A Tale Of Two Cities
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"Take you my knitting," said Madame Defarge, placing it in her
lieutenant's hands, "and have it ready for me in my usual seat.
Keep me my usual chair. Go you there, straight, for there will
probably be a greater concourse than usual, 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 The Vengeance, 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 be relied upon to arrive in good time, and so went through the
mud, and round the corner of the prison wall. The Vengeance and the
Juryman, looking after her as she walked away, were highly appreciative
of her fine figure, and her superb moral endowments.
There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a
dreadfully disfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more
to be dreaded than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along the
streets. Of a strong and fearless character, of shrewd sense and
readiness, of great determination, of that kind of beauty which not
only seems to impart to its possessor firmness and animosity, but to
strike into others an instinctive recognition of those qualities; the
troubled time would have heaved her up, under any circumstances.
But, imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an
inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into a
tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the
virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her.
It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for the sins
of his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her,
that his wife was to be made a widow and his daughter an orphan; that
was insufficient punishment, because they were her natural enemies
and her prey, and as such had no right to live. To appeal to her,
was made hopeless by her having no sense of pity, even for herself.
If she had been laid low in the streets, in any of the many encounters
in which she had been engaged, she would not have pitied herself;
nor, if she had been ordered to the axe to-morrow, would she have
gone to it with any softer feeling than a fierce desire to change
places with the man who sent here there.
Such a heart Madame Defarge carried under her rough robe. Carelessly
worn, it was a becoming robe enough, in a certain weird way, and her
dark hair looked rich 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 walking with the confident tread of such
a character, and with the supple freedom of a woman who had habitually
walked in her girlhood, bare-foot and bare-legged, on the brown
sea-sand, Madame Defarge took her way along the streets.
Now, when the journey of the travelling coach, at that very moment
waiting for the completion of its load, had been planned out last
night, the difficulty of taking Miss Pross in it had much engaged
Mr. Lorry's attention. It was not merely desirable to avoid
overloading the coach, but it was of the highest importance that the
time occupied in examining it and its passengers, should be reduced
to the utmost; since their escape might depend on the saving of only
a few seconds here and there. Finally, he had proposed, after anxious
consideration, that Miss Pross and Jerry, who were at liberty to
leave the city, should leave it at three o'clock in the lightest-
wheeled conveyance known to that period. Unencumbered with luggage,
they would soon overtake the coach, and, passing it and preceding it
on the road, would order its horses in advance, and greatly facilitate
its progress during the precious hours of the night, when delay was
the most to be dreaded.
Seeing in this arrangement the hope of rendering real service in that
pressing emergency, Miss Pross hailed it with joy. She and Jerry had
beheld the coach start, had known who it was that Solomon brought,
had passed some ten minutes in tortures of suspense, and were now
concluding their arrangements to follow the coach, even as Madame
Defarge, taking her way through the streets, now drew nearer and
nearer to the else-deserted lodging in which they held their consultation.
"Now what do you think, Mr. Cruncher," said Miss Pross, whose
agitation was so great that she could hardly speak, or stand,
or move, or live: "what do you think of our not starting from this
courtyard? Another carriage having already gone from here to-day,
it might awaken suspicion."
"My opinion, miss," returned Mr. Cruncher, "is as you're right.
Likewise wot I'll stand by you, right or wrong."
"I am so distracted with fear and hope for our precious creatures,"
said Miss Pross, wildly crying, "that I am incapable of forming any
plan. Are YOU capable 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 wot it is my wishes fur to record in
this here crisis?"
"Oh, for gracious sake!" cried Miss Pross, still wildly crying,
"record them at 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 an ashy and solemn visage, "them poor things well out o' this,
never no more will I do it, never no more!"
"I am quite sure, Mr. Cruncher," returned Miss Pross, "that you never
will do it again, whatever it is, and I beg you not to think it
necessary to mention more particularly what it is."
"No, miss," returned Jerry, "it shall not be named to you. Second:
them poor things 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 to dry 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 poor darlings!"
