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A Knock at the Door

Page history last edited by Michael J 12 years, 11 months ago

A Knock at the Door

 

 

"I have saved him." It was not another of the dreams in which he had

often come back; he was really here. And yet his wife trembled, and

a vague but heavy fear was upon her.

 

All the air round was so thick and dark, the people were so

passionately revengeful and fitful, the innocent were so constantly

put to death on vague suspicion and black malice, it was so

impossible to forget that many as blameless as her husband and as

dear to others as he was to her, every day shared the fate from which

he had been clutched, that her heart could not be as lightened of its

load as she felt it ought to be. The shadows of the wintry afternoon

were beginning to fall, and even now the dreadful carts were rolling

through the streets. Her mind pursued them, looking for him among

the Condemned; and then she clung closer to his real presence and

trembled more.

 

Her father, cheering her, showed a compassionate superiority to this

woman's weakness, which was wonderful to see. No garret, no shoemaking,

no One Hundred and Five, North Tower, now! He had accomplished the

task he had set himself, his promise was redeemed, he had saved Charles.

Let them all lean upon him.

 

Their housekeeping was of a very frugal kind: not only because that

was the safest way of life, involving the least offence to the

people, but because they were not rich, and Charles, throughout his

imprisonment, had had to pay heavily for his bad food, and for his

guard, and towards the living of the poorer prisoners. Partly on

this account, and partly to avoid a domestic spy, they kept no

servant; the citizen and citizeness who acted as porters at the

courtyard gate, rendered them occasional service; and Jerry (almost

wholly transferred to them by Mr. Lorry) had become their daily

retainer, and had his bed there every night.

 

It was an ordinance of the Republic One and Indivisible of Liberty,

Equality, Fraternity, or Death, that on the door or doorpost of every

house, the name of every inmate must be legibly inscribed in letters

of a certain size, at a certain convenient height from the ground.

Mr. Jerry Cruncher's name, therefore, duly embellished the doorpost

down below; and, as the afternoon shadows deepened, the owner of that

name himself appeared, from overlooking a painter whom Doctor Manette

had employed to add to the list the name of Charles Evremonde, called

Darnay.

 

In the universal fear and distrust that darkened the time, all the

usual harmless ways of life were changed. In the Doctor's little

household, as in very many others, the articles of daily consumption

that were wanted were purchased every evening, in small quantities

and at various small shops. To avoid attracting notice, and to give

as little occasion as possible for talk and envy, was the general desire.

 

For some months past, Miss Pross and Mr. Cruncher had discharged the

office of purveyors; the former carrying the money; the latter, the

basket. Every afternoon at about the time when the public lamps were

lighted, they fared forth on this duty, and made and brought home

such purchases as were needful. Although Miss Pross, through her

long association with a French family, might have known as much of

their language as of her own, if she had had a mind, she had no mind

in that direction; consequently she knew no more of that "nonsense"

(as she was pleased to call it) than Mr. Cruncher did. So her

manner of marketing was to plump a noun-substantive at the head of a

shopkeeper without any introduction in the nature of an article, and,

if it happened not to be the name of the thing she wanted, to look

round for that thing, lay hold of it, and hold on by it until the

bargain was concluded. She always made a bargain for it, by holding

up, as a statement of its just price, one finger less than the merchant

held up, whatever his number might be.

 

"Now, Mr. Cruncher," said Miss Pross, whose eyes were red with

felicity; "if you are ready, I am."

 

Jerry hoarsely professed himself at Miss Pross's service. He had worn

all his rust off long ago, but nothing would file his spiky head down.

 

"There's all manner of things wanted," said Miss Pross, "and we shall

have a precious time of it. We want wine, among the rest.

Nice toasts these Redheads will be drinking, wherever we buy it."

 

"It will be much the same to your knowledge, miss, I should think,"

retorted Jerry, "whether they drink your health or the Old Un's."

 

"Who's he?" said Miss Pross.

 

Mr. Cruncher, with some diffidence, explained himself as meaning "Old

Nick's."

 

"Ha!" said Miss Pross, "it doesn't need an interpreter to explain the

meaning of these creatures. They have but one, and it's Midnight

Murder, and Mischief."

 

"Hush, dear! Pray, pray, be cautious!" cried Lucie.

 

"Yes, yes, yes, I'll be cautious," said Miss Pross; "but I may say

among ourselves, that I do hope there will be no oniony and tobaccoey

smotherings in the form of embracings all round, going on in the

streets. Now, Ladybird, never you stir from that fire till I come

back! Take care of the dear husband you have recovered, and don't

move your pretty head from his shoulder as you have it now, till you

see me again! May I ask a question, Doctor Manette, before I go?"

 

"I think you may take that liberty," the Doctor answered, smiling.

 

"For gracious sake, don't talk about Liberty; we have quite enough of

that," said Miss Pross.

