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A Tale of Two Cities

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Tellson’s Bank, established in the Saint Germain Quarter of Paris, was in a wing of a large house, approached by a courtyard and shut off from the street by a high wall and a strong gate. The house belonged to a great nobleman who had lived in it until he made a flight from the troubles, in his own cook’s dress, and got across the borders. A mere beast of the chase flying from hunters, he was still in his metempsychosis no other than the same Monseigneur, the preparation of whose chocolate for whose lips had once occupied three strong men besides the cook in question. The branch of Tellson’s Bank in the Saint Germaine Quarter of Paris was in one wing of a large house. It was accessible by a courtyard and closed off from the street by a high wall and strong gate. The house had belonged to a wealthy nobleman, who had lived in it until he fled Paris in his cook’s clothes and snuck across the border. This man, who fled like an animal being chased by hunters, was the same monseigneur who had needed three strong servants plus his cook to serve him his chocolate.
Monseigneur gone, and the three strong men absolving themselves from the sin of having drawn his high wages, by being more than ready and willing to cut his throat on the altar of the dawning Republic one and indivisible of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, Monseigneur’s house had been first sequestrated, and then confiscated. For, all things moved so fast, and decree followed decree with that fierce precipitation, that now upon the third night of the autumn month of September, patriot emissaries of the law were in possession of Monseigneur’s house, and had marked it with the tri-colour, and were drinking brandy in its state apartments. Now the monseigneur was gone. The three former servants had made up for having worked for him by being more than ready and willing to cut his throat in the name of the Republic. The people had first taken control of the monseigneur’s house, then took it away from him entirely. Things were changing so fast and decrees were announced so quickly that now, on September third, representatives of the new government had possession of monseigneur’s house. They had marked it with the flag of the Republic and were drinking brandy inside.
A place of business in London like Tellson’s place of business in Paris, would soon have driven the House out of its mind and into the Gazette. For, what would staid British responsibility and respectability have said to orange-trees in boxes in a Bank courtyard, and even to a Cupid over the counter? Yet such things were. Tellson’s had whitewashed the Cupid, but he was still to be seen on the ceiling, in the coolest linen, aiming (as he very often does) at money from morning to night. Bankruptcy must inevitably have come of this young Pagan, in Lombard-street, London, and also of a curtained alcove in the rear of the immortal boy, and also of a looking-glass let into the wall, and also of clerks not at all old, who danced in public on the slightest provocation. Yet, a French Tellson’s could get on with these things exceedingly well, and, as long as the times held together, no man had taken fright at them, and drawn out his money. If Tellson’s Bank in London had been like Tellson’s Bank in Paris, it would have driven the head of the bank crazy. What would the serious, respectable, responsible British men at Tellson’s have thought of the orange trees in boxes in the bank’s courtyard, or the sculpture of Cupid that hung over the counter? But such things were in the Paris bank. Tellson’s had painted the Cupid white, but you could still see him on the ceiling. The figure was wearing linen and aiming his arrows at money, as love often does. In London, this Cupid, the mirror on the wall, and the young clerks who danced in public every chance they got would surely lead to the bank’s failure. Yet, Tellson’s Bank in France prospered under these conditions. As long as things didn’t get too out of hand in France, no one was concerned enough to withdraw his money.
What money would be drawn out of Tellson’s henceforth, and what would lie there, lost and forgotten; what plate and jewels would tarnish in Tellson’s hiding-places, while the depositors rusted in prisons, and when they should have violently perished; how many accounts with Tellson’s never to be balanced in this world, must be carried over into the next; no man could have said, that night, any more than Mr. Jarvis Lorry could, though he thought heavily of these questions. He sat by a newly-lighted wood fire (the blighted and unfruitful year was prematurely cold), and on his honest and courageous face there was a deeper shade than the pendent lamp could throw, or any object in the room distortedly reflect—a shade of horror. That night, no man could say how much money would be drawn out of Tellson’s Bank in Paris, or how much would stay there, lost and forgotten. No man could say what plates and jewels would stay hidden in the bank’s vaults while the owners of those items grew old in prison, or when those owners would die violently. No man could say how many accounts with Tellson’s would never be settled in this world, but carried into the next by their deceased owners. No man could answer these questions any more than Mr. Jarvis Lorry could, though he thought seriously about these things. He sat by a newly lit wood fire (it had turned cold early this year), and on his honest and brave face was a dark look of horror.

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