"I go so far as to say, miss, moreover," proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with
a most alarming tendency to hold forth as from a pulpit--"and let my
words be took down and took to Mrs. Cruncher through yourself--that
wot my opinions respectin' flopping has undergone a change, and that
wot I only hope with all my 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
Miss Pross, "and I hope she finds it answering her expectations."
"Forbid it," proceeded Mr. Cruncher, with additional solemnity,
additional slowness, and additional tendency to hold forth and hold
out, "as anything wot I have ever said or done should be wisited on
my earnest wishes for them poor creeturs now! Forbid it as we shouldn't
all flop (if it was anyways conwenient) to get 'em out o' this here
dismal risk! Forbid it, miss! Wot I say, for-BID it!" This was
Mr. Cruncher's conclusion after a protracted but vain endeavour
to find a better one.
And still Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came
nearer and nearer.
"If we ever get back to our native land," said Miss Pross, "you may
rely upon my telling Mrs. Cruncher as much as I may be able to remember
and understand of what you have so impressively said; and at all
events you may be sure that I shall bear witness to your being
thoroughly in earnest at this dreadful time. Now, pray let us think!
My esteemed Mr. Cruncher, let us think!"
Still, Madame Defarge, pursuing her way along the streets, came
nearer and nearer.
"If you were to go before," said Miss Pross, "and stop the vehicle
and horses from 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
Temple Bar. Alas! Temple Bar was hundreds of miles away, and Madame
Defarge was drawing very near indeed.
"By the cathedral door," said Miss Pross. "Would it be much out of the
way, to take 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-
house straight, and make that change."
"I am doubtful," said Mr. Cruncher, hesitating and shaking his head,
"about leaving 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. Take me in at the cathedral, at Three o'Clock, or as near it as
you can, and I am sure 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 on both of us!"
This exordium, and Miss Pross's two hands in quite agonised entreaty
clasping his, decided Mr. Cruncher. With an encouraging nod or two,
he immediately went out to alter the arrangements, and left her by
herself to follow as she had proposed.
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 so that 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 time to 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, Miss Pross got a basin of cold water and began
laving her eyes, which were swollen and red. Haunted by her feverish
apprehensions, she could not bear to have her sight obscured for a
minute at a time by the dripping water, but constantly paused and
looked round to see that there was no one watching her. In one of
those pauses she recoiled and cried out, for she saw a figure
standing in the room.
The basin fell to the ground broken, and the water flowed to the feet
of Madame Defarge. By strange stem ways, and through much staining
blood, those feet had come to meet that water.
Madame Defarge looked coldly at her, and said, "The wife of Evremonde;
where is she?"
It flashed upon Miss Pross's mind that the doors were all standing
open, and would suggest the flight. Her first act was to shut them.
There were four in the room, and she shut them all. She then placed
herself before the door of the chamber which Lucie had occupied.
Madame Defarge's dark eyes followed her through this rapid movement,
and rested on her when it was finished. Miss Pross had nothing
beautiful about her; years had not tamed the wildness, or softened
the grimness, of her appearance; but, she too was a determined woman
in her different way, and she measured Madame Defarge with her eyes,
"You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer," said Miss
Pross, in her breathing. "Nevertheless, you shall not get the better
of me. I am an Englishwoman."
Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something of
Miss Pross's own perception that they two were at bay. She saw a
tight, hard, wiry woman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in the same
figure a woman with a strong hand, in the years gone by. She knew
full well that Miss Pross was the family's devoted friend; Miss Pross
knew full well that Madame Defarge was the family's malevolent enemy.
"On my way yonder," said Madame Defarge, with a slight movement of
her hand towards the fatal spot, "where they reserve my chair and my
knitting for me, I am 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
depend upon it, I'll hold my own against them."
Each spoke in her own language; neither understood the other's words;
both were very watchful, and intent to deduce from look and manner,
what the unintelligible 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