For background on the project and to see all the chapters at once, go to the tag A Tale of Two Cities Project.
Chapter Six: The Shoemaker
“Good day!” said Madame Defarge, looking down at the white head that bent low over the shoemaking.
It was raised for a moment, and a very faint voice responded to the salutation, as if it were at a distance:
“You are still hard at work, I see?”
After a long silence, the head was lifted for another moment, and the voice replied, “Yes--I am working.” This time, a pair of haggard eyes had looked at the questioner, before the face had dropped again.
The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful. It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part in it. Its deplorable peculiarity was, that it was the faintness of solitude and disuse. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago. So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor weak stain. So sunken and suppressed it was, that it was like a voice underground. So expressive it was, of a hopeless and lost creature, that a famished traveller, wearied out by lonely wandering in a wilderness, would have remembered home and friends in such a tone before lying down to die.
Some minutes of silent work had passed: and the haggard eyes had looked up again: not with any interest or curiosity, but with a dull mechanical perception, beforehand, that the spot where the only visitor they were aware of had stood, was not yet empty.
“I want,” said Defarge, who had not removed her gaze from the shoemaker, “to let in a little more light here. You can bear a little more?”
The shoemaker stopped her work; looked with a vacant air of listening, at the floor on one side of her; then similarly, at the floor on the other side of her; then, upward at the speaker.
“What did you say?”
“You can bear a little more light?”
“I must bear it, if you let it in.” (Laying the palest shadow of a stress upon the second word.)
The opened half-door was opened a little further, and secured at that angle for the time. A broad ray of light fell into the garret, and showed the worker with an unfinished shoe upon her lap, pausing in her labour. Her few common tools and various scraps of leather were at her feet and on her bench. She had white hair, raggedly cut, but not very long, a hollow face, and exceedingly bright eyes. The hollowness and thinness of her face would have caused them to look large, under her yet dark eyebrows and her confused white hair, though they had been really otherwise; but, they were naturally large, and looked unnaturally so. Her yellow rags of shirt lay open at the throat, and showed her body to be withered and worn. She, and her old canvas frock, and her loose stockings, and all her poor tatters of clothes, had, in a long seclusion from direct light and air, faded down to such a dull uniformity of parchment-yellow, that it would have been hard to say which was which.
She had put up a hand between her eyes and the light, and the very bones of it seemed transparent. So she sat, with a steadfastly vacant gaze, pausing in her work. She never looked at the figure before her, without first looking down on this side of herself, then on that, as if she had lost the habit of associating place with sound; she never spoke, without first wandering in this manner, and forgetting to speak.
“Are you going to finish that pair of shoes to-day?” asked Defarge, motioning to Ms. Lorry to come forward.
“What did you say?”
“Do you mean to finish that pair of shoes to-day?”
“I can’t say that I mean to. I suppose so. I don’t know.”
But, the question reminded her of her work, and she bent over it again. Ms. Lorry came silently forward, leaving the son by the door. When she had stood, for a minute or two, by the side of Defarge, the shoemaker looked up. She showed no surprise at seeing another figure, but the unsteady fingers of one of her hands strayed to her lips as she looked at it (her lips and her nails were of the same pale lead-colour), and then the hand dropped to her work, and she once more bent over the shoe. The look and the action had occupied but an instant.
“You have a visitor, you see,” said Madame Defarge.
“What did you say?”
“Here is a visitor.”
The shoemaker looked up as before, but without removing a hand from her work.
“Come!” said Defarge. “Here is madame, who knows a well-made shoe when she sees one. Show her that shoe you are working at. Take it, madame.”
Ms. Lorry took it in her hand.
“Tell madame what kind of shoe it is, and the maker’s name.”
There was a longer pause than usual, before the shoemaker replied:
“I forget what it was you asked me. What did you say?”
“I said, couldn’t you describe the kind of shoe, for madame’s information?”
“It is a man’s shoe. It is a young man’s walking-shoe. It is in the present mode. I never saw the mode. I have had a pattern in my hand.” She glanced at the shoe with some little passing touch of pride.
“And the maker’s name?” said Defarge.
Now that she had no work to hold, she laid the knuckles of the right hand in the hollow of the left, and then the knuckles of the left hand in the hollow of the right, and then passed a hand across her chin, and so on in regular changes, without a moment’s intermission. The task of recalling her from the vagrancy into which she always sank when she had spoken, was like recalling some very weak person from a swoon, or endeavouring, in the hope of some disclosure, to stay the spirit of a fast-dying woman.
