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A Tale of Two Cities

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A beautiful landscape, with the corn bright in it, but not abundant. Patches of poor rye where corn should have been, patches of poor peas and beans, patches of most coarse vegetable substitutes for wheat. On inanimate nature, as on the men and women who cultivated it, a prevalent tendency towards an appearance of vegetating unwillingly—a dejected disposition to give up, and wither away. The landscape was beautiful. The corn had a bright color, though there wasn’t very much of it. Little patches of rye grew where corn should have been. Little patches of small peas and beans also grew there, and so did little patches of most of the cheap vegetables that can be used as substitutes for wheat. The plants, like the men and women who grew them, looked like they were growing unwillingly, like they wanted to give up and die.
Monsieur the Marquis in his travelling carriage (which might have been lighter), conducted by four post-horses and two postilions, fagged up a steep hill. A blush on the countenance of Monsieur the Marquis was no impeachment of his high breeding; it was not from within; it was occasioned by an external circumstance beyond his control—the setting sun. Monsieur the marquis rode in his traveling carriage, which was loaded with unnecessary things. The carriage was conducted by four horses and two guards on horseback, all struggling up a steep hill. The marquis’s face was blushing red, but not because he wasn’t of good breeding. The redness didn’t come from within but from an external source beyond his control: the sunset.
The sunset struck so brilliantly into the travelling carriage when it gained the hill-top, that its occupant was steeped in crimson. “It will die out,” said Monsieur the Marquis, glancing at his hands, “directly.” The light from the sunset shone so strongly into the traveling carriage when it reached the top of the hill that the marquis was covered in a crimson light. “The light will die out soon,” said the marquis as he glanced at his hands.
In effect, the sun was so low that it dipped at the moment. When the heavy drag had been adjusted to the wheel, and the carriage slid down hill, with a cinderous smell, in a cloud of dust, the red glow departed quickly; the sun and the Marquis going down together, there was no glow left when the drag was taken off. The sun was so low that it set right at that moment. When they adjusted the brakes of the wheel, the carriage slid downhill. With the smell of fire, the red glow disappeared in a cloud of dust. The sun went down as the marquis went down the hill, and there was no glow left when they took the brake off the wheel.
But, there remained a broken country, bold and open, a little village at the bottom of the hill, a broad sweep and rise beyond it, a church-tower, a windmill, a forest for the chase, and a crag with a fortress on it used as a prison. Round upon all these darkening objects as the night drew on, the Marquis looked, with the air of one who was coming near home. But the impoverished countryside was still there. A little village sat at the bottom of the hill. There was a church tower, a windmill, a forest for hunting, and a cliff with a castle on it that was used as a prison. All of these were growing darker as night came on. The marquis looked around at all these objects like someone who was returning home.
The village had its one poor street, with its poor brewery, poor tannery, poor tavern, poor stable-yard for relays of post-horses, poor fountain, all usual poor appointments. It had its poor people too. All its people were poor, and many of them were sitting at their doors, shredding spare onions and the like for supper, while many were at the fountain, washing leaves, and grasses, and any such small yieldings of the earth that could be eaten. Expressive sips of what made them poor, were not wanting; the tax for the state, the tax for the church, the tax for the lord, tax local and tax general, were to be paid here and to be paid there, according to solemn inscription in the little village, until the wonder was, that there was any village left unswallowed. The village had one poor street with its one poor brewery, a poor tannery, a poor tavern, a poor stable yard for exchanging horses that delivered the mail, a poor fountain, and all the usual poor parts of a village. There were poor people there too. Everyone who lived in the village was poor, and many of them were sitting in their doorways shredding a few onions and other bits of food for supper. Many were at the fountain washing off leaves, grass, and anything from the ground that was edible. Small signs of their poverty were everywhere. They were taxed by the state, by the church, and by the lord. They paid both the local tax collector and the general tax collector, according to tradition. It was amazing there was any village left at all.
Few children were to be seen, and no dogs. As to the men and women, their choice on earth was stated in the prospect—Life on the lowest terms that could sustain it, down in the little village under the mill; or captivity and Death in the dominant prison on the crag. There weren’t many children, and there were no dogs around. The men and women living there had two choices in life: they could live lives of the lowest quality down in the little village, or they could be locked up and die in the prison on the cliff.
Heralded by a courier in advance, and by the cracking of his postilions’ whips, which twined snake-like about their heads in the evening air, as if he came attended by the Furies, Monsieur the Marquis drew up in his travelling carriage at the posting-house gate. It was hard by the fountain, and the peasants suspended their operations to look at him. He looked at them, and saw in them, without knowing it, the slow sure filing down of misery-worn face and figure, that was to make the meagreness of Frenchmen an English superstition which should survive the truth through the best part of a hundred years. The marquis’s arrival was announced by a messenger who had come ahead of him and by the sound of the horseman cracking his whip, which wrapped around the horses’ heads like a snake in the night air. The marquis’s traveling carriage pulled up in front of the posting-house gate. It was near the fountain, and the peasants stopped what they were doing to look at him. He looked back at them, and, although he didn’t notice it, the peasants were all slowly and surely wasting away, this wasting being the reason that people in England would think of Frenchmen as small and thin for the next hundred years or so.

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