THE TRAVELLER fared slowly on his way, who fared towards Parisfrom England in the autumn of the year one thousand seven hundredand ninety-two. More than enough of bad roads, bad equipages, andbad horses, he would have encountered to delay him, though thefallen and unfortunate King of France had been upon his throne inall his glory; but, the changed times were fraught with otherobstacles than these. Every town-gate and village taxing-house had itsband of citizen-patriots, with their national muskets in a mostexplosive state of readiness, who stopped all comers and goers,cross-questioned them, inspected their papers, looked for theirnames in lists of their own, turned them back, or sent them on, orstopped them and laid them in hold, as their capricious judgment orfancy deemed best for the dawning Republic One and Indivisible, ofLiberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death.
A very few French leagues of his journey were accomplished, whenCharles Darnay began to perceive that for him along these countryroads there was no hope of return until he should have been declared agood citizen at Paris. Whatever might befall now, he must on to hisjourney's end. Not a mean village closed upon him, not a commonbarrier dropped across the road behind him, but he knew it to beanother iron door in the series that was barred between him andEngland. The universal watchfulness so encompassed him, that if he hadbeen taken in a net, or were being forwarded to his destination in acage, he could not have felt his freedom more completely gone.
This universal watchfulness not only stopped him on the highwaytwenty times in a stage, but retarded his progress twenty times in aday, by riding after him and taking him back, riding before him andstopping him by anticipation, riding with him and keeping him incharge. He had been days upon his journey in France alone, when hewent to bed tired out, in a little town on the high road, still a longway from Paris.
Nothing but the production of the afflicted Gabelle's letter fromhis prison of the Abbaye would have got him on so far. Hisdifficulty at the guard-house in this small place had been such,that he felt his journey to have come to a crisis. And he was,therefore, as little surprised as a man could be, to find himselfawakened at the small inn to which he had been remitted until morning,in the middle of the night.
Awakened by a timid local functionary and three armed patriots inrough red caps and with pipes in their mouths, who sat down on thebed.
"Emigrant," said the functionary, "I am going to send you on toParis, under an escort."
"Citizen, I desire nothing more than to get to Paris, though I coulddispense with the escort."
"Silence!" growled a red-cap, striking at the coverlet with thebutt-end of his musket. "Peace, aristocrat!"
"It is as the good patriot says," observed the timid functionary."You are an aristocrat, and must have an escort- and must pay for it."
"I have no choice," said Charles Darnay.
"Choice! Listen to him!" cried the same scowling red-cap. "As ifit was not a favour to be protected from the lamp-iron!"
"It is always as the good patriot says," observed the functionary."Rise and dress yourself, emigrant."
Darnay complied, and was taken back to the guard-house, whereother patriots in rough red caps were smoking, drinking, and sleeping,by a watch-fire. Here he paid a heavy price for his escort, andhence he started with it on the wet, wet roads at three o'clock in themorning.
The escort were two mounted patriots in red caps and tri-colouredcockades, armed with national muskets and sabres, who rode one oneither side of him.
The escorted governed his own horse, but a loose line was attachedto his bridle, the end of which one of the patriots kept girdedround his wrist. In this state they set forth with the sharp raindriving in their faces: clattering at a heavy dragoon trot over theuneven town pavement, and out upon the mire-deep roads. In thisstate they traversed without change, except of horses and pace, allthe mire-deep leagues that lay between them and the capital.
They travelled in the night, halting an hour or two afterdaybreak, and lying by until the twilight fell. The escort were sowretchedly clothed, that they twisted straw round their bare legs, andthatched their ragged shoulders to keep the wet off. Apart from thepersonal discomfort of being so attended, and apart from suchconsiderations of present danger as arose from one of the patriotsbeing chronically drunk, and carrying his musket very recklessly,Charles Darnay did not allow the restraint that was laid upon him toawaken any serious fears in his breast; for, be reasoned withhimself that it could have no reference to the merits of an individualcase that was not yet stated, and of representations, confirmable bythe prisoner in the Abbaye, that were not yet made.
