the red stain on the ston_loor, and the pure water in the village well—thousands of acres of land—_hole province of France—all France itself—lay under the night sky, concentrated into a faint hair-breadth line. So does a whole world, with al_ts greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere huma_nowledge can split a ray of light and analyse the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth o_urs, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsibl_reature on it.
  • The Defarges, husband and wife, came lumbering under the starlight, in thei_ublic vehicle, to that gate of Paris whereunto their journey naturall_ended. There was the usual stoppage at the barrier guardhouse, and the usua_anterns came glancing forth for the usual examination and inquiry. Monsieu_efarge alighted; knowing one or two of the soldiery there, and one of th_olice. The latter he was intimate with, and affectionately embraced.
  • When Saint Antoine had again enfolded the Defarges in his dusky wings, an_hey, having finally alighted near the Saint’s boundaries, were picking thei_ay on foot through the black mud and offal of his streets, Madame Defarg_poke to her husband:
  • “Say then, my friend; what did Jacques of the police tell thee?”
  • “Very little to-night, but all he knows. There is another spy commissioned fo_ur quarter. There may be many more, for all that he can say, but he knows o_ne.”
  • “Eh well!” said Madame Defarge, raising her eyebrows with a cool business air.
  • “It is necessary to register him. How do they call that man?”
  • “He is English.”
  • “So much the better. His name?”
  • “Barsad,” said Defarge, making it French by pronunciation. But, he had been s_areful to get it accurately, that he then spelt it with perfect correctness.
  • “Barsad,” repeated madame. “Good. Christian name?”
  • “John.”
  • “John Barsad,” repeated madame, after murmuring it once to herself. “Good. Hi_ppearance; is it known?”
  • “Age, about forty years; height, about five feet nine; black hair; complexio_ark; generally, rather handsome visage; eyes dark, face thin, long, an_allow; nose aquiline, but not straight, having a peculiar inclination toward_he left cheek; expression, therefore, sinister.”
  • “Eh my faith. It is a portrait!” said madame, laughing. “He shall b_egistered to-morrow.”
  • They turned into the wine-shop, which was closed (for it was midnight), an_here Madame Defarge immediately took her post at her desk, counted the smal_oneys that had been taken during her absence, examined the stock, wen_hrough the entries in the book, made other entries of her own, checked th_erving man in every possible way, and finally dismissed him to bed. Then sh_urned out the contents of the bowl of money for the second time, and bega_notting them up in her handkerchief, in a chain of separate knots, for saf_eeping through the night. All this while, Defarge, with his pipe in hi_outh, walked up and down, complacently admiring, but never interfering; i_hich condition, indeed, as to the business and his domestic affairs, h_alked up and down through life.
  • The night was hot, and the shop, close shut and surrounded by so foul _eighbourhood, was ill-smelling. Monsieur Defarge’s olfactory sense was by n_eans delicate, but the stock of wine smelt much stronger than it ever tasted, and so did the stock of rum and brandy and aniseed. He whiffed the compound o_cents away, as he put down his smoked-out pipe.
  • “You are fatigued,” said madame, raising her glance as she knotted the money.
  • “There are only the usual odours.”
  • “I am a little tired,” her husband acknowledged.
  • “You are a little depressed, too,” said madame, whose quick eyes had neve_een so intent on the accounts, but they had had a ray or two for him. “Oh, the men, the men!”
  • “But my dear!” began Defarge.
  • “But my dear!” repeated madame, nodding firmly; “but my dear! You are faint o_eart to-night, my dear!”
  • “Well, then,” said Defarge, as if a thought were wrung out of his breast, “i_s a long time.”
  • “It is a long time,” repeated his wife; “and when is it not a long time?
  • Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule.”
  • “It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning,” said Defarge.
  • “How long,” demanded madame, composedly, “does it take to make and store th_ightning? Tell me.”
  • Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.
  • “It does not take a long time,” said madame, “for an earthquake to swallow _own. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?”
  • “A long time, I suppose,” said Defarge.
  • “But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything befor_t. In the meantime, it is always preparing, though it is not seen or heard.
  • That is your consolation. Keep it.”
  • She tied a knot with flashing eyes, as if it throttled a foe.
  • “I tell thee,” said madame, extending her right hand, for emphasis, “tha_lthough it is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming. I tel_hee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing.
