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A Tale of Two Cities

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The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD. The red wine had stained the ground where it spilled on the narrow street, in the Paris suburb of Saint Antoine. It had stained many hands, faces, bare feet, and wooden shoes, too. The hands of the man who sawed wood left red marks on the logs. The forehead of the woman who nursed her baby was stained from the old rag she wrapped around her head again. Those who had greedily chewed on pieces of the cask now had a tiger-like smear across their mouths. One tall prankster wearing a long, filthy nightcap dipped his finger in the mixture of mud and wine and wrote the word blood on a wall.
The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there. The time would come when blood, too, would be spilled on the streets, and many of the people would be stained with it.
And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and stared up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil. The gloomy mood that had disappeared briefly from Saint Antoine now returned. Cold, dirt, sickness, lack of education, and poverty caused the darkness of that mood. All were serious problems, especially poverty. A few people, who had been worn down as if in a mill, and not a magical mill that makes old people young, shivered at every corner. They passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in their ragged clothing, which the wind shook. The mill had ground them down, making the young people seem old. The children had very old faces and harsh voices, and hunger was on every face, young and old. It was everywhere. The wrinkles of their aged faces and every breath they took suggested hunger. The tall houses and the tattered clothes that hung on the poles and clotheslines suggested hunger. The clothes sewn together from straw and rags and wood and paper suggested hunger. The small bits of firewood the man was sawing, and the chimneys that had no smoke coming out of them suggested hunger. The filthy streets covered in trash but not a bit of food suggested hunger. The baker’s shelves and every tiny loaf of his small supply of bad bread suggested hunger. The sausage shop, where they sold sausages made from dead dogs, suggested hunger. The rattling of chestnuts in a roaster, and the bits of potatoes, fried with just a few drops of oil, suggested hunger.
Its abiding place was in all things fitted to it. A narrow winding street, full of offence and stench, with other narrow winding streets diverging, all peopled by rags and nightcaps, and all smelling of rags and nightcaps, and all visible things with a brooding look upon them that looked ill. In the hunted air of the people there was yet some wild-beast thought of the possibility of turning at bay. Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting. The trade signs (and they were almost as many as the shops) were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the porkman painted up, only the leanest scrags of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves. The people rudely pictured as drinking in the wine-shops, croaked over their scanty measures of thin wine and beer, and were gloweringly confidential together. Nothing was represented in a flourishing condition, save tools and weapons; but, the cutler’s knives and axes were sharp and bright, the smith’s hammers were heavy, and the gunmaker’s stock was murderous. The crippling stones of the pavement, with their many little reservoirs of mud and water, had no footways, but broke off abruptly at the doors. The kennel, to make amends, ran down the middle of the street—when it ran at all: which was only after heavy rains, and then it ran, by many eccentric fits, into the houses. Across the streets, at wide intervals, one clumsy lamp was slung by a rope and pulley; at night, when the lamplighter had let these down, and lighted, and hoisted them again, a feeble grove of dim wicks swung in a sickly manner overhead, as if they were at sea. Indeed they were at sea, and the ship and crew were in peril of tempest. The neighborhood was wellsuited to hunger. It had a filthy, narrow, winding street with other narrow and winding streets branching off it, all filled with poor people in smelly rags and nightcaps. Everything had a sinister, sickly look to it. In the desperation of the people there was the animal instinct to revolt. As sad and downtrodden as they were, they had fiery looks in their eyes. Many of them had tight lips that had turned white from the strain of keeping silent. Many people had frowns on their foreheads in the shape of a hangman’s rope—a rope they imagined themselves hanging from, or pictured using to hang someone else. Poverty was on display in each of the many shop signs. The butcher and pork seller’s signs had only the leanest scraps of meat on them. The baker’s sign had only rough, small loaves of bread. The people crudely displayed in the wine shop signs were scowling suspiciously over their small servings of weak wine and beer. No one was shown as prosperous except for the sellers of tools and weapons. The knife seller’s knives and axes were portrayed as sharp and bright. The smith’s hammers looked strong and heavy. The gun maker’s guns looked deadly. The cobblestone streets, with their many little pools of mud and water, had no walkways. The gutter flowed down the middle of the street—when it flowed at all. That was only during heavy rains, and then it overflowed and ran into the houses. On either side of the street, at wide intervals, a single lamp was hung by a rope and pulley. At night, after the lamplighter had lowered them, lit them, and then raised them up again, a sad group of dimly lit candles hung weakly overhead as if they were on a boat at sea. In a way they were at sea, and all of the people were in imminent danger.

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