But when they came to the town of Beauvais- which they did ateventide, when the streets were filled with people- he could notconceal from himself that the aspect of affairs was very alarming.An ominous crowd gathered to see him dismount of the posting-yard, andmany voices called out loudly, "Down with the emigrant!"
He stopped in the act of swinging himself out of his saddle, and,resuming it as his safest place, said:
"Emigrant, my friends! Do you not see me here, in France, of myown will?"
"You are a cursed emigrant," cried a farrier, making at him in afurious manner through the press, hammer in hand; "and you are acursed aristocrat!"
The postmaster interposed himself between this man and the rider'sbridle (at which he was evidently making), and soothingly said, "Lethim be; let him be! He will be judged at Paris."
"Judged!" repeated the farrier, swinging his hammer. "Ay! andcondemned as a traitor." At this the crowd roared approval.
Checking the postmaster, who was for turning his horse's head to theyard (the drunken patriot sat composedly in his saddle looking on,with the line round his wrist), Darnay said, as soon as he couldmake his voice heard:
"Friends, you deceive yourselves, or you are deceived. I am not atraitor."
"He lies!" cried the smith. "He is a traitor since the decree. Hislife is forfeit to the people. His cursed life is not his own!"
At the instant when Darnay saw a rush in the eyes of the crowd,which another instant would have brought upon him, the postmasterturned his horse into the yard, the escort rode in close upon hishorse's flanks, and the postmaster shut and barred the crazy doublegates. The farrier struck a blow upon them with his hammer, and thecrowd groaned; but, no more was done.
"What is this decree that the smith spoke of?" Darnay asked thepostmaster, when he had thanked him, and stood beside him in the yard."Truly, a decree for selling the property of emigrants."
"On the fourteenth."
"The day I left England!"
"Everybody says it is but one of several, and that there will beothers- if there are not already- banishing all emigrants, andcondemning all to death who return. That is what he meant when he saidyour life was not your own."
"But there are no such decrees yet?"
"What do I know!" said the postmaster, shrugging his shoulders;"there may be, or there will be. It is all the same. What would youhave?"
They rested on some straw in a loft until the middle of the night,and then rode forward again when all the town was asleep. Among themany wild changes observable on familiar things which made this wildride unreal, not the least was the seeming rarity of sleep. After longand lonely spurring over dreary roads, they would come to a cluster ofpoor cottages, not steeped in darkness, but all glittering withlights, and would find the people, in a ghostly manner in the deadof the night, circling hand in hand round a shrivelled tree ofLiberty, or all drawn up together singing a Liberty song. Happily,however, there was sleep in Beauvais that night to help them out of itand they passed on once more into solitude and loneliness: jinglingthrough the untimely cold and wet, among impoverished fields thathad yielded no fruits of the earth that year, diversified by theblackened remains of burnt houses, and by the sudden emergence fromambuscade, and sharp reining up across their way, of patriot patrolson the watch on all the roads.
Daylight at last found them before the wall of Paris. The barrierwas closed and strongly guarded when they rode up to it.
"Where are the papers of this prisoner?" demanded a resolute-lookingman in authority, who was summoned out by the guard.
Naturally struck by the disagreeable word, Charles Darnayrequested the speaker to take notice that he was a free travellerand French citizen, in charge of an escort which the disturbed stateof the country had imposed upon him, and which he had paid for.
"Where," repeated the same personage, without taking any heed of himwhatever, "are the papers of this prisoner?"
The drunken patriot had them in his cap, and produced them.Casting his eyes over Gabelle's letter, the same personage inauthority showed some disorder and surprise, and looked at Darnay witha close attention.
He left escort and escorted without saying a word, however, and wentinto the guard-room; meanwhile, they sat upon their horses outside thegate. Looking about him while in this state of suspense, CharlesDarnay observed that the gate was held by a mixed guard of soldiersand patriots, the latter far outnumbering the former; and that whileingress into the city for peasants' carts bringing in supplies, andfor similar traffic and traffickers, was easy enough, egress, even forthe homeliest people, was very difficult. A numerous medley of men andwomen, not to mention beasts and vehicles of various sorts, waswaiting to issue forth; but, the previous identification was sostrict, that they filtered through the barrier very slowly. Some ofthese people knew their turn for examination to be so far off, thatthey lay down on the ground to sleep or smoke, while others talkedtogether, or loitered about. The red cap and tricolour cockade wereuniversal, both among men and women.
