by Charles Dickens
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
'A Tale of Two Cities' is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It depicts both the the plight of the French peasantry demoralised by the aristocracy before the revolution, and the corresponding brutality of the revolutionaries after it, as well as offering parallels with the England of the same time. With some 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fiction.
For more works by Dickens, see The Index
I. - Recalled to Life
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State that things in general were settled for ever.
A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken in the street. All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. Some kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and tried to sip before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women's heads. A shrill sound of laughter resounded in the street while this wine game lasted.
The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. One tall joker so besmirched scrawled upon a wall, with his finger dipped in muddy wine lees, "Blood!"
And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy-cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence. The children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age, and coming up afresh, was the sign - Hunger.
The master of the wine-shop outside of which the cask had been broken turned back to his shop when the struggle for the wine was ended. Monsieur Defarge was a dark, bull-necked man, good-humoured-looking on the whole, but implacable-looking, too. Three men who had been drinking at the counter paid for their wine, and left. An elderly gentleman, who had been sitting in a corner with a young lady, advanced, introduced himself as Mr. Jarvis Lorry, of Tellson's Bank, London, and begged the favour of a word.
The conference was very short, but very decided. It had not lasted a minute, when Monsieur Defarge nodded and went out, followed by Mr. Lorry and the young lady.
He led them through a stinking little black courtyard, and up a staircase to a dim garret, where a white-haired man sat on a low bench, stooping and very busy, making shoes.
"You are still hard at work, I see," said Monsieur Defarge.
A pair of haggard eyes looked at the questioner, and a very faint voice replied, "Yes, I am working."
"Here is a visitor. Show him that shoe and tell him the maker's name."
There was a long pause, and the shoemaker asked, "What did you say?"
Defarge repeated his words.
"It is a lady's shoe," answered the shoemaker.
"And the maker's name?"
"One Hundred and Five, North Tower."
"Dr. Manette," said Mr. Lorry, looking steadfastly at him, "do you remember nothing of me? Do you remember nothing of Defarge - your old servant?"
As the Bastille captive of many years gazed at them, marks of intelligence forced themselves through the mist that had fallen on him. They were fainter; they were gone, but they had been there. The young lady moved forward, with tears streaming from her eyes, and kissed him. He took up her golden hair, and looked at it; then drew from his breast a folded rag, and opened it carefully. It contained a little quantity of hair. He took the girl's hair into his hand again.
"It is the same! How can it be? She had a fear of my going that night. Was it you?" He turned upon her with frightful suddenness. But his vigour swiftly died out, and he gloomily shook his head. "No, no, no! It can't be!"
She fell on her knees and clasped his neck.
"If you hear in my voice any resemblance to a voice that was once sweet music to your ears, weep for it - weep for it! Thank God!" she cried. "I feel his sacred tears upon my face! Leave us here," she said. And, as the darkness closed in, they left father and daughter together.
They came back at night. A coach stood outside the courtyard, and the lately released prisoner, in scared, blank wonder, began the journey that was to end in England and rest.
II. - The Jackal
In the dimly-lighted passages of the Old Bailey, Dr. Manette, his daughter, and Mr. Lorry stood by Mr. Charles Darnay - just acquitted on a charge of high treason - congratulating him on his escape from death.
It was not difficult to recognise in Dr. Manette, intellectual of face and upright in bearing, the shoemaker of the garret in Paris. He and his daughter had been unwilling witnesses for the prosecution, called to give evidence that might be distorted into corroboration of a paid spy's falsehoods as to Darnay's dealings with the French king.
Darnay kissed Lucie Manette's hand fervently and gratefully, and warmly thanked his counsel, Mr. Stryver. As he watched them go, a person who had been leaning against the wall stepped up to him. It was Mr. Carton, a barrister, who had sat throughout the trial with his whole attention seemingly concentrated upon the ceiling of the court. Everybody had been struck with the extraordinary resemblance, cleverly used by the defending counsel to confound a witness, between Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay. Mr. Carton was shabbily dressed, and did not appear to be quite sober.
"This must be a strange sight to you," said Carton, with a laugh.
"I hardly seem yet," returned Darnay, "to belong to this world again."
"Then why the devil don't you dine?"
He led him to a tavern, where Darnay recruited his strength with a good, plain dinner. Carton drank, but ate nothing.
"Now your dinner is done," Carton presently said, "why don't you give your toast?"
"Why, it's on the tip of your tongue."
"Miss Manette, then!"
