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A Tale of Two Cities

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For three heavy hours, the stone faces of the chateau, lion and human, stared blindly at the night. Dead darkness lay on all the landscape, dead darkness added its own hush to the hushing dust on all the roads. The burial-place had got to the pass that its little heaps of poor grass were undistinguishable from one another; the figure on the Cross might have come down, for anything that could be seen of it. In the village, taxers and taxed were fast asleep. Dreaming, perhaps, of banquets, as the starved usually do, and of ease and rest, as the driven slave and the yoked ox may, its lean inhabitants slept soundly, and were fed and freed. For three hours, the stone faces of men and lions on the chateau stared out at the night. All of the land was dark, and the dust settled on the quiet roads. It was so dark that the little heaps of poor grass in the graveyard were indistinguishable from one another, and the figure on the crucifix might have come down, since it was practically invisible in the darkness. In the village, the tax collectors and the people who paid the taxes were fast asleep. They may have been dreaming of large feasts, as starving people usually do, or of resting and living easily, as overworked slaves and oxen do. The thin villagers slept soundly and, in their dreams, were fed well and were free.
The fountain in the village flowed unseen and unheard, and the fountain at the chateau dropped unseen and unheard—both melting away, like the minutes that were falling from the spring of Time—through three dark hours. Then, the grey water of both began to be ghostly in the light, and the eyes of the stone faces of the chateau were opened. The fountain in the village flowed silently and invisibly in the darkness, as did the fountain at the chateau. They melted away like minutes of time during the three hours of darkness. Then, it started to turn to daylight.
Lighter and lighter, until at last the sun touched the tops of the still trees, and poured its radiance over the hill. In the glow, the water of the chateau fountain seemed to turn to blood, and the stone faces crimsoned. The carol of the birds was loud and high, and, on the weather-beaten sill of the great window of the bed-chamber of Monsieur the Marquis, one little bird sang its sweetest song with all its might. At this, the nearest stone face seemed to stare amazed, and, with open mouth and dropped under-jaw, looked awe-stricken. It got lighter and lighter until sunlight hit the tops of the trees and light spread over the hill. In the sunlight, the water in the chateau fountain looked red as if the water were blood, and the faces of the stone statues were also red. The birds sang loudly, and one little bird sitting on the windowsill of the marquis’s bedroom sang with all its might. The closest stone face nearest seemed to stare at the bird. Its mouth was open wide, making it appear amazed and awe stricken.
Now, the sun was full up, and movement began in the village. Casement windows opened, crazy doors were unbarred, and people came forth shivering—chilled, as yet, by the new sweet air. Then began the rarely lightened toil of the day among the village population. Some, to the fountain; some, to the fields; men and women here, to dig and delve; men and women there, to see to the poor live stock, and lead the bony cows out, to such pasture as could be found by the roadside. In the church and at the Cross, a kneeling figure or two; attendant on the latter prayers, the led cow, trying for a breakfast among the weeds at its foot. Finally the sun was up and people began to stir in the village. Windows were opened, doors were unlocked, and people came outside shivering, chilled by the sweet morning air. Then they began the hard work that would continue for all of them throughout the day. Some went to the fountain, and some went to work in the fields. Men and women went to dig and search for food. They went to tend to the meager livestock and to lead the skinny cows to any meager pastures they could find near the roadside. A couple of people were at the church kneeling and praying at the cross. A cow they had led there tried to eat the weeds at its feet.
The chateau awoke later, as became its quality, but awoke gradually and surely. First, the lonely boar-spears and knives of the chase had been reddened as of old; then, had gleamed trenchant in the morning sunshine; now, doors and windows were thrown open, horses in their stables looked round over their shoulders at the light and freshness pouring in at doorways, leaves sparkled and rustled at iron-grated windows, dogs pulled hard at their chains, and reared impatient to be loosed. The people at the marquis’s chateau woke up later than the villagers, as was their habit, but they did gradually awake. First, the boar spears and hunting knives hanging in the hallway gleamed red in the sunlight. Then doors and windows were opened. The horses in their stables turned around to see light and fresh air coming in through the doorways. The iron-grated windows were opened, revealing the leaves outside rustling and sparkling. Dogs pulled at their chains impatiently, impatient to be let loose.
All these trivial incidents belonged to the routine of life, and the return of morning. Surely, not so the ringing of the great bell of the chateau, nor the running up and down the stairs; nor the hurried figures on the terrace; nor the booting and tramping here and there and everywhere, nor the quick saddling of horses and riding away? All of these small events were part of the morning routine. But some other things were happening that morning were not that common. At the chateau, the large bell was ringing. People were running up and down the stairs and hurrying around on the terrace. People ran everywhere. Others saddled horses quickly and rode away.

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