In Book the Third, Chapter X, as Charles Darnay stands prisoner before the bonnets rouges, Madame Defarge reads the letter that her husband has discovered in the former cell of Dr. Manette. This letter was written by Manette as a report of the atrocities committed by aristocratic twins against peasants who live and work on the property.
Manette writes that upon his arrival he sees a beautiful young woman "in high fever" restrained with sashes and handerchiefs. Clearly, she has been used by the twin aristocrats. Then, Manette is brought to a dying boy who tells the physician, with the "fire" of being oppressed bursting forth,
"They have had their shameful rights, these Nobles, in the modesty and virtue of our sisiters....[and they] harness us like common dogs to carts, and drive us...."
The boy explains further that his sister's husband was harnessed all day to a cart; in the evening, he was required to stay out in the "unwholesome mists" keep the frogs quiet so the nobles could sleep. Finally, beaten, starved, and enervated, the man dies in the arms of his beloved wife:
"Taken out of harness one day at noon, to feed--if he could find food--he sobbed twelve times, once for every stroke of the bell, and died on her bosom."
Now, as the woman has been abused by the nobles repeatedly repeats the number twelve, she recalls the death of her beloved husband as well as the terrible abuse of all in her family.