"You know the Old Bailey well, no doubt?" said one of the oldest of clerks
to Jerry the messenger.
"Ye-es, sir," returned Jerry, in something of a dogged manner. "I do
know the Bailey."
"Just so. And you know Mr. Lorry."
"I know Mr. Lorry, sir, much better than I know the Bailey. Much better,"
said Jerry, not unlike a reluctant witness at the establishment in
question, "than I, as a honest tradesman, wish to know the Bailey."
"Very well. Find the door where the witnesses go in, and show the
door-keeper this note for Mr. Lorry. He will then let you in."
"Into the court, sir?"
"Into the court."
Mr. Cruncher's eyes seemed to get a little closer to one another, and to
interchange the inquiry, "What do you think of this?"
"Am I to wait in the court, sir?" he asked, as the result of that
"I am going to tell you. The door-keeper will pass the note to Mr. Lorry,
and do you make any gesture that will attract Mr. Lorry's attention, and
show him where you stand. Then what you have to do, is, to remain there
until he wants you."
"Is that all, sir?"
"That's all. He wishes to have a messenger at hand. This is to tell him
you are there."
As the ancient clerk deliberately folded and superscribed the note, Mr.
Cruncher, after surveying him in silence until he came to the
blotting-paper stage, remarked:
"I suppose they'll be trying Forgeries this morning?"
"That's quartering," said Jerry. "Barbarous!"
"It is the law," remarked the ancient clerk, turning his surprised
spectacles upon him. "It is the law."
"It's hard in the law to spile a man, I think. It's hard enough to kill
him, but it's wery hard to spile him, sir."
"Not at all," retained the ancient clerk. "Speak well of the law. Take
care of your chest and voice, my good friend, and leave the law to take
care of itself. I give you that advice."
"It's the damp, sir, what settles on my chest and voice," said Jerry. "I
leave you to judge what a damp way of earning a living mine is."
"Well, well," said the old clerk; "we all have our various ways of gaining
a livelihood. Some of us have damp ways, and some of us have dry ways.
Here is the letter. Go along."
Jerry took the letter, and, remarking to himself with less internal
deference than he made an outward show of, "You are a lean old one, too,"
made his bow, informed his son, in passing, of his destination, and went
They hanged at Tyburn, in those days, so the street outside Newgate had
not obtained one infamous notoriety that has since attached to it. But,
the gaol was a vile place, in which most kinds of debauchery and villainy
were practised, and where dire diseases were bred, that came into court
with the prisoners, and sometimes rushed straight from the dock at my Lord
Chief Justice himself, and pulled him off the bench. It had more than once
happened, that the Judge in the black cap pronounced his own doom as
certainly as the prisoner's, and even died before him. For the rest, the
Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard, from which pale
travellers set out continually, in carts and coaches, on a violent passage
into the other world: traversing some two miles and a half of public
street and road, and shaming few good citizens, if any. So powerful is
use, and so desirable to be good use in the beginning. It was famous, too,
for the pillory, a wise old institution, that inflicted a punishment of
which no one could foresee the extent; also, for the whipping-post,
another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in
action; also, for extensive transactions in blood-money, another fragment
of ancestral wisdom, systematically leading to the most frightful
mercenary crimes that could be committed under Heaven. Altogether, the Old
Bailey, at that date, was a choice illustration of the precept, that
"Whatever is is right;" an aphorism that would be as final as it is lazy,
did it not include the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever
was, was wrong.
Making his way through the tainted crowd, dispersed up and down this
hideous scene of action, with the skill of a man accustomed to make his
way quietly, the messenger found out the door he sought, and handed in his
letter through a trap in it. For, people then paid to see the play at the
Old Bailey, just as they paid to see the play in Bedlam—only the
former entertainment was much the dearer. Therefore, all the Old Bailey
doors were well guarded—except, indeed, the social doors by which
the criminals got there, and those were always left wide open.
After some delay and demur, the door grudgingly turned on its hinges a
very little way, and allowed Mr. Jerry Cruncher to squeeze himself into
"What's on?" he asked, in a whisper, of the man he found himself next to.
"What's coming on?"
"The Treason case."
"The quartering one, eh?"
"Ah!" returned the man, with a relish; "he'll be drawn on a hurdle to be
half hanged, and then he'll be taken down and sliced before his own face,
and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while he looks on, and
then his head will be chopped off, and he'll be cut into quarters. That's
"If he's found Guilty, you mean to say?" Jerry added, by way of proviso.
"Oh! they'll find him guilty," said the other. "Don't you be afraid of
Mr. Cruncher's attention was here diverted to the door-keeper, whom he saw
making his way to Mr. Lorry, with the note in his hand. Mr. Lorry sat at a
table, among the gentlemen in wigs: not far from a wigged gentleman, the
prisoner's counsel, who had a great bundle of papers before him: and
nearly opposite another wigged gentleman with his hands in his pockets,
whose whole attention, when Mr. Cruncher looked at him then or afterwards,
seemed to be concentrated on the ceiling of the court. After some gruff
coughing and rubbing of his chin and signing with his hand, Jerry
attracted the notice of Mr. Lorry, who had stood up to look for him, and
who quietly nodded and sat down again.
"What's he got to do with the case?" asked the man he had spoken
"Blest if I know," said Jerry.
"What have you got to do with it, then, if a person may inquire?"
"Blest if I know that either," said Jerry.
The entrance of the Judge, and a consequent great stir and settling down
in the court, stopped the dialogue. Presently, the dock became the central
point of interest. Two gaolers, who had been standing there, went out, and
the prisoner was brought in, and put to the bar.