“Did you ask me for my name?”
“Assuredly I did.”
“One Hundred and Five, North Tower.”
“Is that all?”
“One Hundred and Five, North Tower.”
With a weary sound that was not a sigh, nor a groan, she bent to work again, until the silence was again broken.
“You are not a shoemaker by trade?” said Ms. Lorry, looking steadfastly at her.
Her haggard eyes turned to Defarge as if she would have transferred the question to her: but as no help came from that quarter, they turned back on the questioner when they had sought the ground.
“I am not a shoemaker by trade? No, I was not a shoemaker by trade. I-I learnt it here. I taught myself. I asked leave to--”
She lapsed away, even for minutes, ringing those measured changes on her hands the whole time. Her eyes came slowly back, at last, to the face from which they had wandered; when they rested on it, she started, and resumed, in the manner of a sleeper that moment awake, reverting to a subject of last night.
“I asked leave to teach myself, and I got it with much difficulty after a long while, and I have made shoes ever since.”
As she held out her hand for the shoe that had been taken from her, Ms. Lorry said, still looking steadfastly in her face:
“Madame Manette, do you remember nothing of me?”
The shoe dropped to the ground, and she sat looking fixedly at the questioner.
“Madame Manette”; Ms. Lorry laid her hand upon Defarge’s arm; “do you remember nothing of this woman? Look at her. Look at me. Is there no old banker, no old business, no old servant, no old time, rising in your mind, Madame Manette?”
As the captive of many years sat looking fixedly, by turns, at Ms. Lorry and at Defarge, some long obliterated marks of an actively intent intelligence in the middle of the forehead, gradually forced themselves through the black mist that had fallen on her. They were overclouded again, they were fainter, they were gone; but they had been there. And so exactly was the expression repeated on the fair young face of he who had crept along the wall to a point where he could see her, and where he now stood looking at her, with hands which at first had been only raised in frightened compassion, if not even to keep her off and shut out the sight of her, but which were now extending towards her, trembling with eagerness to lay the spectral face upon his warm young breast, and love it back to life and hope--so exactly was the expression repeated (though in stronger characters) on his fair young face, that it looked as though it had passed like a moving light, from her to him.
Darkness had fallen on her in its place. She looked at the two, less and less attentively, and her eyes in gloomy abstraction sought the ground and looked about her in the old way. Finally, with a deep long sigh, she took the shoe up, and resumed her work.
“Have you recognised her, madame?” asked Defarge in a whisper.
“Yes; for a moment. At first I thought it quite hopeless, but I have unquestionably seen, for a single moment, the face that I once knew so well. Hush! Let us draw further back. Hush!”
He had moved from the wall of the garret, very near to the bench on which she sat. There was something awful in her unconsciousness of the figure that could have put out its hand and touched her as she stooped over her labour.
Not a word was spoken, not a sound was made. He stood, like a spirit, beside her, and she bent over her work.
It happened, at length, that she had occasion to change the instrument in her hand, for her shoemaker’s knife. It lay on that side of her which was not the side on which he stood. She had taken it up, and was stooping to work again, when her eyes caught the hem of his pants. She raised them, and saw his face. The two spectators started forward, but he stayed them with a motion of his hand. He had no fear of her striking at him with the knife, though they had.
She stared at him with a fearful look, and after a while her lips began to form some words, though no sound proceeded from them. By degrees, in the pauses of her quick and laboured breathing, she was heard to say:
“What is this?”
With the tears streaming down his face, he put his two hands to his lips, and kissed them to her; then clasped them on his breast, as if he laid her ruined head there.
“You are not the gaoler’s son?”
He sighed “No.”
“Who are you?”
Not yet trusting the tones of his voice, he sat down on the bench beside her. She recoiled, but he laid his hand upon her arm. A strange thrill struck her when he did so, and visibly passed over her frame; she laid the knife down softly, as she sat staring at him.
His golden hair had been hurriedly pushed aside, and fell down over his neck. Advancing her hand by little and little, she took it up and looked at it. In the midst of the action she went astray, and, with another deep sigh, fell to work at her shoemaking.
But not for long. Releasing her arm, he laid his hand upon her shoulder. After looking doubtfully at it, two or three times, as if to be sure that it was really there, she laid down her work, put her hand to her neck, and took off a blackened string with a scrap of folded rag attached to it. She opened this, carefully, on her knee, and it contained a very little quantity of hair: not more than one or two long golden hairs, which she had, in some old day, wound off upon her finger.
