Chapter I – The Resurrection and the Life
'I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.'
Sydney Carton raised his right foot and placed it on the first of the wooden stairs. It was a foot that belonged to him, but yet one imbued with a disconcerting kind of unfamiliarity by Darnay's boot on it, a boot that he had pried from the man's foot himself to complete his feeble and almost unnecessary disguise.
These people wanted blood. Whose hardly seemed consequential; if they had known, somehow, that he had replaced Charles St. Evrémonde, called Darnay, it hardly would have dulled the hungry eyes, stayed the hands clenched tightly around the hilts of knives and the butts of pistols, slowed the ceaseless fingers of the women knitting, knitting, knitting before the revered construction that he climbed.
He lifted his left foot to the next step. 'I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord…' The epitaph of his father's grave ran though his mind, faster and faster, galloping, unstoppable, rising in his throat, pleading to be shouted to the rolling, roiling crowd as one final defiance.
He placed his right foot on the next step and focused his desperate, skittering thoughts on her—on a sweet, gentle young woman, on the way that sunlight filtered through the leaves of the plane-tree in the yard and glinted gold on the rippling curls of her light hair, on the bewilderment and the hopeless dismay, and, as the grandest tribute to her dear and generous nature, the persisting affection in her bright blue eyes when she looked at him. A lock of dark hair slipped free of the ribbon that held it back, a red ribbon, red like the endless sea of caps in the multitude before him and like the surging life of the twenty-two victims just today of the National Razor, La Guillotine.
Sydney Carton lifted his head. The last two steps passed under the boots that were not his; an attendant at either side placed a hand on the shoulder of a coat that was not his; they pushed him forward, and the crowd roared at a man that was not him. They forced him down, pressed his neck hard against the curving wood, still wet from the thin blood of the pale, shaking young seamstress who had strengthened him by asking him for strength, but he could not bring himself to resent them. France would heal. Lucie was safe. Charles Darnay was on his way to England. He had kept his pledge to Lucie, that he would give anything in his power to preserve those that she held dear, and his promise to little Lucie, who doted on him like an uncle, whose hair like her mother's had brushed his face when she had kissed his cheek and asked him to try to help her father. They would go back to their house, the house with the plane-tree, and there they would stay, there they would live out their days in quiet and in warmth, and that, just that, was enough.'I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.'
Sydney Carton closed his eyes. That was enough. It is a far, far better thing that I do, he thought, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
The cries of the crowd soared to a howling crescendo; fragments of triumphant French assaulted his ears; but it was enough.
Then there was a hushed silence, a cowed silence, an astonished and a perplexed silence, and Sydney Carton opened his eyes. The awed gaze of the wild crowd was as one set of eyes directed just above him at the blade that had begun to fall and never finished.
A murmur swept through the crowd, one that began to rise, one that would reach a climax in a call for blood, in a denial of the fluke, in harsh disagreement with the choice of their beloved lady, La Guillotine. Her sympathies would not be welcome; not for Evrémonde, called Darnay.
Carton looked down at the knitting women not even a metre from this perverted stage, women flecked with blood, women who could not have washed themselves clean of it had they tried. They called to each other, called to the people around them, pointed crooked fingers at the man they thought was Evrémonde and protested this cruel caprice of the dear Guillotine, a whim that stole from them, from France, the head of a Marquis to add to their pyramid of them, the crowning piece. This injustice could not stand. Evrémonde, called Darnay, was to fall with the others.
While the murmurs were still murmurs, while the disbelief still subdued the swelling, shifting crowd, a girl leapt up onto the platform next to La Guillotine, a girl whose dark hair poured out from under her red cap and in whose slender fingers there rested a long knife yet untainted by the blood of other Frenchmen.
'The Goddess of Liberty loves this man!' she cried over the building roar of the masses. 'She has spared this man, don't you see? She has chosen him for her own! Let him be free!'
Before Carton could think—and what would he have thought if he could, but that perhaps La Liberté had indeed chosen him to be spared—he was hoisted to his feet, and the girl pulled him down the creaking stairs, through the assembly of the next twenty-nine customers to La Guillotine, their eyes following him slowly and carefully as if he were a man dead even now, through the reaching arms of the gaolers of the Concierge, just too short or too feeble to grasp Darnay's coat or Darnay's cravat and stop him, through the confounded ranks of the populace gathered here, too amazed at the miracle of his escape to halt it, their weapons at their sides, their incredulity brighter on their faces than carnival masks. Four tall, broad-shouldered men fell in next to the girl, surrounding him, and as she released his arm, his wrists yet bound, two of them linked elbows with him, as if old acquaintances that he had since forgotten, and heaved him over the last stretch to the streets beyond.
The girl pulled the ribbon out of his hair, stripped the cravat from around his neck with one quick jerk of her wrist, and sliced through the rope at his own. A question formed at his lips as she tossed the discarded articles to the muddy ground and one of the men trod on them deliberately, but the girl smiled, almost wearily, removed her red cap, and spoke before he could.
'Someone up there' –she nodded to the sky– 'likes you very much, Monsieur Evrémonde.'