Everybody present, except the one wigged gentleman who looked at the
ceiling, stared at him. All the human breath in the place, rolled at him,
like a sea, or a wind, or a fire. Eager faces strained round pillars and
corners, to get a sight of him; spectators in back rows stood up, not to
miss a hair of him; people on the floor of the court, laid their hands on
the shoulders of the people before them, to help themselves, at anybody's
cost, to a view of him—stood a-tiptoe, got upon ledges, stood upon
next to nothing, to see every inch of him. Conspicuous among these latter,
like an animated bit of the spiked wall of Newgate, Jerry stood: aiming at
the prisoner the beery breath of a whet he had taken as he came along, and
discharging it to mingle with the waves of other beer, and gin, and tea,
and coffee, and what not, that flowed at him, and already broke upon the
great windows behind him in an impure mist and rain.
The object of all this staring and blaring, was a young man of about
five-and-twenty, well-grown and well-looking, with a sunburnt cheek and a
dark eye. His condition was that of a young gentleman. He was plainly
dressed in black, or very dark grey, and his hair, which was long and
dark, was gathered in a ribbon at the back of his neck; more to be out of
his way than for ornament. As an emotion of the mind will express itself
through any covering of the body, so the paleness which his situation
engendered came through the brown upon his cheek, showing the soul to be
stronger than the sun. He was otherwise quite self-possessed, bowed to the
Judge, and stood quiet.
The sort of interest with which this man was stared and breathed at, was
not a sort that elevated humanity. Had he stood in peril of a less
horrible sentence—had there been a chance of any one of its savage
details being spared—by just so much would he have lost in his
fascination. The form that was to be doomed to be so shamefully mangled,
was the sight; the immortal creature that was to be so butchered and torn
asunder, yielded the sensation. Whatever gloss the various spectators put
upon the interest, according to their several arts and powers of
self-deceit, the interest was, at the root of it, Ogreish.
Silence in the court! Charles Darnay had yesterday pleaded Not Guilty to
an indictment denouncing him (with infinite jingle and jangle) for that he
was a false traitor to our serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth,
prince, our Lord the King, by reason of his having, on divers occasions,
and by divers means and ways, assisted Lewis, the French King, in his wars
against our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth; that was to
say, by coming and going, between the dominions of our said serene,
illustrious, excellent, and so forth, and those of the said French Lewis,
and wickedly, falsely, traitorously, and otherwise evil-adverbiously,
revealing to the said French Lewis what forces our said serene,
illustrious, excellent, and so forth, had in preparation to send to Canada
and North America. This much, Jerry, with his head becoming more and more
spiky as the law terms bristled it, made out with huge satisfaction, and
so arrived circuitously at the understanding that the aforesaid, and over
and over again aforesaid, Charles Darnay, stood there before him upon his
trial; that the jury were swearing in; and that Mr. Attorney-General was
making ready to speak.
The accused, who was (and who knew he was) being mentally hanged,
beheaded, and quartered, by everybody there, neither flinched from the
situation, nor assumed any theatrical air in it. He was quiet and
attentive; watched the opening proceedings with a grave interest; and
stood with his hands resting on the slab of wood before him, so
composedly, that they had not displaced a leaf of the herbs with which it
was strewn. The court was all bestrewn with herbs and sprinkled with
vinegar, as a precaution against gaol air and gaol fever.
Over the prisoner's head there was a mirror, to throw the light down upon
him. Crowds of the wicked and the wretched had been reflected in it, and
had passed from its surface and this earth's together. Haunted in a most
ghastly manner that abominable place would have been, if the glass could
ever have rendered back its reflections, as the ocean is one day to give
up its dead. Some passing thought of the infamy and disgrace for which it
had been reserved, may have struck the prisoner's mind. Be that as it may,
a change in his position making him conscious of a bar of light across his
face, he looked up; and when he saw the glass his face flushed, and his
right hand pushed the herbs away.
It happened, that the action turned his face to that side of the court
which was on his left. About on a level with his eyes, there sat, in that
corner of the Judge's bench, two persons upon whom his look immediately
rested; so immediately, and so much to the changing of his aspect, that
all the eyes that were turned upon him, turned to them.
The spectators saw in the two figures, a young lady of little more than
twenty, and a gentleman who was evidently her father; a man of a very
remarkable appearance in respect of the absolute whiteness of his hair,
and a certain indescribable intensity of face: not of an active kind, but
pondering and self-communing. When this expression was upon him, he looked
as if he were old; but when it was stirred and broken up—as it was
now, in a moment, on his speaking to his daughter—he became a
handsome man, not past the prime of life.
His daughter had one of her hands drawn through his arm, as she sat by
him, and the other pressed upon it. She had drawn close to him, in her
dread of the scene, and in her pity for the prisoner. Her forehead had
been strikingly expressive of an engrossing terror and compassion that saw
nothing but the peril of the accused. This had been so very noticeable, so
very powerfully and naturally shown, that starers who had had no pity for
him were touched by her; and the whisper went about, "Who are they?"
Jerry, the messenger, who had made his own observations, in his own
manner, and who had been sucking the rust off his fingers in his
absorption, stretched his neck to hear who they were. The crowd about him
had pressed and passed the inquiry on to the nearest attendant, and from
him it had been more slowly pressed and passed back; at last it got to
"For which side?"
"Against what side?"
The Judge, whose eyes had gone in the general direction, recalled them,
leaned back in his seat, and looked steadily at the man whose life was in
his hand, as Mr. Attorney-General rose to spin the rope, grind the axe,
and hammer the nails into the scaffold.