She took his hair into her hand again, and looked closely at it. “It is the same. How can it be! When was it! How was it!”
As the concentrated expression returned to her forehead, she seemed to become conscious that it was in his too. She turned his full to the light, and looked at him.
“He had laid his head upon my shoulder, that night when I was summoned out--he had a fear of my going, though I had none--and when I was brought to the North Tower they found these upon my sleeve. ‘You will leave me them? They can never help me to escape in the body, though they may in the spirit.’ Those were the words I said. I remember them very well.”
She formed this speech with her lips many times before she could utter it. But when she did find spoken words for it, they came to her coherently, though slowly.
“How was this?--Was it you?”
Once more, the two spectators started, as she turned upon him with a frightful suddenness. But he sat perfectly still in her grasp, and only said, in a low voice, “I entreat you, good women, do not come near us, do not speak, do not move!”
“Hark!” she exclaimed. “Whose voice was that?”
Her hands released him as she uttered this cry, and went up to her white hair, which they tore in a frenzy. It died out, as everything but her shoemaking did die out of her, and she refolded her little packet and tried to secure it in her breast; but she still looked at him, and gloomily shook her head.
“No, no, no; you are too young, too blooming. It can’t be. See what the prisoner is. These are not the hands he knew, this is not the face he knew, this is not a voice he ever heard. No, no. He was--and She was--before the slow years of the North Tower--ages ago. What is your name, my gentle angel?”
Hailing her softened tone and manner, her daughter fell upon his knees before her, with his appealing hands upon her breast.
“O, madame, at another time you shall know my name, and who my father was, and who my mother, and how I never knew their hard, hard history. But I cannot tell you at this time, and I cannot tell you here. All that I may tell you, here and now, is, that I pray to you to touch me and to bless me. Kiss me, kiss me! O my dear, my dear!”
Her cold white head mingled with his radiant hair, which warmed and lighted it as though it were the light of Freedom shining on her.
“If you hear in my voice--I don’t know that it is so, but I hope it is--if you hear in my voice any resemblance to a voice that once was sweet music in your ears, weep for it, weep for it! If you touch, in touching my hair, anything that recalls a beloved head that lay on your breast when you were young and free, weep for it, weep for it! If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!”
He held her closer round the neck, and rocked her on his breast like a child.
“If, when I tell you, dearest dear, that your agony is over, and that I have come here to take you from it, and that we go to England to be at peace and at rest, I cause you to think of your useful life laid waste, and of our native France so wicked to you, weep for it, weep for it! And if, when I shall tell you of my name, and of my mother who is living, and of my father who is dead, you learn that I have to kneel to my honoured mother, and implore her pardon for having never for her sake striven all day and lain awake and wept all night, because the love of my poor father hid her torture from me, weep for it, weep for it! Weep for him, then, and for me! Good ladies, thank God! I feel her sacred tears upon my face, and her sobs strike against my heart. O, see! Thank God for us, thank God!”
She had sunk in his arms, and her face dropped on his breast: a sight so touching, yet so terrible in the tremendous wrong and suffering which had gone before it, that the two beholders covered their faces.
When the quiet of the garret had been long undisturbed, and her heaving breast and shaken form had long yielded to the calm that must follow all storms--emblem to humanity, of the rest and silence into which the storm called Life must hush at last--they came forward to raise the mother and son from the ground. She had gradually dropped to the floor, and lay there in a lethargy, worn out. He had nestled down with her, that her head might lie upon his arm; and his hair drooping over her curtained her from the light.
“If, without disturbing her,” he said, raising his hand to Ms. Lorry as she stooped over them, after repeated blowings of her nose, “all could be arranged for our leaving Paris at once, so that, from the very door, she could be taken away--”
“But, consider. Is she fit for the journey?” asked Ms. Lorry.
“More fit for that, I think, than to remain in this city, so dreadful to her.”
“It is true,” said Defarge, who was kneeling to look on and hear. “More than that; Madame Manette is, for all reasons, best out of France. Say, shall I hire a carriage and post-horses?”
“That’s business,” said Ms. Lorry, resuming on the shortest notice her methodical manners; “and if business is to be done, I had better do it.”
“Then be so kind,” urged Mr. Manette, “as to leave us here. You see how composed she has become, and you cannot be afraid to leave her with me now. Why should you be? If you will lock the door to secure us from interruption, I do not doubt that you will find her, when you come back, as quiet as you leave him. In any case, I will take care of her until you return, and then we will remove her straight.”
