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A Tale of Two Cities

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In the howling universe of passion and contention that seemed to encompass this grim old officer conspicuous in his grey coat and red decoration, there was but one quite steady figure, and that was a woman’s. “See, there is my husband!” she cried, pointing him out. “See Defarge!” She stood immovable close to the grim old officer, and remained immovable close to him; remained immovable close to him through the streets, as Defarge and the rest bore him along; remained immovable close to him when he was got near his destination, and began to be struck at from behind; remained immovable close to him when the long-gathering rain of stabs and blows fell heavy; was so close to him when he dropped dead under it, that, suddenly animated, she put her foot upon his neck, and with her cruel knife—long ready—hewed off his head. There was only one calm person in the passionate, angry crowd that seemed to be swallowing up the grim old officer in his gray coat and red decorations. That person was Madame Defarge. “Look, there’s my husband!” she cried, pointing him out. “Look at Defarge!” She stood close to the officer and stayed near him. She stayed close to him through the streets as Defarge and the rest of the crowd brought him along. She stayed close to him when he was near his destination and people began striking at him from behind. She stayed close to him when the crowd started to stab and hit him more and more. She was still close to him when he dropped dead from it. Then, suddenly coming alive, she put her foot on his neck and cut off his head with her crude knife.
The hour was come, when Saint Antoine was to execute his horrible idea of hoisting up men for lamps to show what he could be and do. Saint Antoine’s blood was up, and the blood of tyranny and domination by the iron hand was down—down on the steps of the Hotel de Ville where the governor’s body lay—down on the sole of the shoe of Madame Defarge where she had trodden on the body to steady it for mutilation. “Lower the lamp yonder!” cried Saint Antoine, after glaring round for a new means of death; “here is one of his soldiers to be left on guard!” The swinging sentinel was posted, and the sea rushed on. The time had come when the people of Saint Antoine put their horrible plan of hanging men from street lamps into action. The anger of the people of Saint Antoine was up, and the time of tyranny and cruel domination was down. It was down on the steps of the Hotel de Ville, where the governor’s body lay, and it was down on the sole of Madame Defarge’s shoe, where she had stepped on his body to steady it while she cut off his head. “Hang him over there!” yelled the people of Saint Antoine, after looking for someone else to kill. “Here is one of his soldiers to guard him!” Then they hung one of the governor’s guards too, and the crowd moved on.
The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them. The crowd was dark, destructive, and violent, and its numbers and force were still unknown. The crowd of wavering shapes, voices of revenge, and faces hardened by suffering had no pity left in it.
But, in the ocean of faces where every fierce and furious expression was in vivid life, there were two groups of faces—each seven in number—so fixedly contrasting with the rest, that never did sea roll which bore more memorable wrecks with it. Seven faces of prisoners, suddenly released by the storm that had burst their tomb, were carried high overhead: all scared, all lost, all wondering and amazed, as if the Last Day were come, and those who rejoiced around them were lost spirits. Other seven faces there were, carried higher, seven dead faces, whose drooping eyelids and half-seen eyes awaited the Last Day. Impassive faces, yet with a suspended—not an abolished—expression on them; faces, rather, in a fearful pause, as having yet to raise the dropped lids of the eyes, and bear witness with the bloodless lips, “THOU DIDST IT!” In the crowd every, face had a fierce, angry expression on it, but there were two groups of faces—each seven in number—that were different from the rest. There were seven faces of prisoners who had been freed suddenly by the crowd that had burst into the Bastille. They were carried high overhead, scared and lost and confused and amazed as if it were the last day on earth and the people who cheered around them were spirits. There were also seven other people carried higher by the crowd. Their seven dead faces drooped, as if on their way to judgment before God. Their faces were unemotional, but their expressions were frozen—not erased. They were faces that were caught as if they were about to open their eyes and say to their killers, “You did it!”
Seven prisoners released, seven gory heads on pikes, the keys of the accursed fortress of the eight strong towers, some discovered letters and other memorials of prisoners of old time, long dead of broken hearts,—such, and such—like, the loudly echoing footsteps of Saint Antoine escort through the Paris streets in mid-July, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine. Now, Heaven defeat the fancy of Lucie Darnay, and keep these feet far out of her life! For, they are headlong, mad, and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge’s wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red. Seven prisoners had been released, and seven bloody heads had been put on pikes. There were the keys to the Bastille and its eight strong towers, some letters, and other memorials of prisoners that had been discovered that had died long ago of broken hearts. Their footsteps of the people of Saint Antoine echoed as they marched through the streets of Paris in mid-July 1789. Now, Heaven win out over the imagination of Lucie Darnay and keep these feet out of her life! For they are driven, crazy, and dangerous. After so many years since the wine cask broke outside the door of Defarge’s wine shop, these footsteps can’t be easily cleaned once they are stained red.

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