Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VI
THE DREAD TRIBUNAL of five Judges, Public Prosecutor, and determined Jury sat every day. Their lists went forth every evening, and were read out by the gaolers of the various prisons to their prisoners. The standard gaoler-joke was, “Come out and listen to the Evening Paper, you inside there!”
“Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay!”
So‚ at last‚ began the Evening Paper at La Force.
When a name was called, its owner stepped apart into a spot reserved for those who were announced as being thus fatally recorded. Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay, had reason to know the usage; he had seen hundreds pass away so.
His bloated gaoler, who wore spectacles to read with, glanced over them to assure himself that he had taken his place, and went through the list, making a similar short pause at each name. There were twenty-three names, but only twenty were responded to; for‚ one of the prisoners so summoned had died in gaol and been forgotten, and two had already been guillotined and forgotten. The list was read in the vaulted chamber where Darnay had seen the associated prisoners on the night of his arrival. Every one of those had perished in the massacre; every human creature he had since cared for and parted with had died on the scaffold.
There were hurried words of farewell and kindness, but the parting was soon over. It was the incident of every day, and the society of La Force were engaged in the preparation of some games of forfeits and a little concert for that evening. They crowded to the grates‚ and shed tears there; but, twenty places in the projected entertainments had to be refilled, and the time was, at best, short to the lock-up hour, when the common rooms and corridors would be delivered over to the great dogs who kept watch there through the night. The prisoners were far from insensible or unfeeling; their ways arose out of the condition of the time. Similarly, though with a subtle difference, a species of fervour or intoxication, known, without doubt, to have led some persons to brave the guillotine unnecessarily, and to die by it, was not mere boastfulness, but a wild infection of the wildly shaken public mind. In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease—a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them.
The passage to the Conciergerie was short and dark; the night in its vermin-haunted cells was long and cold. Next day, fifteen prisoners were put to the bar before Charles Darnay’s name was called. All the fifteen were condemned, and the trials of the whole occupied an hour and a half.
“Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay,” was at length arraigned.
His Judges sat upon the Bench in feathered hats; but the rough red cap and tricoloured cockade was the head-dress otherwise prevailing. Looking at the Jury and the turbulent audience, he might have thought that the usual order of things was reversed, and that the felons were trying the honest men. The lowest, cruellest, and worst populace of a city, never without its quantity of low, cruel, and bad, were the directing spirits of the scene: noisily commenting, applauding, disapproving, anticipating, and precipitating the result, without a check. Of the men, the greater part were armed in various ways; of the women, some wore knives, some daggers, some ate and drank as they looked on, many knitted. Among these last was one with a spare piece of knitting under her arm as she worked. She was in a front row, by the side of a man whom he had never seen since his arrival at the barrier, but whom he directly remembered as Defarge. He noticed that she once or twice whispered in his ear, and that she seemed to be his wife; but, what he most noticed in the two figures was, that although they were posted as close to himself as they could be, they never looked towards him. They seemed to be waiting for something with a dogged determination, and they looked at the jury, but at nothing else. Under the President sat Doctor Manette, in his usual quiet dress. As well as the prisoner could see, he and Mr. Lorry were the only men there, unconnected with the Tribunal, who wore their usual clothes, and had not assumed the coarse garb of the Carmagnole.
Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay, was accused by the public prosecutor as an emigrant, whose life was forfeit to the Republic, under the decree which banished all emigrants on pain of Death. It was nothing that the decree bore date since his return to France. There he was, and there was the decree; he had been taken in France, and his head was demanded.
“Take off his head!” cried the audience. “An enemy to the Republic!”
The President rang his bell to silence those cries, and asked the prisoner whether it was not true that he had lived many years in England?
Undoubtedly it was.
Was he not an emigrant then? What did he call himself?
Not an emigrant, he hoped, within the sense and spirit of the law. Why not? the President desired to know.
Because he had voluntarily relinquished a title that was distasteful to him, and a station that was distasteful to him, and had left his country—he submitted before the word emigrant‚ in the present acceptation by the Tribunal‚ was in use—to live by his own industry in England, rather than on the industry of the overladen people of France.
What proof had he of this?
He handed in the names of two witnesses: Théophile Gabelle and Alexandre Manette.
But he had married in England? the President reminded him.
True, but not an Englishwoman.
A citizeness of France?
Yes. By birth.
Her name and family?
“Lucie Manette, only daughter of Doctor Manette, the good physician who sits there.”
This answer had a happy effect upon the audience. Cries in exaltation of the well-known good physician rent the hall. So capriciously were the people moved, that tears immediately rolled down several ferocious countenances which had been glaring at the prisoner a moment before, as if with impatience to pluck him out into the streets and kill him.
On these few steps of his dangerous way Charles Darnay had set his foot according to Doctor Manette’s reiterated instructions. The same cautious counsel directed every step that lay before him, and had prepared every inch of his road.
The President asked why had he returned to France when he did, and not sooner?
He had not returned sooner, he replied, simply because he had no means of living in France, save those he had resigned; whereas, in England, he lived by giving instruction in the French language and literature. He had returned when he did on the pressing and written entreaty of a French citizen, who represented that his life was endangered by his absence. He had come back to save a citizen’s life, and to bear his testimony, at whatever personal hazard, to the truth. Was that criminal in the eyes of the Republic?
The populace cried enthusiastically, “No!” and the President rang his bell to quiet them. Which it did not, for they continued to cry “No!” until they left off of their own will.
The President required the name of that citizen? The accused explained that the citizen was his first witness. He also referred with confidence to the citizen’s letter, which had been taken from him at the barrier, but which he did not doubt would be found among the papers then before the President.
