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Chapter Five: The Wine-shop: A Tale of Two Cities with Women

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Chapter Five: The Wine-shop

A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken, in the street. The accident had happened in getting it out of a cart; the cask had tumbled out with a run, the hoops had burst, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell.

All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some people kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help others, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there, to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sodden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish. There was no drainage to carry off the wine, and not only did it all get taken up, but so much mud got taken up along with it, that there might have been a scavenger in the street, if anybody acquainted with it could have believed in such a miraculous presence.

A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices--voices of men, women, and children--resounded in the street while this wine game lasted. There was little roughness in the sport, and much playfulness. There was a special companionship in it, an observable inclination on the part of every one to join some other one, which led, especially among the luckier or lighter-hearted, to frolicsome embraces, drinking of healths, shaking of hands, and even joining of hands and dancing, a dozen together. When the wine was gone, and the places where it had been most abundant were raked into a gridiron-pattern by fingers, these demonstrations ceased, as suddenly as they had broken out. The woman who had left her saw sticking in the firewood she was cutting, set it in motion again; the man who had left on a door-step the little pot of hot ashes, at which he had been trying to soften the pain in his own starved fingers and toes, or in those of his child, returned to it; women with bare arms, matted locks, and cadaverous faces, who had emerged into the winter light from cellars, moved away, to descend again; and a gloom gathered on the scene that appeared more natural to it than sunshine. 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. The hands of the woman who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the man who held his child, was stained with the stain of the old rag he wound about his head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, her head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with her finger dipped in muddy wine-lees--BLOOD.

The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.

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 and ladies in waiting on the saintly presence--nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; 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 sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the woman sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of her scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.

Its abiding place was in all things fitted to it. A narrow winding street, full of offence and stench, with other narrow winding streets diverging, all peopled by rags and nightcaps, and all smelling of rags and nightcaps, and all visible things with a brooding look upon them that looked ill. In the hunted air of the people there was yet some wild-beast thought of the possibility of turning at bay. Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting. The trade signs (and they were almost as many as the shops) were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the pork person painted up, only the leanest scrags of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves. The people rudely pictured as drinking in the wine-shops, croaked over their scanty measures of thin wine and beer, and were gloweringly confidential together. Nothing was represented in a flourishing condition, save tools and weapons; but, the cutler’s knives and axes were sharp and bright, the smith’s hammers were heavy, and the gunmaker’s stock was murderous. The crippling stones of the pavement, with their many little reservoirs of mud and water, had no footways, but broke off abruptly at the doors. The kennel, to make amends, ran down the middle of the street--when it ran at all: which was only after heavy rains, and then it ran, by many eccentric fits, into the houses. Across the streets, at wide intervals, one clumsy lamp was slung by a rope and pulley; at night, when the lamplighter had let these down, and lighted, and hoisted them again, a feeble grove of dim wicks swung in a sickly manner overhead, as if they were at sea. Indeed they were at sea, and the ship and crew were in peril of tempest.

For, the time was to come, when the gaunt scarecrows of that region should have watched the lamplighter, in their idleness and hunger, so long, as to conceive the idea of improving on her method, and hauling up people by those ropes and pulleys, to flare upon the darkness of their condition. But, the time was not come yet; and every wind that blew over France shook the rags of the scarecrows in vain, for the birds, fine of song and feather, took no warning.

The wine-shop was a corner shop, better than most others in its appearance and degree, and the owner of the wine-shop had stood outside it, in a yellow waistcoat and green breeches, looking on at the struggle for the lost wine. “It’s not my affair,” said she, with a final shrug of the shoulders. “The people from the market did it. Let them bring another.”

There, her eyes happening to catch the tall joker writing up her joke, she called to her across the way:

“Say, then, my Gabrielle, what do you do there?”

The girl pointed to her joke with immense significance, as is often the way with her tribe. It missed its mark, and completely failed, as is often the way with her tribe too.

“What now? Are you a subject for the mad hospital?” said the wine-shop keeper, crossing the road, and obliterating the jest with a handful of mud, picked up for the purpose, and smeared over it. “Why do you write in the public streets? Is there--tell me thou--is there no other place to write such words in?”

