Skip over navigation

A Tale of Two Cities

Original Text

Modern Text

Next noontide saw the admirable woman in her usual place in the wine-shop, knitting away assiduously. A rose lay beside her, and if she now and then glanced at the flower, it was with no infraction of her usual preoccupied air. There were a few customers, drinking or not drinking, standing or seated, sprinkled about. The day was very hot, and heaps of flies, who were extending their inquisitive and adventurous perquisitions into all the glutinous little glasses near madame, fell dead at the bottom. Their decease made no impression on the other flies out promenading, who looked at them in the coolest manner (as if they themselves were elephants, or something as far removed), until they met the same fate. Curious to consider how heedless flies are! —perhaps they thought as much at Court that sunny summer day. At noon the next day, Madame Defarge was at her usual place in the wine shop, knitting busily. There was a rose beside her, and she glanced at it now and then, but with her usual preoccupied appearance. There were a few customers there. Some were drinking and some were not. Some were standing and some were sitting or hanging around. It was a very hot day, and lots of flies were investigating the sticky little wine glasses near Madame Defarge and dropping dead at the bottoms. The other flies weren’t bothered by seeing the dead flies. They looked at them indifferently, as if they themselves were elephants or something else completely unrelated to them, until they too ended up dead. It’s strange to think how oblivious flies are! Perhaps the lords and ladies at the royal court were thinking just as much that sunny summer day.
A figure entering at the door threw a shadow on Madame Defarge which she felt to be a new one. She laid down her knitting, and began to pin her rose in her head-dress, before she looked at the figure. A person coming in through the door of the wine shop cast his shadow on Madame Defarge, and Madame Defarge felt it was someone she didn’t know. She put down her knitting and started to pin her rose to her hat before she looked at the stranger.
It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, the customers ceased talking, and began gradually to drop out of the wine-shop. It was strange. The moment Madame Defarge picked up the rose, all of the customers stopped talking and gradually left the wine shop.
“Good day, madame,” said the new-comer. “Good day, madame,” said the newcomer.
“Good day, monsieur.” “Good day, monsieur,” answered Madame Defarge.
She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: “Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, black hair, generally rather handsome visage, complexion dark, eyes dark, thin, long and sallow face, aquiline nose but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek which imparts a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!” She said the last words out loud, and to herself she added, “Ha! Good day to you, about forty years old, about five feet nine inches tall with black hair, a handsome appearance, a dark complexion, dark eyes, and long, thin, yellow face with a hooked nose that leans toward the left cheek, giving you a mean look! Good day!”
“Have the goodness to give me a little glass of old cognac, and a mouthful of cool fresh water, madame.” “Would you be kind enough to give me a little glass of aged cognac and a drink of cool, fresh water, madame?”
Madame complied with a polite air. Madame Defarge politely gave him what he asked.
“Marvellous cognac this, madame!” “This cognac is marvelous, madame!”
It was the first time it had ever been so complemented, and Madame Defarge knew enough of its antecedents to know better. She said, however, that the cognac was flattered, and took up her knitting. The visitor watched her fingers for a few moments, and took the opportunity of observing the place in general. It was the first time anyone had complimented her cognac, and she knew enough about where it came from to know it was not good cognac. She said, however, that the cognac was flattered by his comment and she resumed her knitting. The visitor watched her fingers for a few moments and then looked around the wine shop.
“You knit with great skill, madame.” “You’re very good at knitting, madame.”
“I am accustomed to it.” “I am used to it.”
“A pretty pattern too!” “It’s a very pretty pattern too.”
“YOU think so?” said madame, looking at him with a smile. You think so?” she said, smiling at him.
“Decidedly. May one ask what it is for?” “Definitely. Can I ask what it’s for?”
“Pastime,” said madame, still looking at him with a smile while her fingers moved nimbly. “It’s just a hobby,” said Madame Defarge, still smiling at him while her fingers worked quickly.
“Not for use?” “It’s not for a particular use?”
“That depends. I may find a use for it one day. If I do—Well,” said madame, drawing a breath and nodding her head with a stern kind of coquetry, “I’ll use it!” “That depends. I may find a use for it someday. If I do, well…,” said Madame Defarge. She took a breath and nodded in almost a flirtatious way, “then I’ll use it.”
It was remarkable; but, the taste of Saint Antoine seemed to be decidedly opposed to a rose on the head-dress of Madame Defarge. Two men had entered separately, and had been about to order drink, when, catching sight of that novelty, they faltered, made a pretence of looking about as if for some friend who was not there, and went away. Nor, of those who had been there when this visitor entered, was there one left. They had all dropped off. The spy had kept his eyes open, but had been able to detect no sign. They had lounged away in a poverty-stricken, purposeless, accidental manner, quite natural and unimpeachable. It was amazing that the people of Saint Antoine seemed to hate the rose on Madame Defarge’s headband. Two men had come into the wine shop separately and had been about to order a drink. When they saw the rose they stuttered and pretended they were looking for a friend who wasn’t there, then they left. Of all the people who had been there when the visitor had come in, not one of them was still there. They had all gone. The spy had been watching but hadn’t noticed the sign. They had all wandered off in a poor, casual way that looked perfectly normal and innocent.

More Help

Previous Next