A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

  Book 2 Chapter 3

page Book 2 Chapter 3: A Disappointment: Page 6

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Mr. Attorney-General sat down, and the father and daughter sat down together. The attorney general sat down, and so did Dr. Manette and his daughter.
A singular circumstance then arose in the case. The object in hand being to show that the prisoner went down, with some fellow-plotter untracked, in the Dover mail on that Friday night in November five years ago, and got out of the mail in the night, as a blind, at a place where he did not remain, but from which he travelled back some dozen miles or more, to a garrison and dockyard, and there collected information; a witness was called to identify him as having been at the precise time required, in the coffee-room of an hotel in that garrison-and-dockyard town, waiting for another person. The prisoner’s counsel was cross-examining this witness with no result, except that he had never seen the prisoner on any other occasion, when the wigged gentleman who had all this time been looking at the ceiling of the court, wrote a word or two on a little piece of paper, screwed it up, and tossed it to him. Opening this piece of paper in the next pause, the counsel looked with great attention and curiosity at the prisoner. An important fact then came up in the case. The attorney general wanted to prove that the prisoner rode with some unknown accomplice in the Dover mail coach that Friday night in November five years earlier and got out sometime in the night. From there he backtracked about twelve miles or more to a military post and dockyard, where he gathered information. They called a witness who said he saw the prisoner around that time waiting for someone in the coffee room of the hotel in the town, near the military post and dockyard. The prisoner’s lawyer cross-examined this witness and learned nothing except that the witness had never seen the prisoner before this time. Then, the wigged gentleman who had been staring at the ceiling the whole time wrote a word or two on a small scrap of paper, crumpled it up, and threw it at the prisoner’s lawyer. The lawyer opened the piece of paper, paused, and looked curiously at the prisoner.
“You say again you are quite sure that it was the prisoner?” “You’re sure you saw the prisoner?” he asked the witness.
The witness was quite sure. The witness said he was sure.
“Did you ever see anybody very like the prisoner?” “Have you ever seen anyone who looked like the prisoner?”
Not so like (the witness said) as that he could be mistaken. “Not so much like him that I could confuse the two,” said the witness.
“Look well upon that gentleman, my learned friend there,” pointing to him who had tossed the paper over, “and then look well upon the prisoner. How say you? Are they very like each other?” “Look closely at my esteemed friend over there,” he said, pointing to the man who had tossed the paper. “Now look closely at the prisoner. Do they look like each other?”
Allowing for my learned friend’s appearance being careless and slovenly if not debauched, they were sufficiently like each other to surprise, not only the witness, but everybody present, when they were thus brought into comparison. My Lord being prayed to bid my learned friend lay aside his wig, and giving no very gracious consent, the likeness became much more remarkable. My Lord inquired of Mr. Stryver (the prisoner’s counsel), whether they were next to try Mr. Carton (name of my learned friend) for treason? But, Mr. Stryver replied to my Lord, no; but he would ask the witness to tell him whether what happened once, might happen twice; whether he would have been so confident if he had seen this illustration of his rashness sooner, whether he would be so confident, having seen it; and more. The upshot of which, was, to smash this witness like a crockery vessel, and shiver his part of the case to useless lumber. Except for the fact that the friend had a sloppy, unkempt appearance, the two men looked enough alike that the witness and everyone in the courtroom were surprised to notice it. The judge asked the man to take off his wig, and once he did they looked even more alike. The judge asked Mr. Stryver, the prisoner’s lawyer, if they were going to try Mr. Carton, the other man, for treason. Mr. Stryver answered that no, they would not. But he would ask the witness that, if this could happen once, could it have happened another time, and if he would have been so confident if this resemblance had been pointed out sooner. As a result, the credibility of the witness was completely ruined and his testimony became useless.
Mr. Cruncher had by this time taken quite a lunch of rust off his fingers in his following of the evidence. He had now to attend while Mr. Stryver fitted the prisoner’s case on the jury, like a compact suit of clothes; showing them how the patriot, Barsad, was a hired spy and traitor, an unblushing trafficker in blood, and one of the greatest scoundrels upon earth since accursed Judas—which he certainly did look rather like. How the virtuous servant, Cly, was his friend and partner, and was worthy to be; how the watchful eyes of those forgers and false swearers had rested on the prisoner as a victim, because some family affairs in France, he being of French extraction, did require his making those passages across the Channel—though what those affairs were, a consideration for others who were near and dear to him, forbade him, even for his life, to disclose. How the evidence that had been warped and wrested from the young lady, whose anguish in giving it they had witnessed, came to nothing, involving the mere little innocent gallantries and politenesses likely to pass between any young gentleman and young lady so thrown together;—with the exception of that reference to George Washington, which was altogether too extravagant and impossible to be regarded in any other light than as a monstrous joke. How it would be a weakness in the government to break down in this attempt to practise for popularity on the lowest national antipathies and fears, and therefore Mr. Attorney-General had made the most of it; how, nevertheless, it rested upon nothing, save that vile and infamous character of evidence too often disfiguring such cases, and of which the State Trials of this country were full. But, there my Lord interposed (with as grave a face as if it had not been true), saying that he could not sit upon that Bench and suffer those allusions. By this time, Mr. Cruncher had eaten a lot of rust off of his fingers while following the evidence. Now he listened as Mr. Stryver, the prisoner’s lawyer, tried to convince the jury of the prisoner’s innocence. He told them that the “patriot,” Barsad, was actually a hired spy and a traitor. He said that he was being paid to help convict the man and sentence him to death, and that Barsad was one of the worst scoundrels since Judas, who he even looked like. He said that the prisoner’s supposedly virtuous servant, Cly, was actually a friend and partner of Barsad’s and as bad a man as he was. He said that Barsad and Cly had chosen the prisoner as their victim because he often traveled between France and England on family business. This business was so delicate that he could not discuss it, even at the risk of death, for the sake of protecting his loved ones. He explained that the evidence the young woman had so reluctantly given added up to nothing but small talk between two strangers. His comment about George Washington was so outrageous that it could only have been a sick joke. He said the attorney general was trying to capitalize on public’s hatred and fear, and it would be a shame for the government to rule on this basis. Still, he said, the evidence didn’t prove anything. It was the type of false evidence that was often seen in cases where people were accused of committing crimes against the state. At that point the judge interrupted and said that he could not stand to hear such offensive comments.