Carton drank the toast, and flung his glass over his shoulder against the wall, where it shivered in pieces.
After Darnay had gone, Carton drank and slept till ten o'clock, and then walked to the chambers of Mr. Stryver. Mr. Stryver was a glib man, and an unscrupulous, and a bold, and was fast shouldering his way to a lucrative practice; but it had been noted that he had not the striking and necessary faculty of extracting evidence from a heap of statements. A remarkable improvement, however, came upon him as to this. Sydney Carton, idlest and most unpromising of men, was his great ally. What the two drank together would have floated a king's ship.
Stryver never had a case in hand but what Carton was there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling. At last it began to get about that, although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal, and that he rendered service to Stryver in that humble capacity. Folding wet towels on his head in a manner hideous to behold, the jackal began the "boiling down" of cases, while Stryver reclined before the fire. Each had bottles and glasses ready to his hand. The work was not done until the clocks were striking three.
Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, Carton threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed. Sadly, sadly the sun rose. It rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight upon him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.
III. - The Loadstone Rock
"Dear Dr. Manette," said Charles Darnay, "I love your daughter fondly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her!"
Dr. Manette turned towards him in his chair, but did not look at him or raise his eyes.
"Have you spoken to Lucie?" he asked.
The doctor looked up; a struggle was evidently in his face - a struggle with that look he still sometimes wore, with a tendency in it to dark doubt and dread.
"If Lucie should ever tell me," he said, "that you are essential to her perfect happiness, I will give her to you."
"Your confidence in me," answered Darnay, relieved, "ought to be returned with full confidence on my part. I am, as you know, like yourself, a voluntary exile from France. The name I bear at present is not my own. I wish to tell you what that is, and why I am in England."
The doctor laid his two hands on Darnay's lips.
"Tell me when I ask you, not now. Go! God bless you!"
On a day shortly before the marriage, while Lucie was sitting at her work alone, Sydney Carton entered.
"I fear you are not well, Mr. Carton," she said, looking up at him.
"No; but the life I lead is not conducive to health."
"Is it not - forgive me - a pity to live no better life?"
"It is too late for that." He covered her eyes with his hand. "Will you hear me?" he continued. "Since I have known you, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing; but let me carry through the rest of my misdirected life the remembrance that I opened my heart to you, last of all the world."
"Mr. Carton," she answered, after an agitated pause, "I promise to respect your secret."
"God bless you! My last application is this, that you will believe that for you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. Oh, Miss Manette, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you!"
He said "farewell!" and left her.
A wonderful corner for echoes was the quiet street-corner near Soho Square, where Dr. Manette lived with his daughter and her husband. But Lucie heard in the echoes none but friendly and soothing sounds. Her husband's step was strong and prosperous among them; her father's firm and equal. The time came when a little Lucie lay on her bosom. But there were other echoes that rumbled menacingly in the distance, with a sound as of a great storm in France, with a dreadful sea rising.
It was August of the year 1792. Charles Darnay talked in a low voice with Mr. Lorry in Tellson's Bank. The bank had a branch in Paris, and the London establishment was the headquarters of the aristocratic emigrants who had fled from France.
"And do you really go to Paris to-night?" asked Darnay.
"I do. You can have no conception of the peril in which our books and papers over yonder are involved, and the getting them out of harm's way is in the power of scarcely anyone but myself."
As Mr. Lorry spoke a letter was laid before him. Darnay saw the direction - it was to himself. "To Monsieur heretofore the Marquis St. Evrémonde." Horrified at the oppression and cruelty of his family towards the people, Darnay had left his native country and had never used the title that had, some years before, fallen to him by inheritance. He had told his secret to Dr. Manette on the wedding morning, and to none other.
"I know the man," he said.
"Will you take charge of the letter and deliver it?" asked Mr. Lorry.
When alone, Darnay opened the letter. It was from the steward of his French estate. The man had been charged with acting for an emigrant against the people. It was in vain he had urged that by the marquis's instructions he had acted for the people - had remitted all rents and imposts. The only response was that he had acted for an emigrant. Nothing but the marquis's personal testimony could save him from execution.
Could he resist his old servant's appeal? He knew the peril of it, but his honour was at stake; he must go. That evening he wrote two letters explaining his purpose, one to Lucie, one to the doctor. On the next night he went out, pretending he would be back by-and-by. The two letters he left with the trusty porter to be delivered before midnight; and, with a heavy heart, leaving all that was dear on earth behind him, he journeyed on - drawn, like the mariner in the old story, to the Loadstone Rock.