In her expostulation she dropped her cleaner hand (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) upon the joker’s heart. The joker rapped it with her own, took a nimble spring upward, and came down in a fantastic dancing attitude, with one of her stained shoes jerked off her foot into her hand, and held out. A joker of an extremely, not to say wolfishly practical character, she looked, under those circumstances.

“Put it on, put it on,” said the other. “Call wine, wine; and finish there.” With that advice, she wiped her soiled hand upon the joker’s dress, such as it was--quite deliberately, as having dirtied the hand on her account; and then recrossed the road and entered the wine-shop.

This wine-shop keeper was a bull-necked, martial-looking woman of thirty, and she should have been of a hot temperament, for, although it was a bitter day, she wore no coat, but carried one slung over her shoulder. Her shirt-sleeves were rolled up, too, and her brown arms were bare to the elbows. Neither did she wear anything more on her head than her own crisply-curling short dark hair. She was a dark woman altogether, with good eyes and a good bold breadth between them. Good-humoured looking on the whole, but implacable-looking, too; evidently a woman of a strong resolution and a set purpose; a woman not desirable to be met, rushing down a narrow pass with a gulf on either side, for nothing would turn the woman.

Monsieur Defarge, her husband, sat in the shop behind the counter as she came in. Monsieur Defarge was a stout man of about her own age, with a watchful eye that seldom seemed to look at anything, a large hand heavily ringed, a steady face, strong features, and great composure of manner. There was a character about Monsieur Defarge, from which one might have predicated that he did not often make mistakes against himself in any of the reckonings over which he presided. Monsieur Defarge being sensitive to cold, was wrapped in fur, and had a quantity of bright shawl twined about his head, though not to the concealment of his large ears. His knitting was before him, but he had laid it down to pick his teeth with a toothpick. Thus engaged, with his right elbow supported by his left hand, Monsieur Defarge said nothing when his lady came in, but coughed just one grain of cough. This, in combination with the lifting of his darkly defined eyebrows over his toothpick by the breadth of a line, suggested to his wife that she would do well to look round the shop among the customers, for any new customer who had dropped in while she stepped over the way.

The wine-shop keeper accordingly rolled her eyes about, until they rested upon an elderly lady and a young man, who were seated in a corner. Other company were there: two playing cards, two playing dominoes, three standing by the counter lengthening out a short supply of wine. As she passed behind the counter, she took notice that the elderly lady said in a look to the young man, “This is our woman.”

“What the devil do you do in that galley there?” said Madame Defarge to herself; “I don’t know you.”

But, she feigned not to notice the two strangers, and fell into discourse with the triumvirate of customers who were drinking at the counter.

“How goes it, Jacqueline?” said one of these three to Madame Defarge. “Is all the spilt wine swallowed?”

“Every drop, Jacqueline,” answered Madame Defarge.

When this interchange of Christian name was effected, Monsieur Defarge, picking his teeth with his toothpick, coughed another grain of cough, and raised his eyebrows by the breadth of another line.

“It is not often,” said the second of the three, addressing Madame Defarge, “that many of these miserable beasts know the taste of wine, or of anything but black bread and death. Is it not so, Jacqueline?”

“It is so, Jacqueline,” Madame Defarge returned.

At this second interchange of the Christian name, Monsieur Defarge, still using his toothpick with profound composure, coughed another grain of cough, and raised his eyebrows by the breadth of another line.

The last of the three now said her say, as she put down her empty drinking vessel and smacked her lips.

“Ah! So much the worse! A bitter taste it is that such poor cattle always have in their mouths, and hard lives they live, Jacqueline. Am I right, Jacqueline?”

“You are right, Jacqueline,” was the response of Madame Defarge.

This third interchange of the Christian name was completed at the moment when Monsieur Defarge put his toothpick by, kept his eyebrows up, and slightly rustled in his seat.

“Hold then! True!” muttered his wife. “Ladies--my husband!”

The three customers pulled off their hats to Monsieur Defarge, with three flourishes. He acknowledged their homage by bending his head, and giving them a quick look. Then he glanced in a casual manner round the wine-shop, took up his knitting with great apparent calmness and repose of spirit, and became absorbed in it.