 

"Hush, dear! Again?" Lucie remonstrated.

 

"Well, my sweet," said Miss Pross, nodding her head emphatically,

"the short and the long of it is, that I am a subject of His Most

Gracious Majesty King George the Third;" Miss Pross curtseyed at the

name; "and as such, my maxim is, Confound their politics, Frustrate

their knavish tricks, On him our hopes we fix, God save the King!"

 

Mr. Cruncher, in an access of loyalty, growlingly repeated the words

after Miss Pross, like somebody at church.

 

"I am glad you have so much of the Englishman in you, though I wish

you had never taken that cold in your voice," said Miss Pross,

approvingly. "But the question, Doctor Manette. Is there"--it was

the good creature's way to affect to make light of anything that was

a great anxiety with them all, and to come at it in this chance

manner--"is there any prospect yet, of our getting out of this place?"

 

"I fear not yet. It would be dangerous for Charles yet."

 

"Heigh-ho-hum!" said Miss Pross, cheerfully repressing a sigh as she

glanced at her darling's golden hair in the light of the fire,

"then we must have patience and wait: that's all. We must hold up

our heads and fight low, as my brother Solomon used to say.

Now, Mr. Cruncher!--Don't you move, Ladybird!"

 

They went out, leaving Lucie, and her husband, her father, and the

child, by a bright fire. Mr. Lorry was expected back presently from

the Banking House. Miss Pross had lighted the lamp, but had put it

aside in a corner, that they might enjoy the fire-light undisturbed.

Little Lucie sat by her grandfather with her hands clasped through

his arm: and he, in a tone not rising much above a whisper, began to

tell her a story of a great and powerful Fairy who had opened a

prison-wall and let out a captive who had once done the Fairy a

service. All was subdued and quiet, and Lucie was more at ease than

she had been.

 

"What is that?" she cried, all at once.

 

"My dear!" said her father, stopping in his story, and laying his

hand on hers, "command yourself. What a disordered state you are in!

The least thing--nothing--startles you! _You_, your father's daughter!"

 

"I thought, my father," said Lucie, excusing herself, with a pale face

and in a faltering voice, "that I heard strange feet upon the stairs."

 

"My love, the staircase is as still as Death."

 

As he said the word, a blow was struck upon the door.

 

"Oh father, father. What can this be! Hide Charles. Save him!"

 

"My child," said the Doctor, rising, and laying his hand upon her

shoulder, "I _have_ saved him. What weakness is this, my dear!

Let me go to the door."

 

He took the lamp in his hand, crossed the two intervening outer

rooms, and opened it. A rude clattering of feet over the floor,

and four rough men in red caps, armed with sabres and pistols,

entered the room.

 

"The Citizen Evremonde, called Darnay," said the first.

 

"Who seeks him?" answered Darnay.

 

"I seek him. We seek him. I know you, Evremonde; I saw you before

the Tribunal to-day. You are again the prisoner of the Republic."

 

The four surrounded him, where he stood with his wife and child

clinging to him.

 

"Tell me how and why am I again a prisoner?"

 

"It is enough that you return straight to the Conciergerie, and will

know to-morrow. You are summoned for to-morrow."

 

Doctor Manette, whom this visitation had so turned into stone, that

he stood with the lamp in his hand, as if be woe a statue made to

hold it, moved after these words were spoken, put the lamp down, and

confronting the speaker, and taking him, not ungently, by the loose

front of his red woollen shirt, said:

 

"You know him, you have said. Do you know me?"

 

"Yes, I know you, Citizen Doctor."

 

"We all know you, Citizen Doctor," said the other three.

 

He looked abstractedly from one to another, and said, in a lower

voice, after a pause:

 

"Will you answer his question to me then? How does this happen?"

 

"Citizen Doctor," said the first, reluctantly, "he has been denounced

to the Section of Saint Antoine. This citizen," pointing out the

second who had entered, "is from Saint Antoine."

 

The citizen here indicated nodded his head, and added:

 

"He is accused by Saint Antoine."

 

"Of what?" asked the Doctor.

 

"Citizen Doctor," said the first, with his former reluctance, "ask no

more. If the Republic demands sacrifices from you, without doubt you

as a good patriot will be happy to make them. The Republic goes

before all. The People is supreme. Evremonde, we are pressed."

 

"One word," the Doctor entreated. "Will you tell me who denounced him?"

 

"It is against rule," answered the first; "but you can ask Him of

Saint Antoine here."

 

The Doctor turned his eyes upon that man. Who moved uneasily on his

feet, rubbed his beard a little, and at length said:

 

"Well! Truly it is against rule. But he is denounced--and

gravely--by the Citizen and Citizeness Defarge. And by one other."

 

"What other?"

 

"Do _you_ ask, Citizen Doctor?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Then," said he of Saint Antoine, with a strange look, "you will be

answered to-morrow. Now, I am dumb!"

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