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A Tale of Two Cities

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Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind. The empty death carts rumble harshly along the streets of Paris. Six carts carry the prisoners who are to be executed that day to the guillotine. The guillotine is like all of the devouring, ravenous monsters that have ever been imagined, combined into one. And yet even in France, with its rich soil and good weather, there isn’t a blade of grass, a leaf, a root, a sprig, or a single peppercorn that will grow to maturity more predictably than the Revolution did. If people are beaten down again like this, the same horrible thing will happen. If greed and oppression are allowed to grow again, it will produce a similar result.
Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back again to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants! No; the great magician who majestically works out the appointed order of the Creator, never reverses his transformations. “If thou be changed into this shape by the will of God,” say the seers to the enchanted, in the wise Arabian stories, “then remain so! But, if thou wear this form through mere passing conjuration, then resume thy former aspect!” Changeless and hopeless, the tumbrils roll along. Six carts roll along the streets. Time, you powerful magician! Change these back to the innocent farm carts that they used to be and you would see that they were the carriages of ruling monarchs and feudal nobles, the dressing rooms of prostitutes, the churches that are not houses of God but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants. No, the great magician who does God’s work never reverses what he has changed. “If you were changed into this shape by God,” say the seers to the enchanted in the wise Arabian stories, “then you must stay that way! But if you’ve been changed by mere magic, then return to your former shape!” The tumbrils will not change back to what they were. They continue to roll along the streets.
As the sombre wheels of the six carts go round, they seem to plough up a long crooked furrow among the populace in the streets. Ridges of faces are thrown to this side and to that, and the ploughs go steadily onward. So used are the regular inhabitants of the houses to the spectacle, that in many windows there are no people, and in some the occupation of the hands is not so much as suspended, while the eyes survey the faces in the tumbrils. Here and there, the inmate has visitors to see the sight; then he points his finger, with something of the complacency of a curator or authorised exponent, to this cart and to this, and seems to tell who sat here yesterday, and who there the day before. As the somber wheels of the six carts roll along, they clear a long, crooked path through the crowds in the streets. People move to either side, and the tumbrils move forward steadily. The people living in the houses nearby are so used to the tumbrils coming through that many of them don’t even look out their windows. Other people don’t even pause in their work as they look at the people in the tumbrils. Some houses have visitors that have come to see the tumbrils go by. Their host points his finger at one cart after another like the curator of a museum, and explains to them who was carted to the guillotine yesterday and two days before.
Of the riders in the tumbrils, some observe these things, and all things on their last roadside, with an impassive stare; others, with a lingering interest in the ways of life and men. Some, seated with drooping heads, are sunk in silent despair; again, there are some so heedful of their looks that they cast upon the multitude such glances as they have seen in theatres, and in pictures. Several close their eyes, and think, or try to get their straying thoughts together. Only one, and he a miserable creature, of a crazed aspect, is so shattered and made drunk by horror, that he sings, and tries to dance. Not one of the whole number appeals by look or gesture, to the pity of the people. Some of the people riding in the tumbrils look at these things, and look at everything else, with a blank stare. Others look on with a lingering interest in the ways of life. Some are seated with their heads down and sunk into silent despair. Some are so aware of their appearance that they look out at the crowds with looks they have seen in plays or in paintings. Several close their eyes and try to gather their thoughts together. Only one miserable creature looks crazed. He is so distraught and horrified that he sings and tries to dance. None of them tries to appeal by their looks or their gestures to the pity of the people in the crowd.

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