  • Look around and consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider th_aces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to whic_he Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour. Ca_uch things last? Bah! I mock you.”
  • “My brave wife,” returned Defarge, standing before her with his head a littl_ent, and his hands clasped at his back, like a docile and attentive pupi_efore his catechist, “I do not question all this. But it has lasted a lon_ime, and it is possible—you know well, my wife, it is possible—that it ma_ot come, during our lives.”
  • “Eh well! How then?” demanded madame, tying another knot, as if there wer_nother enemy strangled.
  • “Well!” said Defarge, with a half complaining and half apologetic shrug. “W_hall not see the triumph.”
  • “We shall have helped it,” returned madame, with her extended hand in stron_ction. “Nothing that we do, is done in vain. I believe, with all my soul, that we shall see the triumph. But even if not, even if I knew certainly not, show me the neck of an aristocrat and tyrant, and still I would—”
  • Then madame, with her teeth set, tied a very terrible knot indeed.
  • “Hold!” cried Defarge, reddening a little as if he felt charged wit_owardice; “I too, my dear, will stop at nothing.”
  • “Yes! But it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see your victim an_our opportunity, to sustain you. Sustain yourself without that. When the tim_omes, let loose a tiger and a devil; but wait for the time with the tiger an_he devil chained—not shown—yet always ready.”
  • Madame enforced the conclusion of this piece of advice by striking her littl_ounter with her chain of money as if she knocked its brains out, and the_athering the heavy handkerchief under her arm in a serene manner, an_bserving that it was time to go to bed.
  • Next noontide saw the admirable woman in her usual place in the wine-shop, knitting away assiduously. A rose lay beside her, and if she now and the_lanced at the flower, it was with no infraction of her usual preoccupied air.
  • There were a few customers, drinking or not drinking, standing or seated, sprinkled about. The day was very hot, and heaps of flies, who were extendin_heir inquisitive and adventurous perquisitions into all the glutinous littl_lasses near madame, fell dead at the bottom. Their decease made no impressio_n the other flies out promenading, who looked at them in the coolest manner (as if they themselves were elephants, or something as far removed), unti_hey met the same fate. Curious to consider how heedless flies are!—perhap_hey thought as much at Court that sunny summer day.
  • A figure entering at the door threw a shadow on Madame Defarge which she fel_o be a new one. She laid down her knitting, and began to pin her rose in he_ead-dress, before she looked at the figure.
  • It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, the customer_eased talking, and began gradually to drop out of the wine-shop.
  • “Good day, madame,” said the new-comer.
  • “Good day, monsieur.”
  • She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: “Hah!
  • Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, black hair, generall_ather handsome visage, complexion dark, eyes dark, thin, long and sallo_ace, aquiline nose but not straight, having a peculiar inclination toward_he left cheek which imparts a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!”
  • “Have the goodness to give me a little glass of old cognac, and a mouthful o_ool fresh water, madame.”
  • Madame complied with a polite air.
  • “Marvellous cognac this, madame!”
  • It was the first time it had ever been so complemented, and Madame Defarg_new enough of its antecedents to know better. She said, however, that th_ognac was flattered, and took up her knitting. The visitor watched he_ingers for a few moments, and took the opportunity of observing the place i_eneral.
  • “You knit with great skill, madame.”
  • “I am accustomed to it.”
  • “A pretty pattern too!”
  • “You think so?” said madame, looking at him with a smile.
  • “Decidedly. May one ask what it is for?”
  • “Pastime,” said madame, still looking at him with a smile while her finger_oved nimbly.
  • “Not for use?”
  • “That depends. I may find a use for it one day. If I do—Well,” said madame, drawing a breath and nodding her head with a stern kind of coquetry, “I’ll us_t!”
  • It was remarkable; but, the taste of Saint Antoine seemed to be decidedl_pposed to a rose on the head-dress of Madame Defarge. Two men had entere_eparately, and had been about to order drink, when, catching sight of tha_ovelty, they faltered, made a pretence of looking about as if for some frien_ho was not there, and went away. Nor, of those who had been there when thi_isitor entered, was there one left. They had all dropped off. The spy ha_ept his eyes open, but had been able to detect no sign. They had lounged awa_n a poverty-stricken, purposeless, accidental manner, quite natural an_nimpeachable.
  • “John,” thought madame, checking off her work as her fingers knitted, and he_yes looked at the stranger. “Stay long enough, and I shall knit ’Barsad’ before you go.”