“Ladies,” said his wife, who had kept her bright eye observantly upon him, “good day. The chamber, furnished bachelor-fashion, that you wished to see, and were inquiring for when I stepped out, is on the fifth floor. The doorway of the staircase gives on the little courtyard close to the left here,” pointing with her hand, “near to the window of my establishment. But, now that I remember, one of you has already been there, and can show the way. Ladies, adieu!”

They paid for their wine, and left the place. The eyes of Madame Defarge were studying her husband at his knitting when the elderly lady advanced from her corner, and begged the favour of a word.

“Willingly, ma’am,” said Madame Defarge, and quietly stepped with her to the door.

Their conference was very short, but very decided. Almost at the first word, Madame Defarge started and became deeply attentive. It had not lasted a minute, when she nodded and went out. The lady then beckoned to the young man, and they, too, went out. Monsieur Defarge knitted with nimble fingers and steady eyebrows, and saw nothing.

Ms. Jarvis Lorry and Mr. Manette, emerging from the wine-shop thus, joined Madame Defarge in the doorway to which she had directed her own company just before. It opened from a stinking little black courtyard, and was the general public entrance to a great pile of houses, inhabited by a great number of people. In the gloomy tile-paved entry to the gloomy tile-paved staircase, Madame Defarge bent down on one knee to the child of her old mistress, and put his hand to her lips. It was a gentle action, but not at all gently done; a very remarkable transformation had come over her in a few seconds. She had no good-humour in her face, nor any openness of aspect left, but had become a secret, angry, dangerous woman.

“It is very high; it is a little difficult. Better to begin slowly.” Thus, Madame Defarge, in a stern voice, to Ms. Lorry, as they began ascending the stairs.

“Is she alone?” the latter whispered.

“Alone! God help her, who should be with her!” said the other, in the same low voice.

“Is she always alone, then?”

“Yes.”

“Of her own desire?”

“Of her own necessity. As she was, when I first saw her after they found me and demanded to know if I would take her, and, at my peril be discreet--as she was then, so she is now.”

“She is greatly changed?”

“Changed!”

The keeper of the wine-shop stopped to strike the wall with her hand, and mutter a tremendous curse. No direct answer could have been half so forcible. Ms. Lorry’s spirits grew heavier and heavier, as she and her two companions ascended higher and higher.

Such a staircase, with its accessories, in the older and more crowded parts of Paris, would be bad enough now; but, at that time, it was vile indeed to unaccustomed and unhardened senses. Every little habitation within the great foul nest of one high building--that is to say, the room or rooms within every door that opened on the general staircase--left its own heap of refuse on its own landing, besides flinging other refuse from its own windows. The uncontrollable and hopeless mass of decomposition so engendered, would have polluted the air, even if poverty and deprivation had not loaded it with their intangible impurities; the two bad sources combined made it almost insupportable. Through such an atmosphere, by a steep dark shaft of dirt and poison, the way lay. Yielding to her own disturbance of mind, and to her young companion’s agitation, which became greater every instant, Ms. Jarvis Lorry twice stopped to rest. Each of these stoppages was made at a doleful grating, by which any languishing good airs that were left uncorrupted, seemed to escape, and all spoilt and sickly vapours seemed to crawl in. Through the rusted bars, tastes, rather than glimpses, were caught of the jumbled neighbourhood; and nothing within range, nearer or lower than the summits of the two great towers of Notre-Dame, had any promise on it of healthy life or wholesome aspirations.

At last, the top of the staircase was gained, and they stopped for the third time. There was yet an upper staircase, of a steeper inclination and of contracted dimensions, to be ascended, before the garret story was reached. The keeper of the wine-shop, always going a little in advance, and always going on the side which Ms. Lorry took, as though she dreaded to be asked any question by the young man, turned herself about here, and, carefully feeling in the pockets of the coat she carried over her shoulder, took out a key.

“The door is locked then, my friend?” said Ms. Lorry, surprised.

“Ay. Yes,” was the grim reply of Madame Defarge.

“You think it necessary to keep the unfortunate woman so retired?”

“I think it necessary to turn the key.” Madame Defarge whispered it closer in her ear, and frowned heavily.

“Why?”

