Chapter II – Saints
Sydney Carton found himself catching a glimpse of his own reflection in a wide shop window divided into a dozen square panels. He saw a man who looked very bewildered and, compared to the four great, hulking young men ushering him along, very small, and then the girl lifted a key hanging on a piece of string from where it rested around her neck and pulled it over her head. She opened the door just to the left of the window, guided him in, bid the four young men to 'try to save some more,' closed the door, locked it securely with the key, and replaced the key around her neck.
Carton turned and cast an eye over the room. The sparing sunlight that managed to penetrate the dusty glass of the window dimly illuminated a room that seemed to serve a vast variety of disparate purposes and that appeared to hold a vast variety of disparate things. A table stood there, to his right; a pile of rumpled blankets on what looked to be a bed, there, against the wall opposite the door; a threaded standing loom, there, by the hearth, faced away from the window; finished fabrics, rough in texture but meticulously neat, hanging on the far wall and lying draped over a desk and the open door of an armoire, there, to his right; and chairs, and planks of wood, and other oddities were strewn about altogether haphazardly, all across the floor. Past the bed he saw a door, and through the door he saw the telltale gleam through grime of the dishes stacked on a wooden table within, indicating that a kitchen lay beyond.
Abruptly Carton noticed the girl again as she started across the room and began to search through a drawer in the towering armoire, and for the first time, he looked at her closely, wanting to learn the face of his savior. The girl paused and straightened to look back at him; her dark eyes were discerning, and set in a face with a slightly pointed chin like a mountain peak thrusting down towards her faded gray-blue dress. She was not remarkably pretty, but neither was she remarkably not; it seemed that she was not remarkably anything. Hers was a face that would be passed over in a crowd, which Carton thought was probably to her advantage if she intended to stand in Paris in the middle of a revolution and attempt to snatch French aristocrats from under the very blade of the Guillotine. It was also a face thinned by years of making a day's bread last many days, one haunted in the shadows by the indelible sight of streets running red with blood.
'Might I have a name?' he inquired.
The girl made a quick curtsey, even here, even now, in deference to the man that she thought was a French marquis. 'My name is Marie Saint-Clare,' she told him. 'Not such a good name, Monsieur Evrémonde, now, when the only God is La Revolution, and His only prophet is La Guillotine. I have four brothers, whom you have met; I shall not burden your memory with their names at this moment, Monsieur; know only that this shop was abandoned when the landlord cried for too much, and then that the landlord was silenced forever for crying against France. My brothers and I needed a place to sleep, and it suffices. I hope it will suffice for you as well until we can return you to England.'
'How…' Carton began, almost hopelessly. He didn't know what he had intended to say, or what he intended to say ever again. He had left part of himself on the guillotine's fateful platform, a part of himself much more coherent and much cleverer than what remained here, standing dumbly in the center of a French peasant girl's meagre lodging.
Marie Saint-Clare gave him sufficient time to finish his fragment of a query; when he failed to do so, with his eyes imploring her to guide him with the words that flowed so easily from her lips, she obliged.
'I attended your trial, Monsieur Evrémonde,' she divulged. 'We hope to bring you back to your wife and to her father the doctor, but it will take time for the fire here to fade. We cannot hope to walk to England on live coals, can we, Monsieur?'
The words deep within him, words that had been seeking freedom, took their leave of him. 'I am not Charles Evrémonde,' he said at last.
In silence, the girl paused; for awhile she did not move but to watch him, as if hoping to unearth some telling secret from a thorough examination of his face. When it yielded nothing, she spoke again, her eyes even darker and more discerning than before.
'Then who are you?' she asked. 'And why in the name of God were you ready to die for him?'
'Sydney Carton,' he told her, executing a quick bow that led her to lift an arched eyebrow; 'an English barrister of little repute and littler worth.'
'Why give your life for Evrémonde?' she persisted, her arms folded across her chest, her eyes narrowed, her face emotionless.
'Because he has one,' Sydney Carton answered quietly, a hint of a small smile flickering across his face. 'There are a great many people in the world that care for him, and there are a great many people who would be deprived and destitute without him. No-one will be so affected in my absence; with the exception, perhaps, of the owners of the wine shops. They, I think, might deplore my passing, but they would be alone if they did.'
The girl considered him for a long moment, and Carton's evanescent smile disappeared again, as if it had never been. Upon discovering that he was not the precious marquis, would she eject him onto the street again, to be fed limb by limb to the Paris mob?
She moved again, not to cast him out, but to resume her search through the armoire at her left. From it she produced a tattered grey shirt, which she pressed into his hands as she stepped past him to the fireplace. There she knelt and collected a handful of ash. She returned, reached out, and rubbed it into Carton's hair without so much as a 'By your leave.'
When he blinked at her, consummately bewildered, she explained, 'You're to pretend that you're my aged father now, Monsieur Carton. I would use flour, if it weren't in such short supply.'
He wasn't sure whether to take affront as she finished and wiped her palms on his face, smearing ash onto his cheeks. On the one hand, this was ingenious; on the other, it was absolutely ludicrous.
When he caught a glimpse of himself, in ragged attire and quite literally ashen, in the cracked mirror by the door, he had to admit that the absurdity was serving its purpose. And when he saw over the reflection of his shoulder that Marie was in the process of scrounging the kitchen for something with which to feed him, he realised with a resurgence of awe that the girl searching the cupboards behind had, for no reason beyond some sort of altruism mostly lost in this era of bloodshed and destruction, saved his life, and that she was intent on preserving it even now, at the cost of her own thin resources.
As she returned with a few crusts and a little bit of watery wine, he felt it was almost his duty to say something to articulate his gratitude.
'I'm beginning to think that perhaps I did die today,' he remarked, 'and Saint Peter took pity on me.'
Thinly, the girl smiled. 'I'm afraid that there are no saints here, Monsieur,' she said.
Except, Sydney thought, for the Saint-Clares.