《A Tale of Two Cities》 Book2 CHAPTER
XXII The Sea still Rises
by Charles Dickens
HAGGARD Saint Antoine
had had only one exultant week, in which to soften his modicum of hard and bitter bread to
such extent as he could, with the relish of fraternal embraces an congratulations, when
Madame Defarge sat at her counter, as usual, presiding over the customers. Madame Defarge
wore no rose in her head, for the great brotherhood of Spies had become, even in one short
week, extremely chary of trusting themselves to the saint's mercies. The lamps had a
portentously elastic swing with them.
Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat, contemplating the
wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several knots of loungers, squalid and
miserable, but now with a manifest sense of power enthroned on their distress. The
raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: `I
know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do
you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?' Every
lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now,
that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience
that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the hammering
into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the
Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was to be desired in the
leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her sisterhood knitted beside her. The short,
rather plump wife of a starved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this
lieutenant had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance.
`Hark!' said The Vengeance. `Listen, then! Who comes?'
As if a train of powder laid from the outermost bound of the Saint Antoine Quarter to the
wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading murmur came rushing along.
`It is Defarge,' said madame. `Silence, patriots!'
Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked around him! `Listen,
everywhere!' said madame again. `Listen to him!' Defarge stood, panting, against a
background of eager eyes and open mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the
wine-shop had sprung to their feet.
`Say then, my husband. What is it?'
`News from the other world!'
`How, then?' cried madame, contemptuously. `The other world?'
`Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat
grass, and who died, and went to Hell?'
`Everybody!' from all throats.
`The news is of him. He is among us!'
`Among us!' from the universal throat again. `And dead?'
`Not dead! He feared us so much--and with reason--that he caused himself to be represented
as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the
country, and have brought him in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the H?tel de
Ville, a prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! Had he reason?'
Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten, if he had never known it yet,
he would have known it in his heart of hearts if he could have heard the answering cry.
A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked steadfastly at one
another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of a drum was heard as she moved it at her
feet behind the counter.
`Patriots!' said Defarge, in a determined voice, `are we ready?'
Instantly Madame Defarge's knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets,
as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific
shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was
tearing from house to house, rousing the women.
The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked from windows,
caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into the streets; but, the women were
a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty
yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground
famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves,
to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon
taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into
the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon
alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old
father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my
baby it might suck grass, when these breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this
Foulon! O Heaven, our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on
my knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men,
Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon, Give us the heart of Foulon, Give
us the body and soul of Foulon, Rend Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that
grass may grow from him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy,
whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they dropped
into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the men belonging to them from being
trampled under foot.
Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at the H?tel de Ville,
and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine knew his own sufferings, insults, and wrongs!
Armed men and women flocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs
after them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an hour there was not a
human creature in Saint Antoine's bosom but a few old crones and the wailing children.
No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where this old man, ugly
and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent open space and streets. The Defarges,
husband and wife, The Vengeance, and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no
great distance from him in the Hall.
`See!' cried madame, pointing with her knife. `See the old villain bound with ropes. That
was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him
eat it now!' Madame put her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.
The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of her satisfaction to
those behind them, and those again explaining to others, and those to others, the
neighbouring streets resounded with the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three
hours of brawl, and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge's frequent
expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness, at a distance: the
more readily, because certain men who had by some wonderful exercise of agility climbed up
the external architecture to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted
as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.
At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection,
directly down upon the old prisoner's head. The favour was too much to bear; in an instant
the barrier of dust and chaff that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and
Saint Antoine had got him!
It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge had but sprung over
a railing and a table, and folded the miserable wretch in a deadly embrace--Madame Defarge
had but followed and turned her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied--The
Vengeance and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows had not
yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high perches--when the cry seemed
to go up, all over the city, `Bring him out! Bring him to the lamp!'
Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on his knees; now, on
his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass
and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting,
bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of
action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one another back that they
might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through a forest of legs; he was hauled to the
nearest street corner where one of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him
go--as a cat might have done to a mouse--and silently and composedly looked at him while
they made ready, and while he besought her: the women passionately screeching at him all
the time, and the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth.
Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; twice, he went
aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and
held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth for all Saint
Antoine to dance at the sight of. Nor was this the end of the day's bad work, for Saint
Antoine so shouted and danced his angry blood up, that it boiled again, on hearing when
the day closed in that the son-in-law of the despatched, another of the people's enemies
and insulters, was coming into Paris under guard five hundred strong, in cavalry alone.
Saint Antoine wrote his crimes on flaring sheets of paper, seized him--would have torn him
out of the breast of an army to bear Foulon company--set his head and heart on pikes, and
carried the three spoils of the day, in Wolf-procession, through the streets.
Not before dark night did the men and women come back to the children, wailing and
breadless. Then, the miserable bakers' shops were beset by long files of them, patiently
waiting to buy bad bread; and while they waited with stomachs faint and empty, they
beguiled the time by embracing one another on the triumphs of the day, and achieving them
again in gossip. Gradually, these strings of ragged people shortened and frayed away; and
then poor lights began to shine in high windows, and slender fires were made in the
streets, at which neighbours cooked in common, afterwards supping at their doors.
Scanty and insufficient suppers those, and innocent of meat, as of most other sauce to
wretched bread. Yet, human fellowship infused some nourishment into the flinty viands, and
struck some sparks of cheerfulness out of them. Fathers and mothers who had had their full
share in the worst of the day, played gently with their meagre children; and lovers, with
such a world around them and before them, loved and hoped.
It was almost morning, when Defarge's wine-shop parted with its last knot of customers,
and Monsieur Defarge said to madame his wife, in husky tones, while fastening the door:
`At last it is come, my dear!'
`Eh well!' returned madame. `Almost.'
Saint Antoine slept, the Defarges slept: even The Vengeance slept with her starved grocer,
and the drum was at rest. The drum's was the only voice in Saint Antoine that blood and
hurry had not changed. The Vengeance, as custodian of the drum, could have wakened him up
and had the same speech out of him as before the Bastille fell, or old Foulon was seized;
not so with the hoarse tones of the men and women in Saint Antoine's bosom.