  • “You have a husband, madame?”
  • “I have.”
  • “Children?”
  • “No children.”
  • “Business seems bad?”
  • “Business is very bad; the people are so poor.”
  • “Ah, the unfortunate, miserable people! So oppressed, too—as you say.”
  • “As you say,” madame retorted, correcting him, and deftly knitting an extr_omething into his name that boded him no good.
  • “Pardon me; certainly it was I who said so, but you naturally think so. O_ourse.”
  • “I think?” returned madame, in a high voice. “I and my husband have enough t_o to keep this wine-shop open, without thinking. All we think, here, is ho_o live. That is the subject we think of, and it gives us, from morning t_ight, enough to think about, without embarrassing our heads concernin_thers. I think for others? No, no.”
  • The spy, who was there to pick up any crumbs he could find or make, did no_llow his baffled state to express itself in his sinister face; but, stoo_ith an air of gossiping gallantry, leaning his elbow on Madame Defarge’_ittle counter, and occasionally sipping his cognac.
  • “A bad business this, madame, of Gaspard’s execution. Ah! the poor Gaspard!” With a sigh of great compassion.
  • “My faith!” returned madame, coolly and lightly, “if people use knives fo_uch purposes, they have to pay for it. He knew beforehand what the price o_is luxury was; he has paid the price.”
  • “I believe,” said the spy, dropping his soft voice to a tone that invite_onfidence, and expressing an injured revolutionary susceptibility in ever_uscle of his wicked face: “I believe there is much compassion and anger i_his neighbourhood, touching the poor fellow? Between ourselves.”
  • “Is there?” asked madame, vacantly.
  • “Is there not?”
  • “—Here is my husband!” said Madame Defarge.
  • As the keeper of the wine-shop entered at the door, the spy saluted him b_ouching his hat, and saying, with an engaging smile, “Good day, Jacques!” Defarge stopped short, and stared at him.
  • “Good day, Jacques!” the spy repeated; with not quite so much confidence, o_uite so easy a smile under the stare.
  • “You deceive yourself, monsieur,” returned the keeper of the wine-shop. “Yo_istake me for another. That is not my name. I am Ernest Defarge.”
  • “It is all the same,” said the spy, airily, but discomfited too: “good day!”
  • “Good day!” answered Defarge, drily.
  • “I was saying to madame, with whom I had the pleasure of chatting when yo_ntered, that they tell me there is—and no wonder!—much sympathy and anger i_aint Antoine, touching the unhappy fate of poor Gaspard.”
  • “No one has told me so,” said Defarge, shaking his head. “I know nothing o_t.”
  • Having said it, he passed behind the little counter, and stood with his han_n the back of his wife’s chair, looking over that barrier at the person t_hom they were both opposed, and whom either of them would have shot with th_reatest satisfaction.
  • The spy, well used to his business, did not change his unconscious attitude, but drained his little glass of cognac, took a sip of fresh water, and aske_or another glass of cognac. Madame Defarge poured it out for him, took to he_nitting again, and hummed a little song over it.
  • “You seem to know this quarter well; that is to say, better than I do?” observed Defarge.
  • “Not at all, but I hope to know it better. I am so profoundly interested i_ts miserable inhabitants.”
  • “Hah!” muttered Defarge.
  • “The pleasure of conversing with you, Monsieur Defarge, recalls to me,” pursued the spy, “that I have the honour of cherishing some interestin_ssociations with your name.”
  • “Indeed!” said Defarge, with much indifference.
  • “Yes, indeed. When Doctor Manette was released, you, his old domestic, had th_harge of him, I know. He was delivered to you. You see I am informed of th_ircumstances?”
  • “Such is the fact, certainly,” said Defarge. He had had it conveyed to him, i_n accidental touch of his wife’s elbow as she knitted and warbled, that h_ould do best to answer, but always with brevity.
  • “It was to you,” said the spy, “that his daughter came; and it was from you_are that his daughter took him, accompanied by a neat brown monsieur; how i_e called?—in a little wig—Lorry—of the bank of Tellson and Company—over t_ngland.”
  • “Such is the fact,” repeated Defarge.
  • “Very interesting remembrances!” said the spy. “I have known Doctor Manett_nd his daughter, in England.”
  • “Yes?” said Defarge.
  • “You don’t hear much about them now?” said the spy.
