Charles Dickens

Retold by Ralph Mowat

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Stormy years in France
 In Monsieur Defarge's wine-shop in Saint Antoine customers came and went all the time. They came to drink the thin, rough wine, but more often they came to listen and to talk, and to wait for news.
One day there were more customers than usual. Defarge had been away for three days, and when he returned that morning, he brought a stranger with him, a man who repaired roads.
'Madame,' Defarge said to his wife, 'this man, who is called Jacques, has walked a long way with me.' One customer got up and went out. 'This mender of roads,' continued Defarge, 'who is called Jacques, is a good man. Give him something to drink.' A second man got up and went out. The man who repaired roads sat down and drank. A third man got up and went out.
'Have you finished, my friend?' said Defarge. 'Then come and see the room I promised you.'
They went upstairs, to the room where Dr Manette had sat making shoes. The three men who had left the wine-shop were waiting.
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Defarge spoke to them.
'No names. You are Jacques One, Jacques Two and Jacques Three. I am Jacques Four. This is Jacques Five. He brings us news of our poor friend Gaspard, whose child was killed by the Marquis's coach a year ago.' 'I first saw Gaspard,' said Jacques Five, 'holding on under the Marquis's coach as it drove into our village. He ran away, but that night the Marquis was murdered. Gaspard disappeared and was only caught a few weeks ago. The soldiers brought him into the village and hanged him. And they have left his body hanging in the village square, where the women go to fetch water, and our children play.'
When Jacques Five had left them, Jacques One said to his friends, 'What do you say? Shall we put their names on the list?'
'Yes, all of them. The castle and all of the family of Evrémonde.'
'Is the list safe?' asked Jacques Two.
'Yes, my friend,' said Defarge. 'My wife remembers everything. But more than that, every name is carefully knitted into her work. Nothing can be forgotten.'
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A few days later Defarge reported to his wife some news from his friend 'Jacques' in the police.
'A new spy has been sent to Saint Antoine. His name is Barsad, John Barsad. He's English.'
'What does he look like? Do we know?'
'He's about forty years old, quite tall, black hair, thin face,' said Defarge.
'Good,' said his wife. 'I'll put him on the list tomorrow. But you seem tired tonight. And sad.'
'Well,' said Defarge, 'it is a long time.'
'It takes time to prepare for change. The crimes against the people of France cannot be revenged in a day.'
'But we may not live to see the end.'
'Even if that happens,' replied Madame Defarge, 'we shall help it to come. But I believe that we shall see the day of our revenge against these hated noblemen.'
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The next day a stranger came into the wine-shop. At once, Madame Defarge picked up a rose from the table and put it in her hair. As soon as they saw this, the customers stopped talking and, one by one, without hurrying, left the wine-shop.
'Good day, Madame,' said the stranger.
'Good day, Monsieur,' said Madame Defarge, but to herself she said, 'About forty years old, tall, black hair, thin face. Yes, I know who you are, Mr John Barsad.'
'Is business good?' asked the stranger.
'Business is bad. The people are so poor.' Madame Defarge looked over to the door. 'Ah, here is my husband.'
'Good day, Jacques,' said the spy.
'You're wrong,' said Defarge, staring at him. 'That's not my name. I am Ernest Defarge.'
'It's all the same,' said the spy easily. 'I remember something about you, Monsieur Defarge. You took care of Dr Manette when he came out of the Bastille.'
'That's true,' said Defarge.
'Have you heard much from Dr Manette and his daughter? They're in England now.'
'No, not for a long time.'
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'She was married recently. Not to an Englishman, but to a Frenchman. It's quite interesting when you remember poor Gaspard. Miss Manette has married the nephew of the Marquis that Gaspard killed. Her new husband is really the new Marquis, but he prefers to live unknown in England. He's not a Marquis there, just Mr Charles Darnay.'
Monsieur Defarge was not happy at this news. When the spy had gone, he said to his wife, 'Can it be true? If it is, I hope that Miss Manette keeps her husband away from France.'
'Who knows what will happen?' replied Madame Defarge. 'I only know that the name of Evrémonde is in my list, and for good reason.' She went on calmly knitting, adding name after name to her list of the enemies of the people.
Time passed, and Madame Defarge still knitted. The women of Saint Antoine also knitted, and the thin hungry faces of Jacques and his brothers became darker and angrier. The noise of the coming storm in Paris was growing louder.
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It began one summer day in the streets of Saint Antoine, around Defarge's wine-shop, with a great crowd of people. A crowd who carried guns, knives, sticks, even stones - anything that could be a weapon. An angry crowd who shouted and screamed, who were ready to fight and to die in battle.
'Friends and citizens!' shouted Defarge. 'We are ready! To the Bastille!' The crowd began to move, like the waves of the sea.
'Follow me, women!' cried Madame Defarge. A long sharp knife shone brightly in her hand. 'We can kill as well as any man!'
The living sea of angry people ran through Saint Antoine to the Bastille, and soon the hated prison was ringing with the noise of battle. Fire and smoke climbed up the high stone walls and the thunder of the guns echoed through the city.
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Four terrible and violent hours. Then a white flag appeared above the walls and the gates were opened. The Bastille had been taken by the people of Paris! Soon the crowds were inside the building itself, and shouting 'Free the prisoners!' But Defarge put his strong hand on the shoulder of one of the soldiers.
'Show me the North Tower. Take me to One Hundred and Five, North Tower! Quickly!'
'Follow me,' said the frightened man, and Defarge and Jacques Three went with him through the dark prison, past heavy closed doors, up stone stairs, until they came to a low door. It was a small room, with dark stone walls and only one very small window, too high for anyone to look out. Defarge looked carefully along the walls.
'There, look there, Jacques Three,' he cried. 'A.M.!' whispered Jacques.
'A.M. Alexandre Manette,' said Defarge softly. 'Let us go now.' But before they left, they searched the room and the furniture very carefully, looking for small hiding-places.
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Then they returned to the crowds below. The Bastille and its officers were now in the hands of the people, and the people wanted revenge, and blood.
'At last, it has begun, my dear,' said Defarge to his wife. It was the fourteenth of July, 1789.
In the village where the Marquis had lived, and where Gaspard had died, life was hard. Everything was old and tired and broken down - the people, the land, the houses, the animals. In the past everything and everybody had had to work for the Marquis, and he had given nothing in return.
But now, strangers were travelling about the country, strangers who were poor, like the people, but who talked about new ideas - ideas which had started in Paris and were now running like fire across the country.
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The road-mender, who had brought the news of Gaspard to Paris, still worked repairing the roads. One day a stranger came to him as he worked on the road outside the village.
'Jacques,' said the stranger. He shook the road-mender's hand, and turned to look at the Marquis's castle on the hill. 'It's tonight, Jacques,' he went on quietly. 'The others will meet me here.'
It was very dark that night and the wind was strong. No one saw the four men who came quietly to the castle and said nothing. But soon the castle itself could be seen in the dark sky. The windows became bright; smoke and yellow flames climbed into the sky. Monsieur Gabelle called loudly for help, but the people in the village watched and did nothing to save the castle where the Marquis had lived.


 


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