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A Tale of Two Cities

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The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozen exceptional people who had had, for a few years, some vague misgiving in them that things in general were going rather wrong. As a promising way of setting them right, half of the half-dozen had become members of a fantastic sect of Convulsionists, and were even then considering within themselves whether they should foam, rage, roar, and turn cataleptic on the spot—thereby setting up a highly intelligible finger-post to the Future, for Monseigneur’s guidance. Besides these Dervishes, were other three who had rushed into another sect, which mended matters with a jargon about “the Centre of Truth:” holding that Man had got out of the Centre of Truth—which did not need much demonstration—but had not got out of the Circumference, and that he was to be kept from flying out of the Circumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre, by fasting and seeing of spirits. Among these, accordingly, much discoursing with spirits went on—and it did a world of good which never became manifest. Everyone there was completely detached from reality. In the outermost room there were six or so people who had, for a few years, some vague feeling that things in general were getting worse. To fix this, three of them had become members of a cult of

Convulsionists

a religious sect whose members went into convulsions under divine inspiration

Convulsionists
. They were trying to decide right then if they should foam at the mouth, start screaming, or go catatonic to show the monseigneur signs of what would happen in the future. The other three had joined a different cult that focused on talk of the “center of truth.” They believed that mankind had abandoned the “center of truth”—which was very apparent—but that it was still in the “circumference.” The way to keep us from leaving the circumference, and to push us back into the center, was by fasting and seeing ghosts. So these people spent a lot of time talking with ghosts, claiming it did a lot of good, but no one ever saw a tangible difference.
But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever. The exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding wore little pendent trinkets that chinked as they languidly moved; these golden fetters rang like precious little bells; and what with that ringing, and with the rustle of silk and brocade and fine linen, there was a flutter in the air that fanned Saint Antoine and his devouring hunger far away. The comforting part was that everyone at the monseigneur’s hotel was perfectly dressed. If the day of Judgment was a day on which one’s clothing were judged, everyone would have been fine for eternity. People frizzled and powdered and stuck their hair up. Their delicate skin was preserved and covered in makeup. The men wore attractive swords, and everyone smelled good. All of this would surely keep anything going forever. The elegant gentlemen of the best breeding wore little decorations that clinked as they strolled around. These golden chains rang like precious little bells. That ringing, and the rustle of silk and expensive cloth, caused a flutter in the air that stirred up the hunger of the poor in Saint Antoine far away.
Dress was the one unfailing talisman and charm used for keeping all things in their places. Everybody was dressed for a Fancy Ball that was never to leave off. From the Palace of the Tuileries, through Monseigneur and the whole Court, through the Chambers, the Tribunals of Justice, and all society (except the scarecrows), the Fancy Ball descended to the Common Executioner: who, in pursuance of the charm, was required to officiate “frizzled, powdered, in a gold-laced coat, pumps, and white silk stockings.” At the gallows and the wheel—the axe was a rarity—Monsieur Paris, as it was the episcopal mode among his brother Professors of the provinces, Monsieur Orleans, and the rest, to call him, presided in this dainty dress. And who among the company at Monseigneur’s reception in that seventeen hundred and eightieth year of our Lord, could possibly doubt, that a system rooted in a frizzled hangman, powdered, gold-laced, pumped, and white-silk stockinged, would see the very stars out! Clothing was the one unfailing charm that kept all things in place. Everyone was dressed for a fancy ball that would never stop, from the people at the palace of the Tuileries, to monseigneur and all of the court, to the judges’ chambers and all of society. All, that is, except for the poor. Even the executioner was dressed for the ball. He, according to the style, performed his job dressed up, wearing makeup and a gold-laced coat, high heels, and white silk stockings. At the gallows and the

wheel

an execution method in which the prisoner’s limbs were broken

wheel
—the axe was rarely used—the executioner wore fancy clothes. He was known as Mr. Paris by Mr. Orleans and his other fellow executioners. And who, at the monseigneur’s party in 1780, could possibly doubt that a system based around a made-up, gold-laced, high-heeled, silk-stocking-wearing hangman wouldn’t outlast the stars themselves!
Monseigneur having eased his four men of their burdens and taken his chocolate, caused the doors of the Holiest of Holiests to be thrown open, and issued forth. Then, what submission, what cringing and fawning, what servility, what abject humiliation! As to bowing down in body and spirit, nothing in that way was left for Heaven—which may have been one among other reasons why the worshippers of Monseigneur never troubled it. Monseigneur had taken his chocolate from his four servants and eaten it, and he opened the doors of his inner chamber and came out. When he did, everyone started bowing, scraping, fawning, and generally humiliating themselves before him. Everyone did so much bowing and praying for the monseigneur that nothing was left for Heaven, which might have been one of several reason why the monseigneur’s worshippers never went there.

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