The Doctor had taken care that it should be there—had assured him that it would be there—and at this stage of the proceedings it was produced and read. Citizen Gabelle was called to confirm it, and did so. Citizen Gabelle hinted, with infinite delicacy and politeness, that in the pressure of business imposed on the Tribunal by the multitude of enemies of the Republic with which it had to deal, he had been slightly overlooked in his prison of the Abbaye—in fact, had rather passed out of the Tribunal’s patriotic remembrance—until three days ago; when he had been summoned before it, and had been set at liberty on the jury’s declaring themselves satisfied that the accusation against him was answered, as to himself, by the surrender of the Citizen Evrémonde, called Darnay.
Doctor Manette was next questioned. His high personal popularity, and the clearness of his answers, made a great impression; but, as he proceeded, as he showed that the Accused was his first friend on his release from his long imprisonment; that, the accused had remained in England, always faithful and devoted to his daughter and himself in their exile; that, so far from being in favour with the Aristocrat government there, he had actually been tried for his life by it, as the foe of England and friend of the United States—as he brought these circumstances into view, with the greatest discretion and with the straightforward force of truth and earnestness, the Jury and the populace became one. At last, when he appealed by name to Monsieur Lorry, an English gentleman then and there present, who, like himself, had been a witness on that English trial‚ and could corroborate his account of it, the jury declared that they had heard enough, and that they were ready with their votes if the President were content to receive them.
At every vote (the jurymen voted aloud and indivdually), the populace set up a shout of applause. All the voices were in the prisoner’s favour, and the President declared him free.
Then, began one of those extraordinary scenes with which the populace sometimes gratified their fickleness, or their better impulses towards generosity and mercy, or which they regarded as some set-off against their swollen account of cruel rage. No man can decide now to which of these motives such extraordinary scenes were referable; it is probable, to a blending of all the three, with the second predominating. No sooner was the acquittal pronounced than tears were shed as freely as blood at another time, and such fraternal embraces were bestowed upon the prisoner by as many of both sexes as could rush at him, that after his long and unwholesome confinement he was in danger of fainting from exhaustion; none the less because he knew very well that the very same people, carried by another current, would have rushed at him with the very same intensity, to rend him to pieces and strew him over the streets.
His removal, to make way for other accused persons who were to be tried, rescued him from these caresses for the moment. Five were to be tried together, next, as enemies of the Republic forasmuch as they had not assisted it by word or deed. So quick was the Tribunal to compensate itself and the nation for a chance lost, that these five came down to him before he left the place, condemned to die within twenty-four hours. The first of them told him so, with the customary prison sign of Death—a raised finger—and they all added in words, “Long live the Republic!”
The five had had, it is true, no audience to lengthen their proceedings, for when he and Doctor Manette emerged from the gate, there was a great crowd about it, in which there seemed to be every face he had seen in Court—except two, for which he looked in vain. On his coming out, the concourse made at him anew, weeping, embracing, and shouting, all by turns and all together, until the very tide of the river on the bank of which the mad scene was acted, seemed to run mad, like the people on the shore.
They put him into a great chair they had among them, and which they had taken either out of the Court itself, or one of its rooms or passages. Over the chair they had thrown a red flag, and to the back of it they had bound a pike with a red cap on its top. In this car of triumph, not even the Doctor’s entreaties could prevent his being carried to his home on men’s shoulders, with a confused sea of red caps heaving about him, and casting up to sight from the stormy deep such wrecks of faces, that he more than once misdoubted his mind being in confusion, and that he was in the tumbrel on his way to the Guillotine.
In wild dream-like procession, embracing whom they met‚ and pointing him out, they carried him on. Reddening the snowy streets with the prevailing Republican colour, in winding and tramping through them, as they had reddened them below the snow with a deeper dye, they carried him thus into the courtyard of the building where he lived. Her father had gone on before, to prepare her, and when her husband stood upon his feet, she dropped insensible in his arms.
As he held her to his heart‚ and turned her beautiful head between his face and the brawling crowd, so that his tears and her lips might come together unseen, a few of the people fell to dancing. Instantly, all the rest fell to dancing, and the courtyard overflowed with the Carmagnole. Then, they elevated into the vacant chair a young woman from the crowd to be carried as the Goddess of Liberty, and then‚ swelling and overflowing out into the adjacent streets, and along the river’s bank, and over the bridge, the Carmagnole absorbed them every one‚ and whirled them away.
After grasping the Doctor’s hand, as he stood victorious and proud before him; after grasping the hand of Mr. Lorry, who came panting in breathless from his struggle against the waterspout of the Carmagnole; after kissing little Lucie, who was lifted up to clasp her arms round his neck; and after embracing the ever zealous and faithful Pross who lifted her; he took his wife in his arms, and carried her up to their rooms.
“Lucie! My own! I am safe.”
“Oh‚ dearest Charles, let me thank God for this on my knees as I have prayed to Him!”
They all reverently bowed their heads and hearts. When she was again in his arms, he said to her:
“And now speak to your father, dearest. No other man in all this France could have done what he has done for me.”
She laid her head upon her father’s breast as she had laid his poor head on her own breast long, long ago. He was happy in the return he had made her, he was recompensed for his suffering, he was proud of his strength. “You must not be weak, my darling,” he remonstrated; “don’t tremble so. I have saved him.”
— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Dickens attributes the public’s enthusiasm for execution and general brutality to “a wild infection,” presumably caused by revolutionary sentiment, that results in a “wildly shaken public mind.” The intoxicating effects of revolutionary sentiment are one of the novel’s primary concerns.
— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
The gaoler-joke of reading the “Evening Paper” emphasizes the public craze surrounding execution. Public beheadings were a form of entertainment, even for children. Small guillotine toys, which were capable of beheading dolls or small animals, were popular. Dickens’s criticism of widespread public mania is palpable throughout the entire novel though it is most apparent after the revolution begins.