IV. - The Track of a Storm
In the buildings of Tellson's Bank in Paris, Mr. Lorry sat by a wood fire (it was early September, but the blighted year was prematurely cold), and on his honest face there was a deeper shade than the pendant lamp could throw - a shade of horror. By him sat Dr. Manette; Lucie and her child were in an inner room. They had hastened after Darnay to Paris. Dr. Manette knew that as a Bastille prisoner he bore a charmed life in revolutionary France, and that if Darnay was in danger he could help him. Darnay was indeed in danger. He had been arrested as an aristocrat and an enemy of the Republic.
From the streets there came the usual night hum of the city, with now and then an indescribable ring in it, weird and unearthly, as if some unwonted sounds of a terrible nature were going up to Heaven.
A loud noise of feet and voices came pouring into the courtyard. Mr. Lorry put his hand on the doctor's arm, and they looked out.
A throng of men and women crowded round a grindstone. Turning madly at its double handle were two men, whose faces were more horrible and cruel than the visages of the wildest savages. The eye could not detect one creature in the surrounding group free from the smear of blood. Shouldering one another to get next at the sharpening-stone were men with the stain all over their limbs and bodies; hatchets, knives, bayonets, swords, all were red with it.
"They are murdering the prisoners," whispered Mr. Lorry.
Dr. Manette hastened out of the room, and down into the courtyard. There was a pause, a murmur, and the sound of his voice. Then Mr. Lorry saw him, surrounded by all, hurried out with cries of "Live the Bastille prisoner! Help for the Bastille prisoner's kindred in La Force!"
It was long ere he returned. He had presented himself at the prison before the self-appointed tribunal that was consigning the prisoners to massacre, and had announced himself as a victim of the Bastille. One member of the tribunal had identified him; the member was Defarge. He had pleaded hard for his son-in-law's life, and had been informed that the prisoner must remain in custody; but should, for the doctor's sake, be held in safe custody.
For fifteen months Charles Darnay remained in prison. During all that time Lucie was never sure but that her husband's head would be struck off next day. When at length arraigned as an emigrant whose life was forfeit to the Republic, he pleaded that he had come back to save a citizen's life. That night he sat by the fire with his family, a free man. Lucie at last was at ease.
"What is that?" she cried suddenly.
There was a knock at the door; four armed men in red caps entered the room.
"Evrémonde," said the first, "you are again the prisoner of the Republic!"
"Why?" he asked, with his wife and child clinging to him.
"You will know to-morrow."
"One word," entreated the doctor, "who has denounced him?"
"The Citizen Defarge, and another."
"Citizen," said the man, with a strange look, "you will be answered to-morrow."
V. - Condemned
The news that Darnay had been again arrested was brought to Mr. Lorry later in the evening, and the man who brought it was Sydney Carton. He had come to Paris, he said, on business; his business was now completed, he was about to return, and he had obtained his leave to pass.
"Darnay," he said, "cannot escape condemnation this time."
"I fear not," answered Mr. Lorry.
"I have found," continued Carton, "that the Old Bailey spy who charged Darnay with high treason years ago is now in the service of the Republic and is a turnkey at the prison of the Conciergerie where Darnay is confined. By threatening to denounce him as a spy of Pitt, I have secured that I shall gain access to Darnay in the prison if the trial should go against him."
"But access to him," said Mr. Lorry, "will not save him."
"I never said it would."
Mr. Lorry looked at him mystified, and once more noted his strange resemblance to the man whose fate was to be decided on the morrow.
Carton stood next day in an obscure corner among the crowd when Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay, appeared again before the judges.
"Who denounces the accused?" asked the president.
"Ernest Defarge, wine-vendor."
"Alexandre Manette, physician."
"President," cried the doctor, pale and trembling, "I indignantly protest to you."
"Citizen Manette, be silent! Call Citizen Defarge."
Rapidly Defarge told his story. He had been among the leaders in the taking of the Bastille. When the citadel had fallen, he had gone to the cell One Hundred and Five, North Tower, and had searched it. In a hole in the chimney he had found a paper in the handwriting of Dr. Manette.
"Let it be read," said the president.
