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A Tale of Two Cities

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But, though the Doctor tried hard, and never ceased trying, to get Charles Darnay set at liberty, or at least to get him brought to trial, the public current of the time set too strong and fast for him. The new era began; the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded; the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared for victory or death against the world in arms; the black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre Dame; three hundred thousand men, summoned to rise against the tyrants of the earth, rose from all the varying soils of France, as if the dragon’s teeth had been sown broadcast, and had yielded fruit equally on hill and plain, on rock, in gravel, and alluvial mud, under the bright sky of the South and under the clouds of the North, in fell and forest, in the vineyards and the olive-grounds and among the cropped grass and the stubble of the corn, along the fruitful banks of the broad rivers, and in the sand of the sea-shore. What private solicitude could rear itself against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty—the deluge rising from below, not falling from above, and with the windows of Heaven shut, not opened! The doctor never stopped trying to get Charles set free or at least brought to trial, but the public opinion of the time was too strong for him to fight against. The new era had begun. The king was tried, convicted, and had his head cut off. The Republic of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death” was ready to be victorious and kill anyone who was against them. A black flag flew day and night from the tall towers of Notre Dame. Three hundred thousand men rose up against their oppressors. They rose up all over France, as if they were growing out of the earth. They came from hills and plains, rock, gravel, and mud. They came from the South and the North, from fields and forests, from vineyards and olive fields. They came from the trimmed grass, cornfields, the lush farmland near the rivers, and the sandy beaches. What single person could compete with the storm rising during the first year after of the Revolution? This storm was coming up from the ground instead of falling from the sky. Instead of a storm falling from Heaven, Heaven wanted nothing to do with this storm.
There was no pause, no pity, no peace, no interval of relenting rest, no measurement of time. Though days and nights circled as regularly as when time was young, and the evening and morning were the first day, other count of time there was none. Hold of it was lost in the raging fever of a nation, as it is in the fever of one patient. Now, breaking the unnatural silence of a whole city, the executioner showed the people the head of the king—and now, it seemed almost in the same breath, the head of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey. The violence didn’t stop, let up, or quiet down. People lost track of time. Days and nights blended together. It was like the beginning of time when there were only the morning and night of the first day and no other time existed. The furious people of France lost track of time the way a fever patient does. Now, breaking the city’s unnatural silence, the executioner cut off the head of the king and showed it to the people. Almost immediately after he showed them the head of his wife, the queen. She had spent eight months suffering in prison after her husband died, turning her hair gray.
And yet, observing the strange law of contradiction which obtains in all such cases, the time was long, while it flamed by so fast. A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty or fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected, which struck away all security for liberty or life, and delivered over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one; prisons gorged with people who had committed no offence, and could obtain no hearing; these things became the established order and nature of appointed things, and seemed to be ancient usage before they were many weeks old. Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world—the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine. But because such times bring contradictions with them, the time felt long, though it moved so quickly. There was a revolutionary tribunal set up in the capital. There were also forty or fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the country. These committees enacted a Law of the Suspected, which removed any assurance of freedom or safety and allowed any good, innocent person to be accused by any bad, guilty one. The prisons filled up with innocent people who couldn’t get their cases heard. These things became the established order and seemed to have been around since ancient times before they were even a few weeks old. Above all, the guillotine grew so familiar to everyone that it seemed like it had been around since the beginning of the world.
It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied. It was popular in jokes. People joked that it was the best cure for a headache, that it always kept the hair from turning gray, that it refined the complexion. It was the National Razor that gave you a close shave. People joked that you kissed the guillotine, looked through the little window, and sneezed into the sack. It was a sign of the rebirth of the human race and took the place of the Christian cross. Models of the guillotine were worn on necklaces that used to have crosses on them. People now bowed down and worshipped the guillotine and rejected the cross.

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