“Why! Because she has lived so long, locked up, that she would be frightened--rave--tear herself to pieces--die--come to I know not what harm--if her door was left open.”

“Is it possible!” exclaimed Ms. Lorry.

“Is it possible!” repeated Defarge, bitterly. “Yes. And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done--done, see you!--under that sky there, every day. Long live the Devil. Let us go on.”

This dialogue had been held in so very low a whisper, that not a word of it had reached the young man’s ears. But, by this time he trembled under such strong emotion, and his face expressed such deep anxiety, and, above all, such dread and terror, that Ms. Lorry felt it incumbent on her to speak a word or two of reassurance.

“Courage, dear sir! Courage! Business! The worst will be over in a moment; it is but passing the room-door, and the worst is over. Then, all the good you bring to her, all the relief, all the happiness you bring to her, begin. Let our good friend here, assist you on that side. That’s well, friend Defarge. Come, now. Business, business!”

They went up slowly and softly. The staircase was short, and they were soon at the top. There, as it had an abrupt turn in it, they came all at once in sight of three women, whose heads were bent down close together at the side of a door, and who were intently looking into the room to which the door belonged, through some chinks or holes in the wall. On hearing footsteps close at hand, these three turned, and rose, and showed themselves to be the three of one name who had been drinking in the wine-shop.

“I forgot them in the surprise of your visit,” explained Madame Defarge. “Leave us, good girls; we have business here.”

The three glided by, and went silently down.

There appearing to be no other door on that floor, and the keeper of the wine-shop going straight to this one when they were left alone, Ms. Lorry asked her in a whisper, with a little anger:

“Do you make a show of Madame Manette?”

“I show her, in the way you have seen, to a chosen few.”

“Is that well?”

I think it is well.”

“Who are the few? How do you choose them?”

“I choose them as real women, of my name--Jacqueline is my name--to whom the sight is likely to do good. Enough; you are English; that is another thing. Stay there, if you please, a little moment.”

With an admonitory gesture to keep them back, she stooped, and looked in through the crevice in the wall. Soon raising her head again, she struck twice or thrice upon the door--evidently with no other object than to make a noise there. With the same intention, she drew the key across it, three or four times, before she put it clumsily into the lock, and turned it as heavily as she could.

The door slowly opened inward under her hand, and she looked into the room and said something. A faint voice answered something. Little more than a single syllable could have been spoken on either side.

She looked back over her shoulder, and beckoned them to enter. Ms. Lorry got her arm securely round the son’s waist, and held him; for she felt that he was sinking.

“A-a-a-business, business!” she urged, with a moisture that was not of business shining on her cheek. “Come in, come in!”

“I am afraid of it,” he answered, shuddering.

“Of it? What?”

“I mean of her. Of my mother.”

Rendered in a manner desperate, by his state and by the beckoning of their conductor, she drew over his neck the arm that shook upon her shoulder, lifted his a little, and hurried him into the room. She sat him down just within the door, and held him, clinging to her.

Defarge drew out the key, closed the door, locked it on the inside, took out the key again, and held it in her hand. All this she did, methodically, and with as loud and harsh an accompaniment of noise as she could make. Finally, she walked across the room with a measured tread to where the window was. She stopped there, and faced round.

The garret, built to be a depository for firewood and the like, was dim and dark: for, the window of dormer shape, was in truth a door in the roof, with a little crane over it for the hoisting up of stores from the street: unglazed, and closing up the middle in two pieces, like any other door of French construction. To exclude the cold, one half of this door was fast closed, and the other was opened but a very little way. Such a scanty portion of light was admitted through these means, that it was difficult, on first coming in, to see anything; and long habit alone could have slowly formed in any one, the ability to do any work requiring nicety in such obscurity. Yet, work of that kind was being done in the garret; for, with her back towards the door, and her face towards the window where the keeper of the wine-shop stood looking at her, a white-haired woman sat on a low bench, stooping forward and very busy, making shoes.

This chapter got confusing, going back and forth with the Defarges and making sure I got their new genders accurate. I like the idea of Monsieur Defarge being the knitter now. Since knitting is typically thought of as a woman's hobby I think giving it to a man disarms the audience more.

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