In this paper Dr. Manette had written the history of his imprisonment. In the year 1757 he had been taken secretly by two nobles to visit two poor people who were on the point of death. One was a woman whom one of the nobles had forcibly carried off from her husband; the other, her brother, whom the seducer had mortally wounded. The doctor had come too late; both the woman and her brother died. The doctor refused a fee, and, to relieve his mind, wrote privately to the government stating the circumstances of the crime. One night he was called out of his home on a false pretext, and taken to the Bastille.
The nobles were the Marquis de St. Evrémonde and his brother; and the Marquis was the father of Charles Darnay. A terrible sound arose in the court when the reading was done. The voting of the jury was unanimous, and at every vote there was a roar. Death in twenty-four hours!
That night Carton again came to Mr. Lorry. Between the two men, as they spoke, a figure on a chair rocked itself to and fro, moaning. It was Dr. Manette.
"He and Lucie and her child must leave Paris to-morrow," said Carton. "They are in danger of being denounced. It is a capital crime to mourn for, or sympathise with, a victim of the guillotine. Be ready to start at two o'clock to-morrow afternoon. See them into their seats; take your own seat. The moment I come to you, take me in, and drive away.
"It shall be done."
Carton turned to the couch where Lucie lay unconscious, prostrated with utter grief.
He bent down, touched her face with his lips, and murmured some words. Little Lucie told them afterwards that she heard him say, "A life you love."
VI. - The Guillotine
In the black prison of the Conciergerie, the doomed of the day awaited their fate. Fifty-two persons were to roll that afternoon on the life-tide of the city to the boundless, everlasting sea.
The hours went on as Darnay walked to and fro in his cell, and the clocks struck the numbers he would never hear again. The final hour, he knew, was three, and he expected to be summoned at two. The clocks struck one. "There is but another now," he thought.
He heard footsteps. The door was opened, and there stood before him, quiet, intent, and smiling, Sydney Carton.
"Darnay," he said, "I bring you a request from your wife."
"What is it?"
"There is no time - you must comply. Take off your boots and coat, and put on mine."
"Carton, there is no escaping from this place. It is madness."
"Do I ask you to escape?" said Carton, forcing the changes upon him.
"Now sit at the table and write what I dictate."
"To whom do I address it?"
"To no one."
"If you remember," said Carton, dictating, "the words that passed between us long ago, you will comprehend this when you see it. I am thankful that the time has come when I can prove them." Carton's hand was withdrawn from his breast, and slowly and softly moved down the writer's face. For a few seconds Darnay struggled faintly, Carton's hand held firmly at his nostrils; then he fell senseless to the ground.
Carton called quietly to the turnkey, who looked in and went again as Carton was putting the paper in Darnay's breast. He came back with two men. They raised the unconscious figure and carried it away.
The door closed, and Carton was left alone. Straining his powers of listening to the utmost, he listened for any sound that might denote suspicion or alarm. There was none. Presently his door opened, and a gaoler looked in, merely saying: "Follow me," whereupon Carton followed him into a dark room. As he stood by the wall in a dim corner, a young woman, with a slight, girlish figure, came to speak to him.
"Citizen Evrémonde," she said, "I am a poor little seamstress, who was with you in La Force."
He murmured an answer.
"I heard you were released."
"I was, and was taken again and condemned."
"If I may ride with you, will you let me hold your hand?"
As the patient eyes were lifted to his face, he saw a sudden doubt in them.
"Are you dying for him?" she whispered. "Oh, you will let me hold your hand?"
"Hush! Yes, my poor sister, to the last."
That afternoon a coach going out of Paris drove up to the Barrier. "Papers!" demanded the guard. The papers are handed out and read.
"Alexandre Manette, Lucie Manette, her child. Jarvis Lorry, banker, English. Sydney Carton, advocate, English. Which is he?"
He lies here, in a corner, apparently in a swoon. He is in bad health.
"Behold your papers, countersigned."
"One can depart, citizen?"
"One can depart."
The ministers of Sainte Guillotin are robed and ready. Crash! - and the women who sit with their knitting in front of the guillotine count one. Crash! - and the women count two.
The supposed Evrémonde descends with the seamstress from the tumbril, and joins the fast-thinning throng of victims before the crashing engine that constantly whirrs up and falls. The spare hand does not tremble as he grasps it. She goes next before him - is gone. The knitting women count twenty-two.
The murmuring of many voices, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-three.
They said of him about the city that night that it was the peacefulest man's face ever beheld there. Had he given utterance to his thoughts at the foot of the scaffold, they would have been these:
"I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous, and happy in that England which I shall see no more. I see her with a child upon her bosom, who bears my name. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
* * * * *
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