A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

  Book 2 Chapter 15

page Book 2 Chapter 15: Knitting: Page 5

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“Go on, Jacques,” said Defarge. “Go on, Jacques,” said Defarge.
“He remains up there in his iron cage some days. The village looks at him by stealth, for it is afraid. But it always looks up, from a distance, at the prison on the crag; and in the evening, when the work of the day is achieved and it assembles to gossip at the fountain, all faces are turned towards the prison. Formerly, they were turned towards the posting-house; now, they are turned towards the prison. They whisper at the fountain, that although condemned to death he will not be executed; they say that petitions have been presented in Paris, showing that he was enraged and made mad by the death of his child; they say that a petition has been presented to the King himself. What do I know? It is possible. Perhaps yes, perhaps no.” “He was up in his iron cage for several days. The villagers looked at him secretly, for they were all afraid, but they kept looking up at him from far away. At night, when everyone had finished working for the day and had gathered to gossip at the fountain, everyone would look at the prison. Before, everyone faced the posting house. Now, they faced the prison. They would whisper at the fountain that although the man had been sentenced to death, he would not be killed. They would say that a petition had been presented in Paris that proved that he had been driven insane by the death of his child. They say that a petition had been presented to the king himself. What do I know? It’s possible. Maybe yes, maybe no.”
“Listen then, Jacques,” Number One of that name sternly interposed. “Know that a petition was presented to the King and Queen. All here, yourself excepted, saw the King take it, in his carriage in the street, sitting beside the Queen. It is Defarge whom you see here, who, at the hazard of his life, darted out before the horses, with the petition in his hand.” “Listen then, Jacques,” Jacques One interrupted sternly. “Know that a petition was presented to the king and queen. Everyone here, except you, saw the king take it while he was in his carriage in the street, sitting next to the queen. It was Defarge, this man here, who, risking his life, ran out in front of the horses with the petition in his hand.”
“And once again listen, Jacques!” said the kneeling Number Three: his fingers ever wandering over and over those fine nerves, with a strikingly greedy air, as if he hungered for something—that was neither food nor drink; “the guard, horse and foot, surrounded the petitioner, and struck him blows. You hear?” “And listen again, Jacques,” said Jacques Three, who was kneeling down. He kept running his fingers over his face in a noticeably greedy way, as if hungry for something besides food and drink. “The guards, on horse and on foot, surrounded Defarge as he presented the petition and beat him. Understand?”
“I hear, messieurs.” “I understand, messieurs.”
“Go on then,” said Defarge. “Go on then,” said Defarge.
“Again; on the other hand, they whisper at the fountain,” resumed the countryman, “that he is brought down into our country to be executed on the spot, and that he will very certainly be executed. They even whisper that because he has slain Monseigneur, and because Monseigneur was the father of his tenants—serfs—what you will—he will be executed as a parricide. One old man says at the fountain, that his right hand, armed with the knife, will be burnt off before his face; that, into wounds which will be made in his arms, his breast, and his legs, there will be poured boiling oil, melted lead, hot resin, wax, and sulphur; finally, that he will be torn limb from limb by four strong horses. That old man says, all this was actually done to a prisoner who made an attempt on the life of the late King, Louis Fifteen. But how do I know if he lies? I am not a scholar.” “On the other hand, there are also rumors at the fountain,” continued the man, “that he has been brought down here to be executed right away and that he will definitely be killed. There are even rumors that because he killed a marquis who ruled over his

serfs

a farmer who cultivated land owned by someone else and who was bought and sold with the land

serfs
, he is like a father to his serfs and the tall man will be executed for

parricide

killing a parent

parricide
. One old man at the fountain said that his right hand, holding a knife, will be burned off in front of his eyes. He said they’d make wounds in his arms, chest, and legs and pour boiling oil, melted lead, hot resin, wax, and sulfur into them. Finally, they will tear his arms and legs off by four strong horses. The old man said that all of this was actually done to a prisoner who tried to assassinate the last king, Louis the Fifteenth. But how should I know if he’s telling the truth? I’m not a scholar.”
“Listen once again then, Jacques!” said the man with the restless hand and the craving air. “The name of that prisoner was Damiens, and it was all done in open day, in the open streets of this city of Paris; and nothing was more noticed in the vast concourse that saw it done, than the crowd of ladies of quality and fashion, who were full of eager attention to the last—to the last, Jacques, prolonged until nightfall, when he had lost two legs and an arm, and still breathed! And it was done—why, how old are you?” “Listen once again then, Jacques!” said the man who kept touching his face greedily with his hand. “The name of that prisoner was Damiens. It was all done in broad daylight, publicly, in the streets of Paris. Nothing was more noticed in the large crowd that saw it than the group of upper-class ladies who were eager and excited to see the whole thing through to the very end. To the very end, Jacques, which didn’t happen until nighttime, when he had lost two legs and an arm but was still breathing. And it was done—wait, how old are you?”