When he had sat in his saddle some half-hour, taking note of thesethings, Darnay found himself confronted by the same man inauthority, who directed the guard to open the barrier. Then hedelivered to the escort, drunk and sober, a receipt for theescorted, and requested him to dismount. He did so, and the twopatriots, leading his tired horse, turned and rode away withoutentering the city.
He accompanied his conductor into a guard-room, smelling of commonwine and tobacco, where certain soldiers and patriots, asleep andawake, drunk and sober, and in various neutral states between sleepingand waking, drunkenness and sobriety, were standing and lying about.The light in the guard-house, half derived from the waning oil-lampsof the night, and half from the overcast day, was in a correspondinglyuncertain condition. Some registers were lying open on a desk, andan officer of a coarse, dark aspect, presided over these.
"Citizen Defarge," said he to Darnay's conductor, as he took aslip of paper to write on. "Is this the emigrant Evremonde?"
"This is the man."
"Your age, Evremonde?"
"Without doubt. Where is your wife, Evremonde?"
"Without doubt. Your are consigned, Evremonde, to the prison of LaForce."
"Just Heaven!" exclaimed Darnay. "Under what law, and for whatoffence?"
The officer looked up from his slip of paper for a moment.
"We have new laws, Evremonde, and new offences, since you werehere." He said it with a hard smile, and went on writing.
"I entreat you to observe that I have come here voluntarily, inresponse to that written appeal of a fellow-countryman which liesbefore you. I demand no more than the opportunity to do so withoutdelay. Is not that my right?"
"Emigrants have no rights, Evremonde," was the stolid reply. Theofficer wrote until he had finished, read over to himself what hehad written, sanded it, and handed it to Defarge, with the words "Insecret."
Defarge motioned with the paper to the prisoner that he mustaccompany him. The prisoner obeyed, and a guard of two armedpatriots attended them.
"Is it you," said Defarge, in a low voice, as they went down theguardhouse steps and turned into Paris, "who married the daughter ofDoctor Manette, once a prisoner in the Bastille that is no more?"
"Yes," replied Darnay, looking at him with surprise.
"My name is Defarge, and I keep a wine-shop in the Quarter SaintAntoine. Possibly you have heard of me."
"My wife came to your house to reclaim her father? Yes!"
The word "wife" seemed to serve as a gloomy reminder to Defarge,to say with sudden impatience, "In the name of that sharp femalenewlyborn, and called La Guillotine, why did you come to France?"
"You heard me say why, a minute ago. Do you not believe it is thetruth?"
"A bad truth for you," said Defarge, speaking with knitted brows,and looking straight before him.
"Indeed I am lost here. All here is so unprecedented, so changed, sosudden and unfair, that I am absolutely lost. Will you render me alittle help?"
"None." Defarge spoke, always looking straight before him.
"Will you answer me a single question?"
"Perhaps. According to its nature. You can say what it is." "In this prison that I am going to so unjustly, shall I have somefree communication with the world outside?"
"You will see."
"I am not to be buried there, prejudged, and without any means ofpresenting my case?"
"You will see. But, what then? Other people have been similarlyburied in worse prisons, before now."
"But never by me, Citizen Defarge."
Defarge glanced darkly at him for answer, and walked on in asteady and set silence. The deeper he sank into this silence, thefainter hope there was- or so Darnay thought- of his softening inany slight degree. He, therefore, made haste to say:
"It is of the utmost importance to me (you know, Citizen, evenbetter than I, of how much importance), that I should be able tocommunicate to Mr. Lorry of Tellson's Bank, an English gentleman whois now in Paris, the simple fact, without comment, that I have beenthrown into the prison of La Force. Will you cause that to be done forme?"
