Skip over navigation

A Tale of Two Cities

Original Text

Modern Text

But, such awful workers, and such awful work! What awful people doing such awful work!
The grindstone had a double handle, and, turning at it madly were two men, whose faces, as their long hair flapped back when the whirlings of the grindstone brought their faces up, were more horrible and cruel than the visages of the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise. False eyebrows and false moustaches were stuck upon them, and their hideous countenances were all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howling, and all staring and glaring with beastly excitement and want of sleep. As these ruffians turned and turned, their matted locks now flung forward over their eyes, now flung backward over their necks, some women held wine to their mouths that they might drink; and what with dropping blood, and what with dropping wine, and what with the stream of sparks struck out of the stone, all their wicked atmosphere seemed gore and fire. The eye could not detect one creature in the group free from the smear of blood. Shouldering one another to get next at the sharpening-stone, were men stripped to the waist, with the stain all over their limbs and bodies; men in all sorts of rags, with the stain upon those rags; men devilishly set off with spoils of women’s lace and silk and ribbon, with the stain dyeing those trifles through and through. Hatchets, knives, bayonets, swords, all brought to be sharpened, were all red with it. Some of the hacked swords were tied to the wrists of those who carried them, with strips of linen and fragments of dress: ligatures various in kind, but all deep of the one colour. And as the frantic wielders of these weapons snatched them from the stream of sparks and tore away into the streets, the same red hue was red in their frenzied eyes; —eyes which any unbrutalised beholder would have given twenty years of life, to petrify with a well-directed gun. The grindstone had a double handle, and two men turned it madly. Their long hair flipped back when the whirling of the grindstone brought their faces up. Their faces were more horrible and cruel than the wildest savages in their most terrifying costumes. They wore false eyebrows and fake moustaches, and their ugly faces were covered with blood and sweat, and were contorted with howling. They were staring and glaring with excitement and lack of sleep. As they turned and turned the grindstone, their wet hair flung forward over their eyes, then backward over their necks. Some women brought wine to their mouths so they could drink, and with the blood and wine and the sparks coming off of the stone, the atmosphere seemed filled with gore and fire. Every person in the group had blood on him. Shoving past each other to be next at the grinding stone were shirtless men who had blood all over their arms and bodies, men in bloody rags, and men wearing stolen bits of women’s lace and silk and ribbon, all stained with blood. Hatchets, knives, bayonets, and swords were all brought to be sharpened and were covered in blood. Some of the swords were tied to people’s wrists with strips of linen and pieces of dresses. They used different things to tie them, but they were all red with blood. As the people carrying these weapons pulled them out of the grindstone’s sparks and ran off into the streets, the same red color could be seen in their eyes. Any civilized watcher would have given twenty years of his life to kill the owners of those eyes.
All this was seen in a moment, as the vision of a drowning man, or of any human creature at any very great pass, could see a world if it were there. They drew back from the window, and the Doctor looked for explanation in his friend’s ashy face. All of this was seen in an instant, as if it were the vision of a drowning man, or the vision of any person seeing the world at a great turning point. They moved away from the window and the doctor looked at Mr. Lorry’s pale face, hoping he would explain what they had seen.
“They are,” Mr. Lorry whispered the words, glancing fearfully round at the locked room, “murdering the prisoners. If you are sure of what you say; if you really have the power you think you have—as I believe you have—make yourself known to these devils, and get taken to La Force. It may be too late, I don’t know, but let it not be a minute later!” “They’re murdering the prisoners,” Mr. Lorry whispered, glancing fearfully around the locked room. “If you’re sure what you say is true, if you really have the power you think you have—as I believe you do—go show yourself to these violent people and have them take you to La Force Prison. It may be too late—I don’t know—but go right this minute!”
Doctor Manette pressed his hand, hastened bareheaded out of the room, and was in the courtyard when Mr. Lorry regained the blind. Dr. Manette shook Mr. Lorry’s hand and rushed out of the room without putting his hat on. He was in the courtyard when Mr. Lorry pulled the blinds back again and looked out the window.
His streaming white hair, his remarkable face, and the impetuous confidence of his manner, as he put the weapons aside like water, carried him in an instant to the heart of the concourse at the stone. For a few moments there was a pause, and a hurry, and a murmur, and the unintelligible sound of his voice; and then Mr. Lorry saw him, surrounded by all, and in the midst of a line of twenty men long, all linked shoulder to shoulder, and hand to shoulder, hurried out with cries of—”Live the Bastille prisoner! Help for the Bastille prisoner’s kindred in La Force! Room for the Bastille prisoner in front there! Save the prisoner Evremonde at La Force!” and a thousand answering shouts. His long white hair, his remarkable face, and his confidence allowed him to move right to the center of the group near the grindstone. He pushed their weapons aside as he walked through them, and for a few moments there was a pause. Then they started rushing around and talking. The doctor spoke, but Mr. Lorry couldn’t hear what he was saying. Mr. Lorry saw him surrounded by all of them, in the middle of a line of twenty men. They were all linked shoulder to shoulder or hand to shoulder and were yelling, “Long live the Bastille prisoner! Help the Bastille prisoner’s family in La Force! Make room for the Bastille prisoner in front there! Save the prisoner Evremonde at La Force!” and thousands of other responses.

More Help

Previous Next