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A Tale of Two Cities

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A bottle of good claret after dinner does a digger in the red coals no harm, otherwise than as it has a tendency to throw him out of work. Mr. Lorry had been idle a long time, and had just poured out his last glassful of wine with as complete an appearance of satisfaction as is ever to be found in an elderly gentleman of a fresh complexion who has got to the end of a bottle, when a rattling of wheels came up the narrow street, and rumbled into the inn-yard. Mr. Lorry drank a bottle of good red wine after dinner, causing him to lose interest in work. He had been sitting there for a long time and had just poured out his last glassful of wine—with as happy an expression as any elderly gentleman can have after drinking most of a bottle—when he heard the rattling of wheels coming up the street and pulling into the inn’s yard.
He set down his glass untouched. “This is Mam’selle!” said he. He put down his glass without drinking. “Mademoiselle is here!” he said.
In a very few minutes the waiter came in to announce that Miss Manette had arrived from London, and would be happy to see the gentleman from Tellson’s. In just a few minutes the waiter came in to tell him that Miss Manette had arrived from London and would be happy to see him.
“So soon?” “So soon?”
Miss Manette had taken some refreshment on the road, and required none then, and was extremely anxious to see the gentleman from Tellson’s immediately, if it suited his pleasure and convenience. Miss Manette had had some food and drink on the journey and didn’t need anymore when she arrived. She was extremely anxious to see Mr. Lorry immediately, if he was ready to meet with her.
The gentleman from Tellson’s had nothing left for it but to empty his glass with an air of stolid desperation, settle his odd little flaxen wig at the ears, and follow the waiter to Miss Manette’s apartment. It was a large, dark room, furnished in a funereal manner with black horsehair, and loaded with heavy dark tables. These had been oiled and oiled, until the two tall candles on the table in the middle of the room were gloomily reflected on every leaf; as if THEY were buried, in deep graves of black mahogany, and no light to speak of could be expected from them until they were dug out. Mr. Lorry tossed back the rest of his wine with an air of calm desperation, straightened his odd little wig over his ears, and followed the waiter to Miss Manette’s room. The room was large and dark, and it was furnished like a funeral parlor with black horsehair furniture and heavy, dark tables. These tables had been oiled repeatedly, so that the two tall candles on the table in the middle of the room were gloomily reflected in the oiled surface. The reflections made it look like the candles themselves were buried deep in graves of black mahogany, and they would give off no light until they were dug out.
The obscurity was so difficult to penetrate that Mr. Lorry, picking his way over the well-worn Turkey carpet, supposed Miss Manette to be, for the moment, in some adjacent room, until, having got past the two tall candles, he saw standing to receive him by the table between them and the fire, a young lady of not more than seventeen, in a riding-cloak, and still holding her straw travelling-hat by its ribbon in her hand. As his eyes rested on a short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that met his own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity (remembering how young and smooth it was), of rifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it included all the four expressions—as his eyes rested on these things, a sudden vivid likeness passed before him, of a child whom he had held in his arms on the passage across that very Channel, one cold time, when the hail drifted heavily and the sea ran high. The likeness passed away, like a breath along the surface of the gaunt pier-glass behind her, on the frame of which, a hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering black baskets of Dead Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine gender—and he made his formal bow to Miss Manette. The room was so dark that, as Mr. Lorry carefully crossed the worn Turkish carpet, he thought for a moment that Miss Manette was in a different room. Then he moved past the two tall candles and saw a young lady standing to meet him between the table and the fire. She was no older than seventeen and wore a riding cloak. She was still holding her straw traveling hat by its ribbon. He looked at her short, thin, pretty figure, her golden blonde hair, her curious blue eyes, and her young, smooth forehead, which had a habit of wrinkling up in an expression that looked like a mixture of confusion, wonder, fear, and keen awareness. As he looked at her, she suddenly reminded him of a child he had held in his arms on a journey across the Channel separating England and France, on a cold day when it was hailing heavily and the sea was high. The similarity passed quickly, like steam breathed on the mirror behind her would pass quickly. On the frame of that mirror behind her, figurines of black cupids, broken and headless, held out baskets of fruit to black goddesses. Mr. Lorry bowed formally to Miss Manette.

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