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A Tale of Two Cities

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“You know the Old Bailey, well, no doubt?” said one of the oldest of clerks to Jerry the messenger. “You know the

Old Bailey

street in London where criminals were tried and imprisoned

Old Bailey
, don’t you?” one of the bank’s oldest clerks asked Jerry.
“Ye-es, sir,” returned Jerry, in something of a dogged manner. “I DO know the Bailey.” “Ye-es, sir,” answered Jerry, warily. “I do know the Old Bailey.”
“Just so. And you know Mr. Lorry.” “I thought so. And you know Mr. Lorry.”
“I know Mr. Lorry, sir, much better than I know the Bailey. Much better,” said Jerry, not unlike a reluctant witness at the establishment in question, “than I, as a honest tradesman, wish to know the Bailey.” “I know Mr. Lorry much better than I know or ever wish to know the Old Bailey. I’m an honest businessman.” He answered as if he were a reluctant witness standing trial.
“Very well. Find the door where the witnesses go in, and show the door-keeper this note for Mr. Lorry. He will then let you in.” “Good. Go find the door where they bring the witnesses in, and show the doorman this note for Mr. Lorry. He will let you in.”
“Into the court, sir?” “Into the courtroom, sir?”
“Into the court.” “Yes. Into the courtroom.”
Mr. Cruncher’s eyes seemed to get a little closer to one another, and to interchange the inquiry, “What do you think of this?” Mr. Cruncher narrowed his eyes, as if his eyes were asking each other, “What do you think about this?”
“Am I to wait in the court, sir?” he asked, as the result of that conference. “Should I wait for him in court, sir?” Mr. Cruncher asked.
“I am going to tell you. The door-keeper will pass the note to Mr. Lorry, and do you make any gesture that will attract Mr. Lorry’s attention, and show him where you stand. Then what you have to do, is, to remain there until he wants you.” “I’ll tell you. The doorman will pass your note to Mr. Lorry. Get Mr. Lorry’s attention and let him know that you’re there. Then wait there until he needs you.”
“Is that all, sir?” “Is that all, sir?”
“That’s all. He wishes to have a messenger at hand. This is to tell him you are there.” “That’s all. He wants a messenger nearby. Your job is to let him know that you’re there if he needs you.”
As the ancient clerk deliberately folded and superscribed the note, Mr. Cruncher, after surveying him in silence until he came to the blotting-paper stage, remarked: The elderly clerk folded and addressed the note. Mr. Cruncher watched him in silence until he had sealed the paper. Then he said:
“I suppose they’ll be trying Forgeries this morning?” “I guess they’re trying people for forgery this morning?”
“Treason!” “No. Treason!”
“That’s quartering,” said Jerry. “Barbarous!” “That’s punishable by

quartering

dismembering a body into four parts

quartering
,” said Jerry. “How barbaric!”
“It is the law,” remarked the ancient clerk, turning his surprised spectacles upon him. “It is the law.” “It’s the law,” answered the old clerk, surprised at this comment. “The law is the law.”
“It’s hard in the law to spile a man, I think. Ifs hard enough to kill him, but it’s wery hard to spile him, sir.” “It’s a harsh law. It’s bad enough to kill him, but it’s worse to torture him, sir.”
“Not at all,” retained the ancient clerk. “Speak well of the law. Take care of your chest and voice, my good friend, and leave the law to take care of itself. I give you that advice.” “Nonsense,” answered the old clerk. “It’s a good law. My advice is to take care of your own health, my friend, and let the law take care of itself.”
“It’s the damp, sir, what settles on my chest and voice,” said Jerry. “I leave you to judge what a damp way of earning a living mine is.” “It’s this damp weather, sir, that affects my health,” said Jerry. “My job often requires me to be out in wet weather.”
“Well, well,” said the old clerk; “we all have our various ways of gaining a livelihood. Some of us have damp ways, and some of us have dry ways. Here is the letter. Go along.” “Well, we all have different ways of earning a living. Some of us have wet jobs and some of us have dry jobs. Here is the letter. Get going.”
Jerry took the letter, and, remarking to himself with less internal deference than he made an outward show of, “You are a lean old one, too,” made his bow, informed his son, in passing, of his destination, and went his way. Jerry took the letter. He bowed respectfully to the man, but under his breath he muttered, “You’re a mean, skinny old man.” Jerry told his son where he was going and left for the Old Bailey.
They hanged at Tyburn, in those days, so the street outside Newgate had not obtained one infamous notoriety that has since attached to it. But, the gaol was a vile place, in which most kinds of debauchery and villainy were practised, and where dire diseases were bred, that came into court with the prisoners, and sometimes rushed straight from the dock at my Lord Chief Justice himself, and pulled him off the bench. It had more than once happened, that the Judge in the black cap pronounced his own doom as certainly as the prisoner’s, and even died before him. For the rest, the Old Bailey was famous as a kind of deadly inn-yard, from which pale travellers set out continually, in carts and coaches, on a violent passage into the other world: traversing some two miles and a half of public street and road, and shaming few good citizens, if any. So powerful is use, and so desirable to be good use in the beginning. It was famous, too, for the pillory, a wise old institution, that inflicted a punishment of which no one could foresee the extent; also, for the whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in action; also, for extensive transactions in blood-money, another fragment of ancestral wisdom, systematically leading to the most frightful mercenary crimes that could be committed under Heaven. Altogether, the Old Bailey, at that date, was a choice illustration of the precept, that “Whatever is is right;” an aphorism that would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever was, was wrong. In those days they hanged people at Tyburn, so

Newgate

where they hanged people in Dickens’s time

Newgate
didn’t have a bad reputation yet. But the jail was a terrible place, where all kinds of evil and wickedness happened. Diseases were spread throughout the jail. Sometimes the diseases were carried by the prisoners into the courtroom and spread to the Lord Chief Justice himself. There were times when the judge became deathly ill while he was sentencing a man to death and even died before the prisoner was executed. For everyone else, the Old Bailey was a like a deadly inn, where travelers left in carts and coaches on their way to their deaths. They would travel some two and a half miles through the public streets where people would line up to watch them pass. The Old Bailey was also famous for wise, old traditions like the

pillory

a device used for public punishment; it included holes for confining a prisoners head and wrists

pillory
and the whipping post. Watching a person being whipped could make the observer feel hardened and less human. The Old Bailey was also famous for

blood money

paying a witness to provide evidence that leads to a person’s conviction

blood money
, another wise, old tradition that led to some of the worst crimes ever committed. All in all, the Old Bailey illustrated the saying, “the way something has always been done must be the right way.” Unfortunately, this lazy saying also implied that any different way must be wrong.

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