What the Dickens!


‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’

And so he might have done, had it not been for the indefatigable Miss Pross. Deafened by the shot that had ended her tussle with Madame Defarge, she was standing by the guillotine and gesticulating madly. She did not hear the clocks strike three or the desperate cries of Madame Defarge’s bosom friend, known by all as The Vengeance, wondering why the implacable Thérèse was about to miss her moment of triumph over the last of the Évrémondes . Jacques One, Two, Three and One Hundred and Three could have sung the Marseillaise in lusty chorus and she would not have heard them.

“Get back into the tumbril, Mr Carton,” she was shouting. “I’ll take care of this lot.” Holding Madame Defarge’s pistol in one hand and her dagger in the other, she felt quite equal to the task. “If these aren’t enough,” she continued, “I’ve also got her spare knitting needles.” For emphasis, she brandished them all at the executioner. With the marks of Madame Defarge’s griping fingers on her face, some of her wild red hair torn out and her usually neat dress in disarray, she was certainly an arresting sight. The watching crowd fell silent and the revolutionary guards – caught completely off guard for once – could not decide whether to laugh or seize her.

Those few seconds of uncertainty were all that Sidney Carton needed. Having lived on his wits for most of his life, they did not desert him now. A quick glance at the waiting tumbril showed no sign of the grinning wretch who had brought him to the guillotine. Instead, a tendril of golden hair peeped out from the red nightcap of the driver and a pair of slim, well manicured hands held the reins of the horse. Lucy Manette. One desperate leap – not easy from a standing start and with hands bound behind his back – and he was safely on board.

“Giddy up!” shouted Lucy and they were off.

Much later on, sipping wine in the private room of a quiet country inn, Sidney leaned across the table and said, “I can only suppose, Madame, that your husband recovered from the chloroform and, being too weak to come himself, sent you to rescue me.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “He’s still unconscious. It was all my idea. Oh, I know I always played the devoted wife, but he was far too saintly for my taste.  I fell for you the first time I saw you at the Old Bailey.”

“And I for you, which is why I…”

“Shush! I know that, but I haven’t finished. Anyway, I was told back then that you were the most idle and unpromising of men and a girl has to be sensible, you know, so I married Charles, but I could never get you entirely out of my head. I must admit that I almost had second thoughts when I saw you holding someone else’s hand in the tumbril, which is why I didn’t give Prossy the signal until I saw the girl’s head land in the basket.”

Sidney started. “Poor Miss Pross! What of her?”

“Oh, she’ll be all right. Not a drop of French blood in her, you see, and she’ll play the British card.”

“And if the rabble won’t go for that?”

With a very Gallic shrug, Lucy raised her glass. “C’est la vie,” she said. “Now, to us!”

This story was written in response to a challenge to write the next chapter to a well known story.