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A Tale of Two Cities

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“And whose fault was that?” “And whose fault was that?”
“Upon my soul, I am not sure that it was not yours. You were always driving and riving and shouldering and passing, to that restless degree that I had no chance for my life but in rust and repose. It’s a gloomy thing, however, to talk about one’s own past, with the day breaking. Turn me in some other direction before I go.” “On my life, I’m not sure that it wasn’t your fault. You were always pushing and shoving and striving ahead. I had no chance but to sit back and waste away. It’s depressing, though, to talk about the past at the beginning of a new day. Change the subject for me before I leave.”
“Well then! Pledge me to the pretty witness,” said Stryver, holding up his glass. “Are you turned in a pleasant direction?” “Well then! Let’s talk about that pretty witness,” said Stryver, holding his glass. “Is that a more pleasant topic?”
Apparently not, for he became gloomy again. Apparently it wasn’t, for he got depressed again.
“Pretty witness,” he muttered, looking down into his glass. “I have had enough of witnesses to-day and to-night; who’s your pretty witness?” “Pretty witness,” muttered Carton, staring into his glass. “I’ve had enough of witnesses today and tonight. Which pretty witness are you talking about?”
“The picturesque doctor’s daughter, Miss Manette.” “Miss Manette, the doctor’s beautiful daughter.”
“SHE pretty?” “She? Pretty?” said Carton.
“Is she not?” “Isn’t she?”
“No.” “No.”
“Why, man alive, she was the admiration of the whole Court!” “Why, everyone in the courtroom was admiring her!”
“Rot the admiration of the whole Court! Who made the Old Bailey a judge of beauty? She was a golden-haired doll!” “Who cares? Who made the Old Bailey a judge of beauty? She looked like a blond doll.”
“Do you know, Sydney,” said Mr. Stryver, looking at him with sharp eyes, and slowly drawing a hand across his florid face: “do you know, I rather thought, at the time, that you sympathised with the golden-haired doll, and were quick to see what happened to the golden-haired doll?” “Do you know, Sydney,” said Mr. Stryver, looking at him intently and wiping his face with his hand. “You know, during the trial I thought you sympathized with the blond doll, and were interested to see what happened to that blond doll.”
“Quick to see what happened! If a girl, doll or no doll, swoons within a yard or two of a man’s nose, he can see it without a perspective-glass. I pledge you, but I deny the beauty. And now I’ll have no more drink; I’ll get to bed.” “Interested to see what happened to her? A man can tell if a girl is about to faint right in front of his face. I agree to that, but I deny that she’s beautiful. I’m done drinking. I’m going to bed.”
When his host followed him out on the staircase with a candle, to light him down the stairs, the day was coldly looking in through its grimy windows. When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad, the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene like a lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and round before the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away, and the first spray of it in its advance had begun to overwhelm the city. Mr. Stryver followed Mr. Carton with a candle to show him the way down the stairs. The day looked cold through the grimy windows. When he left the house, it was cold and sad outside. The sky was gray and overcast. The river was dark. The whole scene looked like a lifeless desert. Clouds of dust were blowing around in the morning wind, as if the desert sand had risen far away and was about to cover London.
Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears. Feeling empty, with this desert all around, Mr. Carton stopped as he crossed an empty terrace and stood still. For a moment he imagined a life filled with honor, ambition, sacrifice, and hard work. It was a life filled with hope and possibility. The fantasy lasted only a moment, and then it was gone. He climbed to his room high up in a group of houses. He threw himself down on his unmade bed still wearing his clothes, his pillow wet with tears cried for his wasted life.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away. Sadly, sadly, the sun rose. There wasn’t a sadder sight that morning than Mr. Carton, a good man with good skills who was unable to put them to good use. He was unable to help himself or to make himself happy. He was aware of his troubles but had resigned himself to them.

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