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A Tale of Two Cities

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These occupations brought her round to the December month, wherein her father walked among the terrors with a steady head. On a lightly-snowing afternoon she arrived at the usual corner. It was a day of some wild rejoicing, and a festival. She had seen the houses, as she came along, decorated with little pikes, and with little red caps stuck upon them; also, with tricoloured ribbons; also, with the standard inscription (tricoloured letters were the favourite), Republic One and Indivisible. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death! She continued to do this until December. Meanwhile, her father moved among all the terrible events happening with a cool head. One afternoon, when it was snowing lightly, Lucie arrived at her usual corner. It was a day when people were celebrating and there was a festival. As she walked through the streets she noticed that the houses were decorated with little pikes that had little red caps stuck on them. They were also decorated with three-colored ribbons, and had the standard slogan of the Republic (many in three-colored letters), “One and Indivisible. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!”
The miserable shop of the wood-sawyer was so small, that its whole surface furnished very indifferent space for this legend. He had got somebody to scrawl it up for him, however, who had squeezed Death in with most inappropriate difficulty. On his house-top, he displayed pike and cap, as a good citizen must, and in a window he had stationed his saw inscribed as his “Little Sainte Guillotine” —for the great sharp female was by that time popularly canonised. His shop was shut and he was not there, which was a relief to Lucie, and left her quite alone. The wood sawyer’s gloomy little shop was so small that this slogan hardly fit on it. He had gotten somebody to write it for him who had barely been able to squeeze in the word death. On his rooftop he had placed a cap on a pike, as all good citizens were expected to do, and he had placed his saw in one window with the words “Little Saint Guillotine” written on it, for now people referred to the guillotine as “Saint Guillotine.” His shop was closed and he wasn’t there, and Lucie was relieved to be left alone.
But, he was not far off, for presently she heard a troubled movement and a shouting coming along, which filled her with fear. A moment afterwards, and a throng of people came pouring round the corner by the prison wall, in the midst of whom was the wood-sawyer hand in hand with The Vengeance. There could not be fewer than five hundred people, and they were dancing like five thousand demons. There was no other music than their own singing. They danced to the popular Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison. Men and women danced together, women danced together, men danced together, as hazard had brought them together. At first, they were a mere storm of coarse red caps and coarse woollen rags; but, as they filled the place, and stopped to dance about Lucie, some ghastly apparition of a dance-figure gone raving mad arose among them. They advanced, retreated, struck at one another’s hands, clutched at one another’s heads, spun round alone, caught one another and spun round in pairs, until many of them dropped. While those were down, the rest linked hand in hand, and all spun round together: then the ring broke, and in separate rings of two and four they turned and turned until they all stopped at once, began again, struck, clutched, and tore, and then reversed the spin, and all spun round another way. Suddenly they stopped again, paused, struck out the time afresh, formed into lines the width of the public way, and, with their heads low down and their hands high up, swooped screaming off. No fight could have been half so terrible as this dance. It was so emphatically a fallen sport—a something, once innocent, delivered over to all devilry—a healthy pastime changed into a means of angering the blood, bewildering the senses, and steeling the heart. Such grace as was visible in it, made it the uglier, showing how warped and perverted all things good by nature were become. The maidenly bosom bared to this, the pretty almost-child’s head thus distracted, the delicate foot mincing in this slough of blood and dirt, were types of the disjointed time. But the wood sawyer wasn’t far away. Soon Lucie heard people hurrying toward her and shouting, and she was frightened. A moment later a crowd of people came rushing around the corner by the prison wall. The wood sawyer was in the middle of them, hand-in-hand with the woman known as The Vengeance. There were at least five hundred people there, and they were dancing like five thousand devils. Their own singing was their only music. They danced to the popular song of the Revolution, and the way they kept in time sounded like they were all gnashing their teeth in unison. Men and women danced together. Women danced with women, men danced with men, and people danced with whomever they ended up close to. At first the crowd was made up of red caps and rough wool rags, but as they filled the street and started dancing around Lucie, a terrible, ghostlike figure started dancing above them. They moved forward, then back, and they slapped each other’s hands and grabbed each other’s heads. They spun around by themselves or caught each other and spun around in pairs. They did this until many of them dropped to the ground. While those people were on the ground, the rest of them joined hands and all spun around together, and then the ring broke and they formed separate rings of two and four people. They spun and spun until they all stopped at the same time. Then they started up again, hit each other, grabbed at each other, tore at each other, and then started spinning in the opposite direction. Suddenly they stopped again. They paused and started anew, forming into lines that were as wide as the street. Then they ran off screaming with their heads bowed low and their hands high in the air. No fight could have been half as terrifying as this dance was. It was so much like an evil sport—something that had once been innocent that was now evil—a healthy pastime that had been changed into something used to excite people and incite them to violence. The parts of it that looked graceful made it even more ugly as it showed how all good things had turned perverse and terrible. The young maiden’s bosom, or the pretty young girl’s head, or the delicate foot involved in this terrible dance were the types of things that marked this disjointed time.

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