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A Tale of Two Cities

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In the black prison of the Conciergerie, the doomed of the day awaited their fate. They were in number as the weeks of the year. Fifty-two were to roll that afternoon on the life-tide of the city to the boundless everlasting sea. Before their cells were quit of them, new occupants were appointed; before their blood ran into the blood spilled yesterday, the blood that was to mingle with theirs to-morrow was already set apart. In the dark prison of the Conciergerie, the condemned prisoners waited to be executed. The number of condemned prisoners was the same as the number of weeks in a year. Fifty-two people were to be carted through the city streets to their deaths, and new prisoners were assigned to their cells before they had even left them. Before the condemned were killed, the next round of condemned prisoners had already been named.
Two score and twelve were told off. From the farmer-general of seventy, whose riches could not buy his life, to the seamstress of twenty, whose poverty and obscurity could not save her. Physical diseases, engendered in the vices and neglects of men, will seize on victims of all degrees; and the frightful moral disorder, born of unspeakable suffering, intolerable oppression, and heartless indifference, smote equally without distinction. Fifty-two names were read out: from the seventy-year-old farmer-general whose wealth couldn’t save him, to the twenty-year-old seamstress, whose poverty and insignificance couldn’t save her. Sickness caused by immoral behavior and self-neglect will infect people of any social class. The frightening moral sickness that came from unspeakable suffering, oppression, and heartless apathy also struck down its victims regardless of their position in life.
Charles Darnay, alone in a cell, had sustained himself with no flattering delusion since he came to it from the Tribunal. In every line of the narrative he had heard, he had heard his condemnation. He had fully comprehended that no personal influence could possibly save him, that he was virtually sentenced by the millions, and that units could avail him nothing. Charles Darnay was alone in a cell. He had no delusions about being saved since he came to the cell from the tribunal. He knew that every word of the story he had heard condemned him to death. He had fully understood that no person’s influence could possibly save him. It was as if all the millions of people of France had pronounced his sentence, so one person alone could do nothing to help him.
Nevertheless, it was not easy, with the face of his beloved wife fresh before him, to compose his mind to what it must bear. His hold on life was strong, and it was very, very hard, to loosen; by gradual efforts and degrees unclosed a little here, it clenched the tighter there; and when he brought his strength to bear on that hand and it yielded, this was closed again. There was a hurry, too, in all his thoughts, a turbulent and heated working of his heart, that contended against resignation. If, for a moment, he did feel resigned, then his wife and child who had to live after him, seemed to protest and to make it a selfish thing. Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy to prepare his mind for his coming death. He kept picturing his beloved wife’s face. He had many reasons to live, and it was hard to let go. When he let go of one reason to live, another made him want to hold on tighter. When he came to terms with that and let go a little, the other would tighten. His thinking was rushed, too, and his heart beat rapidly, working against his acceptance of death. If he were able to come to terms with death for a moment, the thought of his wife and child, who would have to go on living without him, would make him feel that he was being selfish.
But, all this was at first. Before long, the consideration that there was no disgrace in the fate he must meet, and that numbers went the same road wrongfully, and trod it firmly every day, sprang up to stimulate him. Next followed the thought that much of the future peace of mind enjoyable by the dear ones, depended on his quiet fortitude. So, by degrees he calmed into the better state, when he could raise his thoughts much higher, and draw comfort down. But this only happened at first. Before long he had the thought that there was no shame in dying this way. The thought that many innocent people died the same way and faced it bravely every day made him feel better. He realized that he had to face death with quiet strength if he wanted his family to have any peace of mind in the future. Little by little he calmed down to a state where he could think happier thoughts and take some comfort.
Before it had set in dark on the night of his condemnation, he had travelled thus far on his last way. Being allowed to purchase the means of writing, and a light, he sat down to write until such time as the prison lamps should be extinguished. This was his state of mind before it had grown dark on the night Darnay was condemned. He was allowed to buy a light and some things to write with, and he sat down to write until the time when the prison lamps had to be put out.
He wrote a long letter to Lucie, showing her that he had known nothing of her father’s imprisonment, until he had heard of it from herself, and that he had been as ignorant as she of his father’s and uncle’s responsibility for that misery, until the paper had been read. He had already explained to her that his concealment from herself of the name he had relinquished, was the one condition—fully intelligible now—that her father had attached to their betrothal, and was the one promise he had still exacted on the morning of their marriage. He entreated her, for her father’s sake, never to seek to know whether her father had become oblivious of the existence of the paper, or had had it recalled to him (for the moment, or for good), by the story of the Tower, on that old Sunday under the dear old plane-tree in the garden. If he had preserved any definite remembrance of it, there could be no doubt that he had supposed it destroyed with the Bastille, when he had found no mention of it among the relics of prisoners which the populace had discovered there, and which had been described to all the world. He besought her—though he added that he knew it was needless—to console her father, by impressing him through every tender means she could think of, with the truth that he had done nothing for which he could justly reproach himself, but had uniformly forgotten himself for their joint sakes. Next to her preservation of his own last grateful love and blessing, and her overcoming of her sorrow, to devote herself to their dear child, he adjured her, as they would meet in Heaven, to comfort her father. He wrote a long letter to Lucie and told her that he hadn’t known anything about her father’s imprisonment until she had told him herself. He told her he didn’t know anything about his father’s and uncle’s roles in that imprisonment until Dr. Manette’s paper had been read. He had already explained to her that he had hidden his real name from her because it was the one condition that her father had made when he agreed to let them be married. It made sense now, and the doctor had held him to this promise on the morning of their marriage. He begged her, for her father’s sake, never to try to find out if her father had forgotten about the existence of the paper, or if he had remembered it after Darnay told the story about the Tower of London that Sunday long ago under the plane tree in the garden. If he had remembered any of it, he surely would have assumed it had been destroyed when the Bastille fell, since he had not heard it mentioned with the other belongings that people had found there and told the world about. He begged her—though he added that he knew asking wasn’t necessary—to comfort her father by letting him know in every way she could think of that he hadn’t done anything he should blame himself for. He had forgotten all about it for both of their sakes. Next, as they would one day meet in Heaven, he begged her to preserve the memory of his love for her, to overcome her sorrow, and to devote herself to their child and to comforting her father.

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