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A Tale of Two Cities

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The man slept on, indifferent to showers of hail and intervals of brightness, to sunshine on his face and shadow, to the paltering lumps of dull ice on his body and the diamonds into which the sun changed them, until the sun was low in the west, and the sky was glowing. Then, the mender of roads having got his tools together and all things ready to go down into the village, roused him. The man kept sleeping. He didn’t notice the showers of hail and periods of sunshine, the sunlight or shadow on his face, the lumps of ice on his body, and the diamond shapes the sun melted them into. The sun was low in the west and the sky was glowing. Then the repairer of roads was ready to go down to the village, so he gathered his tools and all his things and woke the man up.
“Good!” said the sleeper, rising on his elbow. “Two leagues beyond the summit of the hill?” “Good!” said the traveler, lifting himself up on his elbows. “Two leagues past the top of the hill?”
“About.” “About that.”
“About. Good!” “About that. Good!”
The mender of roads went home, with the dust going on before him according to the set of the wind, and was soon at the fountain, squeezing himself in among the lean kine brought there to drink, and appearing even to whisper to them in his whispering to all the village. When the village had taken its poor supper, it did not creep to bed, as it usually did, but came out of doors again, and remained there. A curious contagion of whispering was upon it, and also, when it gathered together at the fountain in the dark, another curious contagion of looking expectantly at the sky in one direction only. Monsieur Gabelle, chief functionary of the place, became uneasy; went out on his house-top alone, and looked in that direction too; glanced down from behind his chimneys at the darkening faces by the fountain below, and sent word to the sacristan who kept the keys of the church, that there might be need to ring the tocsin by-and-bye. The repairer of roads went home with dust blowing ahead of him to wherever the wind took it. Soon he was at the fountain, joining the group of thin cows that had been brought there to drink, and even appearing to whisper to them. When the people in the village had eaten their small suppers, they didn’t go to bed as usual, but came outside again and stayed there. A strange amount of whispering was going on, and when the crowd gathered around the fountain in the dark, they started looking at the sky in one particular direction. Monsieur Gabelle, the chief official of the area, became anxious. He went out on his rooftop alone and looked in the same direction as the crowd. He glanced down from behind his chimneys at the faces in the dark by the fountain below. Then he sent a message to the sacristan, who had the keys to the church, that they might need to ring the

tocsin

alarm bell

tocsin
soon.
The night deepened. The trees environing the old chateau, keeping its solitary state apart, moved in a rising wind, as though they threatened the pile of building massive and dark in the gloom. Up the two terrace flights of steps the rain ran wildly, and beat at the great door, like a swift messenger rousing those within; uneasy rushes of wind went through the hall, among the old spears and knives, and passed lamenting up the stairs, and shook the curtains of the bed where the last Marquis had slept. East, West, North, and South, through the woods, four heavy-treading, unkempt figures crushed the high grass and cracked the branches, striding on cautiously to come together in the courtyard. Four lights broke out there, and moved away in different directions, and all was black again. The night grew darker. The trees surrounding the old chateau, which kept it isolated, moved in a rising wind, as though they were threatening the chateau in the dark. The rain poured down the two flights of steps to the terrace and beat at the large front door, like a messenger trying to wake those inside. Wind rushed through the hall among the old spears and knives. With a sighing sound, it went up the stairs and shook the bed curtains where the last marquis had slept. Four disheveled people stomped through the high grass through the woods toward the chateau. They came from all directions—east, west, north, and south—and they broke branches as they walked cautiously to meet up in the courtyard. They lit four lights there, then moved off in different directions, and then everything was dark again.
But, not for long. Presently, the chateau began to make itself strangely visible by some light of its own, as though it were growing luminous. Then, a flickering streak played behind the architecture of the front, picking out transparent places, and showing where balustrades, arches, and windows were. Then it soared higher, and grew broader and brighter. Soon, from a score of the great windows, flames burst forth, and the stone faces awakened, stared out of fire. But not for long. Soon, a light came on in the chateau, making it visible and appear as if it were glowing. Then a streak of flickering light could be seen behind the front of the building. It moved past balustrades, arches, and windows, lighting them up. Then it went higher and grew brighter. Soon flames burst out from many of the large windows and the stone faces could be seen staring out of the fire.
A faint murmur arose about the house from the few people who were left there, and there was a saddling of a horse and riding away. There was spurring and splashing through the darkness, and bridle was drawn in the space by the village fountain, and the horse in a foam stood at Monsieur Gabelle’s door. “Help, Gabelle! Help, every one!” The tocsin rang impatiently, but other help (if that were any) there was none. The mender of roads, and two hundred and fifty particular friends, stood with folded arms at the fountain, looking at the pillar of fire in the sky. “It must be forty feet high,” said they, grimly; and never moved. A faint murmur could be heard from the few people who were left at the chateau. Someone saddled a horse and rode away. There was the sound of someone spurring a horse on and splashing through the dark. The horse, foaming at the mouth from exertion, rode past the village fountain and stopped at Monsieur Gabelle’s door. “Help, Gabelle! Help, everyone!” cried the man on the horse. The alarm bell at the church rang, but there was no other help to come. The repairer of roads and two hundred and fifty of his companions stood at the fountain with their arms folded, looking at the pillar of fire in the sky. “It must be forty feet high,” they said, seriously. They never moved.

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