  • “No,” said Defarge.
  • “In effect,” madame struck in, looking up from her work and her little song, “we never hear about them. We received the news of their safe arrival, an_erhaps another letter, or perhaps two; but, since then, they have graduall_aken their road in life—we, ours—and we have held no correspondence.”
  • “Perfectly so, madame,” replied the spy. “She is going to be married.”
  • “Going?” echoed madame. “She was pretty enough to have been married long ago.
  • You English are cold, it seems to me.”
  • “Oh! You know I am English.”
  • “I perceive your tongue is,” returned madame; “and what the tongue is, _uppose the man is.”
  • He did not take the identification as a compliment; but he made the best o_t, and turned it off with a laugh. After sipping his cognac to the end, h_dded:
  • “Yes, Miss Manette is going to be married. But not to an Englishman; to on_ho, like herself, is French by birth. And speaking of Gaspard (ah, poo_aspard! It was cruel, cruel!), it is a curious thing that she is going t_arry the nephew of Monsieur the Marquis, for whom Gaspard was exalted to tha_eight of so many feet; in other words, the present Marquis. But he live_nknown in England, he is no Marquis there; he is Mr. Charles Darnay.
  • D’Aulnais is the name of his mother’s family.”
  • Madame Defarge knitted steadily, but the intelligence had a palpable effec_pon her husband. Do what he would, behind the little counter, as to th_triking of a light and the lighting of his pipe, he was troubled, and hi_and was not trustworthy. The spy would have been no spy if he had failed t_ee it, or to record it in his mind.
  • Having made, at least, this one hit, whatever it might prove to be worth, an_o customers coming in to help him to any other, Mr. Barsad paid for what h_ad drunk, and took his leave: taking occasion to say, in a genteel manner, before he departed, that he looked forward to the pleasure of seeing Monsieu_nd Madame Defarge again. For some minutes after he had emerged into the oute_resence of Saint Antoine, the husband and wife remained exactly as he ha_eft them, lest he should come back.
  • “Can it be true,” said Defarge, in a low voice, looking down at his wife as h_tood smoking with his hand on the back of her chair: “what he has said o_a’amselle Manette?”
  • “As he has said it,” returned madame, lifting her eyebrows a little, “it i_robably false. But it may be true.”
  • “If it is—” Defarge began, and stopped.
  • “If it is?” repeated his wife.
  • “—And if it does come, while we live to see it triumph—I hope, for her sake, Destiny will keep her husband out of France.”
  • “Her husband’s destiny,” said Madame Defarge, with her usual composure, “wil_ake him where he is to go, and will lead him to the end that is to end him.
  • That is all I know.”
  • “But it is very strange—now, at least, is it not very strange”—said Defarge, rather pleading with his wife to induce her to admit it, “that, after all ou_ympathy for Monsieur her father, and herself, her husband’s name should b_roscribed under your hand at this moment, by the side of that infernal dog’_ho has just left us?”
  • “Stranger things than that will happen when it does come,” answered madame. “_ave them both here, of a certainty; and they are both here for their merits; that is enough.”
  • She roiled up her knitting when she had said those words, and presently too_he rose out of the handkerchief that was wound about her head. Either Sain_ntoine had an instinctive sense that the objectionable decoration was gone, or Saint Antoine was on the watch for its disappearance; howbeit, the Sain_ook courage to lounge in, very shortly afterwards, and the wine-sho_ecovered its habitual aspect.
  • In the evening, at which season of all others Saint Antoine turned himsel_nside out, and sat on door-steps and window-ledges, and came to the corner_f vile streets and courts, for a breath of air, Madame Defarge with her wor_n her hand was accustomed to pass from place to place and from group t_roup: a Missionary—there were many like her—such as the world will do wel_ever to breed again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony finger_ad been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched.
  • But, as the fingers went, the eyes went, and the thoughts. And as Madam_efarge moved on from group to group, all three went quicker and fiercer amon_very little knot of women that she had spoken with, and left behind.
  • Her husband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration. “A grea_oman,” said he, “a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!”
  • Darkness closed around, and then came the ringing of church bells and th_istant beating of the military drums in the Palace Courtyard, as the wome_at knitting, knitting. Darkness encompassed them. Another darkness wa_losing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in man_n airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when th_ilitary drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night al_otent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closin_n about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selve_ere closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to si_nitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.