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A Tale of Two Cities

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It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red. It was taken to pieces, like a toy-puzzle for a young Devil, and was put together again when the occasion wanted it. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful, abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public mark, twenty-one living and one dead, it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes. The name of the strong man of Old Scripture had descended to the chief functionary who worked it; but, so armed, he was stronger than his namesake, and blinder, and tore away the gates of God’s own Temple every day. It cut off so many heads that it was stained red along with the ground underneath it. It was taken apart and put together again when it was needed, like a puzzle for a terrible young child. It silenced those who spoke well, knocked down those who were powerful, and eliminated those who were beautiful and good. It had cut off the heads of twenty-two respectable people—twenty-one of them were alive and one was already dead—within twenty-two minutes on one morning. The executioner who operated it had been nicknamed Samson after the strong man of the Old Testament. But with the guillotine, he was stronger than Samson, and more blind, and he tore down the gates of God’s own temple every day.
Among these terrors, and the brood belonging to them, the Doctor walked with a steady head: confident in his power, cautiously persistent in his end, never doubting that he would save Lucie’s husband at last. Yet the current of the time swept by, so strong and deep, and carried the time away so fiercely, that Charles had lain in prison one year and three months when the Doctor was thus steady and confident. So much more wicked and distracted had the Revolution grown in that December month, that the rivers of the South were encumbered with the bodies of the violently drowned by night, and prisoners were shot in lines and squares under the southern wintry sun. Still, the Doctor walked among the terrors with a steady head. No man better known than he, in Paris at that day; no man in a stranger situation. Silent, humane, indispensable in hospital and prison, using his art equally among assassins and victims, he was a man apart. In the exercise of his skill, the appearance and the story of the Bastille Captive removed him from all other men. He was not suspected or brought in question, any more than if he had indeed been recalled to life some eighteen years before, or were a Spirit moving among mortals. Dr. Manette moved through these dangers and among the dangerous people with a clear head. He was confident and remained cautiously persistent. He never doubted that he would eventually save Charles Darnay. Yet, time passed so quickly that Charles had now been in prison for a year and three months. That December, the Revolution had grown so much more violent and out of control that the rivers in the south of France were filled with bodies of people who had been drowned at night, and prisoners were shot in groups in broad daylight. Still, Dr. Manette viewed all these terrors with a clear head. There was no one as well known in Paris at the time and no one in a stranger situation. He was quiet, kind, and essential in the hospitals and prisons, and he treated killers and victims the same. He was neutral, and when he was treating patients, the fact that he had once been a prisoner in the Bastille set him apart from everyone else. He was not suspected or questioned any more than he would have been if he really had been brought back to life eighteen years earlier and was a ghost wandering among the living.

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