Charles Dickens

Retold by Ralph Mowat

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A Trail in London - 1780

Tellson's Bank in the City of London was an old, dark, and ugly building. It smelt of dust and old papers, and the people who worked there all seemed old and dusty, too. Outside the building sat Jerry Cruncher, who carried messages for people in the bank.
One morning in March 1780, Jerry had to go to the Old Bailey to collect an important message from Mr Lorry. Trials at the Old Bailey were usually for very dangerous criminals, and the prisoner that morning was a young man of about twenty-five, well dressed and quite calm.
'What's he done?' Jerry asked the doorman quietly.
'He's a spy! A French spy!' the doorman told him. 'He travels from England to France and tells the French King secret information about our English army.'
'What'll happen if he's guilty?' asked Jerry.
'Oh, he'll have to die, no question of that,' replied the doorman enthusiastically. 'They'll hang him.'
'What's his name?'
'Darnay, Charles Darnay. Not an English name, is it?'
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While Jerry waited, he looked around at the crowd inside the Old Bailey and noticed a young lady of about twenty years, and her father, a gentleman with very white hair. The young lady seemed very sad when she looked at the prisoner, and held herself close to her father.
Then the trial began, and the first person who spoke against Charles Darnay was called John Barsad. He was an honest man, he said, and proud to be an Englishman. Yes, he was, or had been, a friend of the prisoner's. And in the prisoner's pockets he had seen important plans and lists about the English armies. No, of course he had not put the lists there himself. And no, he was not a spy himself, he was not someone paid to make traps for innocent people.
Next the young lady spoke. She said that she had met the prisoner on the boat which had carried her and her father from France to England. 'He was very good and kind to my father and to me,' she said.
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'Was he travelling alone on the ship?'
'No, he was with two French gentlemen.'
'Now, Miss Manette, did you see him show them any papers, or anything that looked like a list'
'No, I didn't see anything like that.'
Questions, questions, questions! The trial went on, and finally, a small, red-haired man spoke. He told the judge that he had seen Mr Darnay at a hotel in a town where there were many soldiers and ships. Then one of the lawyers, a man called Sydney Carton, wrote some words on a piece of paper, and gave it to Mr Stryver, the lawyer who was speaking for Mr Darnay.
'Are you quite sure that the prisoner is the man you saw?' Mr Stryver asked the red-haired man.
'Quite sure,' said the man.
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'Have you ever seen anyone like the prisoner?' asked Mr Stryver.
'I'd always be able to recognize him.' The red-haired man was very confident.
'Then I must ask you to look at the gentleman over there,' said Mr Stryver, pointing to Sydney Carton. 'Don't you think that he is very like the prisoner?'
Everyone in the court could see that Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay were indeed very similar.
'Well then,' said Mr Stryver, 'it is so easy to find a man like the prisoner that we can even find one in this room. So how can you be so sure that it was the prisoner you saw in that hotel?'
And the red-haired man said not another word.
The lawyers talked and argued, and when at last the trial came to an end, Jerry Cruncher had fallen asleep.
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But Mr Lorry woke him up and gave him a piece of paper. 'NOT GUILTY' were the words written on it, and Jerry hurried back to Tellson's Bank with the message.
Sydney Carton seemed to be a man who did not care about anyone or anything. He was Mr Stryver's assistant. In fact, he did most of the real work for Mr Stryver. Stryver was good at speaking at a trial, but he was not good at discovering important facts and details, especially when these details were hidden in a lot of papers. Every night Carton studied the many papers that lawyers have to read, and he wrote down the questions which Stryver should ask at the next day's trial. And every day Stryver asked these questions, and people thought how clever he was.
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Outside the Old Bailey Mr Darnay, now a free man, met his friends: Dr Manette and his daughter Lucie, Mr Jarvis Lorry, Mr Stryver, and Mr Carton.
Dr Manette no longer looked like the man in the room above Defarge's wine-shop five years ago. His hair was white, but his eyes were bright and he stood straight and strong. Sometimes his face became dark and sad when he remembered the years in the Bastille prison; at these times only his daughter Lucie, whom he loved so much, could help him.
As they stood there talking, a strange expression came over Dr Manette's face. He was staring at Charles Darnay, but he did not seem to see him. For a few moments there was dislike, even fear in his eyes. 'My father,' said Lucie softly, putting her hand on his arm, 'shall we go home now?'
'Yes,' he answered slowly.
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Soon they drove off in a coach, and then Mr Stryver and Mr Lorry walked away, leaving Mr Darnay and Mr Carton alone. 'It must be strange for you,' said Carton, 'to be a free man again, and to be standing here, talking to a man who looks just like you. Let us go out and eat together.'
After they had eaten, Carton said softly, 'How sad and worried Miss Manette was for you today! She's a very beautiful young woman, don't you think?'
Darnay did not reply to what Carton had said, but he thanked him for his help at the trial.
'I don't want your thanks,' replied Carton. 'I have done nothing. And I don't think I like you.'
'Well,' said Darnay, 'you have no reason to like me. But I hope that you will allow me to pay the bill for both of us.'
'Of course. And as you are paying for me, I'll have another bottle of wine.'
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After Darnay had left, Carton drank some more wine and looked at himself in the mirror. He was angry because Darnay looked so much like him, but was so different. Carton knew that he was a clever lawyer, and that he was a good and honest man, but he had never been successful for himself. He drank too much, and his life was unhappy and friendless. His cleverness and his hard work in the law only made others, like Mr Stryver, successful and rich. He remembered Lucie Manette's worried face when she watched Darnay in court.
'If I changed places with Darnay,' he whispered to himself, 'would those blue eyes of Miss Manette look at me, in the same way? No, no, it's too late now.'
He drank another bottle of wine and fell asleep.
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In a quiet street not far away was the house where Dr Manette and Lucie lived. They had one servant, Miss Pross, who had taken care of Lucie since she was a child. Miss Pross had red hair and a quick, sharp voice, and seemed at first sight a very alarming person. But everybody knew that she was in fact a warm-hearted and unselfish friend, who would do anything to guard her darling Lucie from trouble or danger.
Dr Manette was now well enough to work as a doctor, and he, Lucie, and Miss Pross led a quiet, comfortable life. Mr Lorry, who had become a close family friend, came regularly to the house, and in the months after the trial, Mr Darnay and Mr Carton were also frequent visitors. This did not please Miss Pross at all, who always looked very cross when they came.
'Nobody is good enough for my darling Lucie,' she told Mr Lorry one day, 'and I don't like all these hundreds of visitors.'
Mr Lorry had a very high opinion of Miss Pross, but he wasn't brave enough to argue that two visitors were not 'hundreds'. Nobody argued with Miss Pross if they could avoid it.


 


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