Author Notes: "A Tale of Two Cities" is one of my favorite books. There is one scene I have always wished to read in the book but which Dickens never actually wrote. So, in response to a challenge from Dickensblog .com, I wrote it. The challenge was: "Show a Dickens character (or more than one, if you'd like) at a moment of crisis."
I Have Seen It Bleeding
The carriage rushes on, wild in the night, and the anxious passengers look behind them for pursuit. For one moment it appears they are to be caught, found out—but no, it is nothing. For a time, in their fear, they can think but little of the man left behind, can think only of the man restored to them, drooping on the woman's breast. Is there one who regrets what has been done? Is there one who fully comprehends it? Perhaps—perhaps the man in brown, who looks less on the miracle drooping opposite him and more out of the window at the formless, black, rushing mass of the countryside in the night. The woman cannot regret it, though she feels it keenly. The helpless, inarticulately murmuring, wandering old man cannot regret it, just now. The child cannot understand. But the man in brown understands. He who had oftentimes censured the man left behind, who had critiqued and judged him, now he understands as perhaps no one else can, and he regrets—what? The loss of a life? No, the waste of a life.
The man opposite moves more; he is beginning to revive. He does not understand that he is clasped in his wife's arms. He speaks—"Carton—Carton, what are you doing? What is that in your hand, Carton?"
"Hush, my darling—oh, hush! Be calm, my darling—you are with me, my dear—my dearest! O, look at me, my darling! O, kind Heaven, help us!"
The man in brown looks out for pursuit, sees none, shouts to the driver for more speed.
"Lucie? Where is Carton? How are you here, Lucie?" It is a cry of anguish, for he fears the worst.
"Charles, it is you who are here. You are saved, my Charles!"
"No! Carton? I don't understand. What has happened? Where is Carton? He was just there—I was writing—"
Lucie holds up the letter, the precious letter, the words Charles remembers writing just a moment ago. The words in his own hand, the words in Carton's voice, sink into him with a clarifying power as sharp as an ocean mistral.
"If you remember the words that passed between us long ago, you will readily comprehend this when you see it. You do remember them, I know. It is not in your nature to forget them. I am thankful that the time has come when I can prove them. That I do is no subject for regret or grief. If it had been otherwise, I never should have used the longer opportunity. If it had been otherwise, I should but have had so much the more to answer for. If it had been otherwise—" The hand changes. "Your devoted servant, Sydney Carton."
The man in brown looks very steadily out of the window. Charles' cry catches at his businessman's heart.
"No! Carton—! What have you done?" Charles turns aside his face from his wife and presses it into the corner of seat and carriage wall. He understands now what has been done, the life of the man he barely liked exchanged for his own. He understand what has happened but a few short hours ago, back in Paris, back in the arms of Madame la Guillotine. He had prepared himself for that embrace with many bitter tears. Now a man he neither liked nor comprehended has faced it in his place. Now he understands, and now he regrets, and his tears are just as bitter.
But does he understand? The man in brown sees that Darnay's life will be forever lived in the light of sacrifice, but does he really understand what it means for a man who has lived for nothing to die for something?
Perhaps he himself had not fully comprehended, or wanted to comprehend, what Carton meant to do, when they spoke last night—just last night? When the wasted, idle, dissolute young man he once deplored had become a swift, sharp man of action, making plans, giving orders, showing what kind of a man he might have been. But perhaps he had comprehended it, sometime previous, at another interview, when the wasted, dissolute man and the swift man of action had both dissolved together into what he now knows as the true Sydney Carton, the man of deep feeling and deep regret, the man of a barren, blasted past. The only future for that man was death. The man in brown sees that now. A purifying death, the single, selfless action of his life, the one action performed in imitation of that One who said, and was the model for what He said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
The man in brown clutches tight the edge of the window, gazes out at the rushing blackness, but he, old man of business, cannot keep back tears. How he misjudged that warm heart, when all he could see was the drunken wastrel! How he now reverences it and blesses the hour in which he was allowed to see the full strength of it! His only wish is that he could have let him go with a stronger handclasp, a kinder word, a hint that one person, at least, understood. He would not have prevented him. Oh, no. He is too good a man of business for that. He knows the value of Carton's sacrifice and would never have deprived him of it. But just to let him know—he understands.
The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us, but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.
Author's note: Originally I intended it to be from Charles Darnay's point of view, but from the very beginning Mr. Lorry grabbed hold of it and wrenched it away from poor Darnay.
And yes, some of the words are Dickens', not mine.
The title, incidentally, comes from a scene in A Tale of Two Cities with some of Dickens' most poignant, painful words. Charles Darnay has been complaining, in action if not in word, about Sydney Carton, and Lucie says to him, "I would ask you, dearest, to be very generous with him always, and very lenient on his faults when he is not by. I would ask you to believe that he has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and that there are deep wounds in it. My dear, I have seen it bleeding."