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A Tale of Two Cities

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Madame Defarge knitted steadily, but the intelligence had a palpable effect upon her husband. Do what he would, behind the little counter, as to the striking of a light and the lighting of his pipe, he was troubled, and his hand was not trustworthy. The spy would have been no spy if he had failed to see it, or to record it in his mind. Madame Defarge kept knitting, but her husband was obviously affected by the news. He struck a match and lit his pipe behind the counter, but he couldn’t hide the fact that he was troubled by the news. His hand was shaking. The man would have been a terrible spy if he hadn’t noticed it or made of note of it to himself.
Having made, at least, this one hit, whatever it might prove to be worth, and no customers coming in to help him to any other, Mr. Barsad paid for what he had drunk, and took his leave: taking occasion to say, in a genteel manner, before he departed, that he looked forward to the pleasure of seeing Monsieur and Madame Defarge again. For some minutes after he had emerged into the outer presence of Saint Antoine, the husband and wife remained exactly as he had left them, lest he should come back. No other customers were coming in that Mr. Barsad could get information from. So having seen at least this one suspicious sign, whatever it might end up being worth to him, he paid for his drinks and left. Before he went he said in a friendly way that he looked forward to seeing Monsieur and Madame Defarge again. For several minutes after he had gone out into the streets of Saint Antoine, the husband and wife stayed exactly the way they had been in case him came back in.
“Can it be true,” said Defarge, in a low voice, looking down at his wife as he stood smoking with his hand on the back of her chair: “what he has said of Ma’amselle Manette?” “Can what he said about Mademoiselle Manette be true?” asked Defarge quietly. He looked down at his wife, smoking his pipe with one hand and putting the other on the back of her chair.
“As he has said it,” returned madame, lifting her eyebrows a little, “it is probably false. But it may be true.” “Since he’s the one who said it, it’s probably false,” answered Madame Defarge, raising her eyebrows a little. “But it might be true.”
“If it is—” Defarge began, and stopped. “If it is—” Defarge started to say, then stopped.
“If it is?” repeated his wife. “If it is?” repeated his wife.
“—And if it does come, while we live to see it triumph—I hope, for her sake, Destiny will keep her husband out of France.” “—And if the revolution comes while we are still alive, I hope for her sake that destiny keeps her husband out of France.”
“Her husband’s destiny,” said Madame Defarge, with her usual composure, “will take him where he is to go, and will lead him to the end that is to end him. That is all I know.” “Her husband’s destiny,” said Madame Defarge, as calmly as usual, “will take him where he is meant to go and to the end that he is meant for. That’s all I know.”
“But it is very strange—now, at least, is it not very strange” —said Defarge, rather pleading with his wife to induce her to admit it, “that, after all our sympathy for Monsieur her father, and herself, her husband’s name should be proscribed under your hand at this moment, by the side of that infernal dog’s who has just left us?” “But it’s very strange, isn’t it?” said Defarge. He was almost begging his wife to admit it. “After all we’ve done for her father and herself, that her husband’s name should be on the list you are knitting, next to that spy who just left us.”
“Stranger things than that will happen when it does come,” answered madame. “I have them both here, of a certainty; and they are both here for their merits; that is enough.” “Stranger things than this will happen when the revolution does come,” answered Madame Defarge. “I have them both here on my list, for sure. And they are both here for what they have done. That is enough.”
She rolled up her knitting when she had said those words, and presently took the rose out of the handkerchief that was wound about her head. Either Saint Antoine had an instinctive sense that the objectionable decoration was gone, or Saint Antoine was on the watch for its disappearance; howbeit, the Saint took courage to lounge in, very shortly afterwards, and the wine-shop recovered its habitual aspect. She rolled up her knitting when she said this, then took the rose out of the handkerchief that was wrapped around her head. Either the people of Saint Antoine knew instinctively that she had taken out the rose or the people of Saint Antoine were watching for it to be removed. Either way, people soon came wandering into the wine shop and things in the wine shop went back to normal.
In the evening, at which season of all others Saint Antoine turned himself inside out, and sat on door-steps and window-ledges, and came to the corners of vile streets and courts, for a breath of air, Madame Defarge with her work in her hand was accustomed to pass from place to place and from group to group: a Missionary—there were many like her—such as the world will do well never to breed again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched. In the evening, when the residents of Saint Antoine come outside, people sat on doorsteps and window ledges. They stood on the corners of dirty streets and courtyards for a breath of fresh air. Madame Defarge, with her knitting in her hand, would go from place to place and from one group of people to the other. She was like a

missionary

a member of a religion who tries to convert other people

missionary
, and there were many others like her—types that the world will be lucky never to have again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things, but it was busywork to take their minds off eating and drinking. They kept their hands busy instead of their jaws and their stomachs. If they hadn’t kept their fingers busy with knitting they would have been that much more aware of how hungry they were.

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