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XXII. The Sea Still Rises
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 and 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 across his streets 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 image had been
hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows
had told mightily on the expression.
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 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 Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I
have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! <i>Had</i> 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
Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at the
Hotel 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
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 drawl, 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
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 a 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
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.