"I will do," Defarge doggedly rejoined, "nothing for you. My duty isto my country and the People. I am the sworn servant of both,against you. I will do nothing for you."
Charles Darnay felt it hopeless to entreat him further, and hispride was touched besides. As they walked on in silnce, he could notbut see how used the people were to the spectacle of prisoners passingalong the streets. The very children scarcely noticed him. A fewpassers turned their heads, and a few shook their fingers at him as anaristocrat; otherwise, that a man in good clothes should be going toprison, was no more remarkable than that a labourer in working clothesshould be going to work. In one narrow, dark, and dirty street throughwhich they passed, an excited orator, mounted on a stool, wasaddressing an excited audience on the crimes against the people, ofthe king and the royal family. The few words that he caught fromthis man's lips, first made it known to Charles Darnay that the kingwas in prison, and that the foreign ambassadors had one and all leftParis. On the road (except at Beauvais) he had heard absolutelynothing. The escort and the universal watchfulness had completelyisolated him.
That he had fallen among far greater dangers than those which haddeveloped themselves when he left England, he of course knew now. Thatperils had thickened about him fast, and might thicken faster andfaster yet, he of course knew now. He could not but admit to himselfthat he might not have made this journey, if he could have foreseenthe events of a few days. And yet his misgivings were not so darkas, imagined by the light of this later time, they would appear.Troubled as the future was, it was the unknown future, and in itsobscurity there was ignorant hope. The horrible massacre, days andnights long, which, within a few rounds of the clock, was to set agreat mark of blood upon the blessed garnering time of harvest, was asfar out of his knowledge as if it had been a hundred thousand yearsaway. The "sharp female newly-born, and called La Guillotine," washardly known to him, or to the generality of people, by name. Thefrightful deeds that were to be soon done, were probably unimagined atthat time in the brains of the doers. How could they have a place inthe shadowy conceptions of a gentle mind?
Of unjust treatment in detention and hardship, and in cruelseparation from his wife and child, he foreshadowed the likelihood, orthe certainty; but, beyond this, he dreaded nothing distinctly. Withthis on his mind, which was enough to carry into a dreary prisoncourtyard, he arrived at the prison of La Force.
A man with a bloated face opened the strong wicket, to whomDefarge presented "The Emigrant Evremonde."
"What the Devil! How many more of them!" exclaimed the man withthe bloated face.
Defarge took his receipt without noticing the exclamation, andwithdrew, with his two fellow-patriots.
"What the Devil, I say again!" exclaimed the gaoler, left with hiswife. "How many more!"
The gaoler's wife, being provided with no answer to the question,merely replied, "One must have patience, my dear!" Three turnkeyswho entered responsive to a bell she rang, echoed the sentiment, andone added, "For the love of Liberty;" which sounded in that place likean inappropriate conclusion.
The prison of La Force was a gloomy prison, dark and filthy, andwith a horrible smell of foul sleep in it. Extraordinary how soonthe noisome flavour of imprisoned sleep, becomes manifest in allsuch places that are ill cared for!
"In secret, too," grumbled the gaoler, looking at the written paper."As if I was not already full to bursting!"
He stuck the paper on a file, in an ill-humour, and Charles Darnayawaited his further pleasure for half an hour: sometimes, pacing toand fro in the strong arched room: sometimes, resting on a stone seat:in either case detained to be imprinted on the memory of the chief andhis subordinates.
"Come!" said the chief, at length taking up his keys, "come with me,emigrant."
Through the dismal prison twilight, his new charge accompanied himby corridor and staircase, many doors clanging and locking behindthem, until they came into a large, low, vaulted chamber, crowded withprisoners of both sexes. The women were seated at a long table,reading and writing, knitting, sewing, and embroidering; the menwere for the most part standing behind their chairs, or lingering upand down the room.
In the instinctive association of prisoners with shameful crimeand disgrace, the new-comer recoiled from this company. But thecrowning unreality of his long unreal ride, was, their all at oncerising to receive him, with every refinement of manner known to thetime, and with all the engaging graces and courtesies of life.