Both Ms. Lorry and Defarge were rather disinclined to this course, and in favour of one of them remaining. But, as there were not only carriage and horses to be seen to, but travelling papers; and as time pressed, for the day was drawing to an end, it came at last to their hastily dividing the business that was necessary to be done, and hurrying away to do it.
Then, as the darkness closed in, the son laid his head down on the hard ground close at the mother’s side, and watched her. The darkness deepened and deepened, and they both lay quiet, until a light gleamed through the chinks in the wall.
Ms. Lorry and Madame Defarge had made all ready for the journey, and had brought with them, besides travelling cloaks and wrappers, bread and meat, wine, and hot coffee. Madame Defarge put this provender, and the lamp she carried, on the shoemaker’s bench (there was nothing else in the garret but a pallet bed), and she and Ms. Lorry roused the captive, and assisted her to her feet.
No human intelligence could have read the mysteries of her mind, in the scared blank wonder of her face. Whether she knew what had happened, whether she recollected what they had said to her, whether she knew that she was free, were questions which no sagacity could have solved. They tried speaking to her; but, she was so confused, and so very slow to answer, that they took fright at her bewilderment, and agreed for the time to tamper with her no more. She had a wild, lost manner of occasionally clasping her head in her hands, that had not been seen in her before; yet, she had some pleasure in the mere sound of her son’s voice, and invariably turned to it when he spoke.
In the submissive way of one long accustomed to obey under coercion, she ate and drank what they gave her to eat and drink, and put on the cloak and other wrappings, that they gave her to wear. She readily responded to her son’s drawing his arm through hers, and took--and kept--his hand in both her own.
They began to descend; Madame Defarge going first with the lamp, Ms. Lorry closing the little procession. They had not traversed many steps of the long main staircase when she stopped, and stared at the roof and round at the walls.
“You remember the place, my mother? You remember coming up here?”
“What did you say?”
But, before he could repeat the question, she murmured an answer as if he had repeated it.
“Remember? No, I don’t remember. It was so very long ago.”
That she had no recollection whatever of her having been brought from her prison to that house, was apparent to them. They heard her mutter, “One Hundred and Five, North Tower;” and when she looked about her, it evidently was for the strong fortress-walls which had long encompassed her. On their reaching the courtyard she instinctively altered her tread, as being in expectation of a drawbridge; and when there was no drawbridge, and she saw the carriage waiting in the open street, she dropped her son’s hand and clasped her head again.
No crowd was about the door; no people were discernible at any of the many windows; not even a chance passerby was in the street. An unnatural silence and desertion reigned there. Only one soul was to be seen, and that was Monsieur Defarge--who leaned against the door-post, knitting, and saw nothing.
The prisoner had got into a coach, and her son had followed her, when Ms. Lorry’s feet were arrested on the step by her asking, miserably, for her shoemaking tools and the unfinished shoes. Monsieur Defarge immediately called to his wife that he would get them, and went, knitting, out of the lamplight, through the courtyard. He quickly brought them down and handed them in;--and immediately afterwards leaned against the door-post, knitting, and saw nothing.
Defarge got upon the box, and gave the word “To the Barrier!” The postilion cracked her whip, and they clattered away under the feeble over-swinging lamps.
Under the over-swinging lamps--swinging ever brighter in the better streets, and ever dimmer in the worse--and by lighted shops, gay crowds, illuminated coffee-houses, and theatre-doors, to one of the city gates. Soldiers with lanterns, at the guard-house there. “Your papers, travellers!” “See here then, Madame the Officer,” said Defarge, getting down, and taking her gravely apart, “these are the papers of madame inside, with the white head. They were consigned to me, with her, at the--” She dropped her voice, there was a flutter among the military lanterns, and one of them being handed into the coach by an arm in uniform, the eyes connected with the arm looked, not an every day or an every night look, at madame with the white head. “It is well. Forward!” from the uniform. “Adieu!” from Defarge. And so, under a short grove of feebler and feebler over-swinging lamps, out under the great grove of stars.
Beneath that arch of unmoved and eternal lights; some, so remote from this little earth that the learned tell us it is doubtful whether their rays have even yet discovered it, as a point in space where anything is suffered or done: the shadows of the night were broad and black. All through the cold and restless interval, until dawn, they once more whispered in the ears of Ms. Jarvis Lorry--sitting opposite the buried woman who had been dug out, and wondering what subtle powers were for ever lost to her, and what were capable of restoration--the old inquiry:
“I hope you care to be recalled to life?”
And the old answer:
“I can’t say.”
The end of the first book.