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case detained to be imprinted on the memory of the chief and his
“Come!” said the chief, at length taking up his keys, “come with
me, emigrant.” Through the dismal prison twilight, his new charge
accompanied him by corridor and staircase, many doors clanging
and locking behind them, until they came into a large, low, vaulted
chamber, crowded with prisoners of both sexes. The women were
seated at a long table, reading and writing, knitting, sewing, and
embroidering; the men were for the most part standing behind
their chairs, or lingering up and down the room.
In the instinctive association of prisoners with shameful crime and
disgrace, the new-comer recoiled from this company. But the
crowning unreality of his long unreal ride, was, their all at once
rising to receive him, with every refinement of manner known to
the time, and with all the engaging graces and courtesies of life.
So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison
manners and gloom, so spectral did they become in the
inappropriate squalor and misery through which they were seen,
that Charles Darnay seemed to stand in a company of the dead.
Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, the ghost of stateliness, the ghost of
elegance, the ghost of pride, the ghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit,
the ghost of youth, the ghost of age, all waiting their dismissal
from the desolate shore, all turning on him eyes that were changed
by the death they had died in coming there.
It struck him motionless. The gaoler standing at his side, and the
other gaolers moving about, who would have been well enough as
to appearance in the ordinary exercise of their functions, looked so
extravagantly coarse contrasted with sorrowing mothers and
blooming daughters who were there-with the apparitions of the
coquette, the young beauty, and the mature woman delicately
bred-that the inversion of all experience and likelihood which the
scene of shadows presented, was heightened to its utmost. Surely,
ghosts all. Surely, the long unreal ride some progress of disease
that had brought him to these gloomy shades!
“In the name of the assembled companions in misfortune,” said a
gentleman of courtly appearance and address, coming forward, “I
have the honour of giving you welcome to La Force, and of
condoling with you on the calamity that has brought you among
us. May it soon terminate happily! It would be an impertinence
elsewhere, but it is not so here, to ask your name and condition?”
Charles Darnay roused himself, and gave the required information,
in words as suitable as he could find.
“But I hope,” said the gentleman, following the chief gaoler with
his eyes, who moved across the room, “that you are not in secret?”