So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison mannersand gloom, so spectral did they become in the inappropriate squalorand misery through which they were seen, that Charles Darnay seemed tostand in a company of the dead. Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, theghost of stateliness, the ghost of elegance, the ghost of pride, theghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit, the ghost of youth, the ghost ofage, all waiting their dismissal from the desolate shore, allturning on him eyes that were changed by the death they had died incoming there.
It struck him motionless. The gaoler standing at his side, and theother gaolers moving about, who would have been well enough as toappearance in the ordinary exercise of their functions, looked soextravagantly coarse contrasted with sorrowing mothers and bloomingdaughters who were there- with the apparitions of the coquette, theyoung beauty, and the mature woman delicately bred- that the inversionof all experience and likelihood which the scene of shadows presented,was heightened to its utmost. Surely, ghosts all. Surely, the longunreal ride some progress of disease that had brought him to thesegloomy shades!
"In the name of the assembled companions in misfortune," said agentleman of courtly appearance and address, coming forward, "I havethe honour of giving you welcome to La Force, and of condoling withyou on the calamity that has brought you among us. May it soonterminate happily! It would be an impertinence elsewhere, but it isnot so here, to ask your name and condition?"
Charles Darnay roused himself, and gave the required information, inwords as suitable as he could find.
"But I hope," said the gentleman, following the chief gaoler withhis eyes, who moved across the room, "that you are not in secret?"
"I do not understand the meaning of the term, but I have heardthem say so."
"Ah, what a pity! We so much regret it! But take courage; severalmembers of our society have been in secret, at first, and it haslasted but a short time." Then he added, raising his voice, "Igrieve to inform the society- in secret."
There was a murmur of commiseration as Charles Darnay crossed theroom to a grated door where the gaoler awaited him, and many voices-among which, the soft and compassionate voices of women wereconspicuous- gave him good wishes and encouragement. He turned atthe grated door, to render the thanks of his heart; it closed underthe gaoler's hand; and the apparitions vanished from his sight forever.
The wicket opened on a stone staircase, leading upward. When theyhad ascended forty steps (the prisoner of half an hour already countedthem), the gaoler opened a low black door, and they passed into asolitary cell. It struck cold and damp, but was not dark.
"Yours," said the gaoler.
"Why am I confined alone?"
"How do I know!"
"I can buy pen, ink, and paper?"
"Such are not my orders. You will be visited, and can ask then. Atpresent, you may buy your food, and nothing more."
There were in the cell, a chair, a table, and a straw mattress. Asthe gaoler made a general inspection of these objects, and of the fourwalls, before going out, a wandering fancy wandered through the mindof the prisoner leaning against the wall opposite to him, that thisgaoler was so unwholesomely bloated, both in face and person, as tolook like a man who had been drowned and filled with water. When thegaoler was gone, he thought in the same wandering way, "Now am I left,as if I were dead." Stopping then, to look down at the mattress, heturned from it with a sick feeling, and thought, "And here in thesecrawling creatures is the first condition of the body after death." "Five paces by four and a half, five paces by four and a half, fivepaces by four and a half." The prisoner walked to and fro in his cell,counting its measurement, and the roar of the city arose likemuffled drums with a wild swell of voices added to them. "He madeshoes, he made shoes, he made shoes." The prisoner counted themeasurement again, and paced faster, to draw his mind with him fromthat latter repetition. "The ghosts that vanished when the wicketclosed. There was one among them, the appearance of a lady dressedin black, who was leaning in the embrasure of a window, and she hada light shining upon her golden hair, and she looked like * * * *Let us ride on again, for God's sake, through the illuminated villageswith the people all awake! * * * * He made shoes, he made shoes, hemade shoes. * * * * Five paces by four and a half." With such scrapstossing and rolling upward from the depths of his mind, the prisonerwalked faster and faster, obstinately counting and counting; and theroar of the city changed to this extent- that it still rolled inlike muffled drums, but with the wall of voices that he knew, in theswell that rose above them.