Book the Third - The Track of a Storm
13. XIII. Fifty-two
In the black prison of the Conciergerie, the doomed of the day
awaited their fate. They were in number as the weeks of the year.
Fifty-two were to roll that afternoon on the life-tide of the city to
the boundless everlasting sea. Before their cells were quit of them,
new occupants were appointed; before their blood ran into the blood
spilled yesterday, the blood that was to mingle with theirs to-morrow
was already set apart.
Two score and twelve were told off. From the farmer-general of seventy,
whose riches could not buy his life, to the seamstress of twenty,
whose poverty and obscurity could not save her. Physical diseases,
engendered in the vices and neglects of men, will seize on victims
of all degrees; and the frightful moral disorder, born of unspeakable
suffering, intolerable oppression, and heartless indifference,
smote equally without distinction.
Charles Darnay, alone in a cell, had sustained himself with
no flattering delusion since he came to it from the Tribunal.
In every line of the narrative he had heard, he had heard his condemnation.
He had fully comprehended that no personal influence could possibly save him,
that he was virtually sentenced by the millions, and that units could
avail him nothing.
Nevertheless, it was not easy, with the face of his beloved wife
fresh before him, to compose his mind to what it must bear. His hold
on life was strong, and it was very, very hard, to loosen; by gradual
efforts and degrees unclosed a little here, it clenched the tighter
there; and when he brought his strength to bear on that hand and it
yielded, this was closed again. There was a hurry, too, in all his
thoughts, a turbulent and heated working of his heart, that contended
against resignation. If, for a moment, he did feel resigned, then
his wife and child who had to live after him, seemed to protest and
to make it a selfish thing.
But, all this was at first. Before long, the consideration that
there was no disgrace in the fate he must meet, and that numbers went
the same road wrongfully, and trod it firmly every day, sprang up to
stimulate him. Next followed the thought that much of the future
peace of mind enjoyable by the dear ones, depended on his quiet
fortitude. So, by degrees he calmed into the better state, when he
could raise his thoughts much higher, and draw comfort down.