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A Tale of Two Cities

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A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them? It’s amazing to think that every human being is a complete mystery to every other human being. When I enter a big city at night, I think how every one of the houses clustered together in the dark holds its own secret inside; and every room in every house has its own secret; and every one of the thousands of people in the city keeps a secret from those closest to him. In a way it’s like death. When I am dead I can no longer turn the pages of life’s book, and vainly hope to read all of it. I won’t be able to look at the mysteries of life, and catch glimpses of hidden truths. Life ends in an instant, when I’ve only begun to experience it. It ends with its mysteries forever unsolved, leaving me without answers. The same is true of my friend, neighbor, or dearest love, all of whom will die. Death turns the secrets each individual carries into permanent mysteries, just as my secrets will never come out once I’ve died. Are the dead in London’s graveyards more mysterious to me than its living inhabitants are, or am I as much of a mystery to those inhabitants myself?
As to this, his natural and not to be alienated inheritance, the messenger on horseback had exactly the same possessions as the King, the first Minister of State, or the richest merchant in London. So with the three passengers shut up in the narrow compass of one lumbering old mail coach; they were mysteries to one another, as complete as if each had been in his own coach and six, or his own coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between him and the next. In a way, our secrets make us all equals. Jerry, the messenger, possessed as many secrets as the king, or the first minister of state, or the richest businessman in London. The same is true of the three passengers closed up in the lumbering old mail coach. They were all mysteries to each other, as unknown to each other as if they had each been in different coaches, traveling in completely different places.
The messenger rode back at an easy trot, stopping pretty often at ale-houses by the way to drink, but evincing a tendency to keep his own counsel, and to keep his hat cocked over his eyes. He had eyes that assorted very well with that decoration, being of a surface black, with no depth in the colour or form, and much too near together—as if they were afraid of being found out in something, singly, if they kept too far apart. They had a sinister expression, under an old cocked-hat like a three-cornered spittoon, and over a great muffler for the chin and throat, which descended nearly to the wearer’s knees. When he stopped for drink, he moved this muffler with his left hand, only while he poured his liquor in with his right; as soon as that was done, he muffled again. The messenger rode slowly back, stopping often at alehouses along the way to drink, but keeping to himself, with his hat angled over his eyes. His eyes, which fit him well, were solid black and much too close together, as if each eye feared being caught at something if it were too far from the other. They peered out menacingly from under his old hat, which was pulled down low and looked like a

three-sided spittoon

a receptacle for tobacco chewers to spit into

three-sided spittoon
. And they looked out over the large scarf that covered his chin and throat and went down nearly to his knees. When he stopped for a drink, he would remove the scarf with his left hand while he drank with his right, and as soon as he was done, he would cover his face again.

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