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A Tale of Two Cities

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“Did the man run away, Dolt, when we stopped for the drag?” “Did the man run away, you dolt, when we stopped to apply the brake?”
“Monseigneur, he precipitated himself over the hill-side, head first, as a person plunges into the river.” “Monseigneur, he jumped over the side of the hill, headfirst, the way a person jumps into a river.”
“See to it, Gabelle. Go on!” “Look into it, Gabelle.” Then he yelled to the driver, “Let’s go!”
The half-dozen who were peering at the chain were still among the wheels, like sheep; the wheels turned so suddenly that they were lucky to save their skins and bones; they had very little else to save, or they might not have been so fortunate. The six or so people who had been looking at the chain were still near the wheels. The wheels turned so quickly that they were lucky to get out of the way and to save their skin and bones. They were all very skinny, and there wasn’t much else left of them, otherwise they might not have been so lucky.
The burst with which the carriage started out of the village and up the rise beyond, was soon checked by the steepness of the hill. Gradually, it subsided to a foot pace, swinging and lumbering upward among the many sweet scents of a summer night. The postilions, with a thousand gossamer gnats circling about them in lieu of the Furies, quietly mended the points to the lashes of their whips; the valet walked by the horses; the courier was audible, trotting on ahead into the dun distance. The carriage burst out of the village and headed toward a rise in the road. The hill was steep, though, and soon the carriage had slowed down to a walking pace. It swung and lumbered up the hill among the sweet scents of the summer night. The horsemen were surrounded by thousands of tiny gnats, and they lashed the horses with their whips. The valet walked beside the horses. The courier could be heard as he trotted ahead into the distance.
At the steepest point of the hill there was a little burial-ground, with a Cross and a new large figure of Our Saviour on it; it was a poor figure in wood, done by some inexperienced rustic carver, but he had studied the figure from the life—his own life, maybe—for it was dreadfully spare and thin. At the steepest part of the hill there was a little graveyard with a cross and a large figure of Jesus Christ on it. It was a rough wooden figure done by some amateur country sculptor. He must have based the figure on a person he knew, or perhaps on himself, for it was terribly small and thin.
To this distressful emblem of a great distress that had long been growing worse, and was not at its worst, a woman was kneeling. She turned her head as the carriage came up to her, rose quickly, and presented herself at the carriage-door. A woman was kneeling at the foot of this figure. She turned her head as the carriage came near her and quickly got up and went to stand at the carriage door.
“It is you, Monseigneur! Monseigneur, a petition.” “It’s you, Monseigneur! I have a petition for you.”
With an exclamation of impatience, but with his unchangeable face, Monseigneur looked out. He exclaimed impatiently but looked out at her. His expression didn’t change.
“How, then! What is it? Always petitions!” “What? What is it? Always petitions!”
“Monseigneur. For the love of the great God! My husband, the forester.” “Monseigneur, for the love of God! My husband the forester…”
“What of your husband, the forester? Always the same with you people. He cannot pay something?” “What about your husband the forester? It’s always the same with you people. He can’t afford to pay for something?”
“He has paid all, Monseigneur. He is dead.” “He has paid all that he has, Monseigneur. He is dead.”
“Well! He is quiet. Can I restore him to you?” “Good! He’s quiet. Can I bring him back to life for you?”
“Alas, no, Monseigneur! But he lies yonder, under a little heap of poor grass.” “Sadly, no, Monseigneur. But he is buried over there under a sad little heap of grass.”
“Well?” “So?”
“Monseigneur, there are so many little heaps of poor grass?” “Monseigneur, there are so many sad little heaps of grass…”
“Again, well?” “Again, so?”
She looked an old woman, but was young. Her manner was one of passionate grief; by turns she clasped her veinous and knotted hands together with wild energy, and laid one of them on the carriage-door—tenderly, caressingly, as if it had been a human breast, and could be expected to feel the appealing touch. She looked like an old woman, but she was in fact young. She wrung her vein-covered, rough hands together with wild energy and placed one of them on the door of the carriage. She did it tenderly as if placing her hand on someone’s chest, as if the carriage could feel her touch.
“Monseigneur, hear me! Monseigneur, hear my petition! My husband died of want; so many die of want; so many more will die of want.” “Listen to me, Monseigneur. Listen to my petition! My husband died of hunger. So many people do. So many more people will die from hunger.”
“Again, well? Can I feed them?” “Again, so? Can I feed them all?”
“Monseigneur, the good God knows; but I don’t ask it. My petition is, that a morsel of stone or wood, with my husband’s name, may be placed over him to show where he lies. Otherwise, the place will be quickly forgotten, it will never be found when I am dead of the same malady, I shall be laid under some other heap of poor grass. Monseigneur, they are so many, they increase so fast, there is so much want. Monseigneur! Monseigneur!” “God knows that I’m not asking for that, Monseigneur. My petition is that a small bit of stone or wood with my husband’s name be used to mark his grave. Otherwise his burial place will soon be forgotten. No one will find it after I die of hunger too. I will be buried under a different sad little heap of grass, Monseigneur. There are so many unmarked graves. People are dying faster and faster. There is so much hunger, Monseigneur. Monseigneur!”

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