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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

Book 2 Chapter 23

page Book 2 Chapter 23: Fire Rises Page 1

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There was a change on the village where the fountain fell, and where the mender of roads went forth daily to hammer out of the stones on the highway such morsels of bread as might serve for patches to hold his poor ignorant soul and his poor reduced body together. The prison on the crag was not so dominant as of yore; there were soldiers to guard it, but not many; there were officers to guard the soldiers, but not one of them knew what his men would do—beyond this: that it would probably not be what he was ordered. The village was different now. It was the village where the fountain once stood, and where the repairer of roads went every day to try to make enough money working on the highway to feed himself and keep himself alive. Now the prison on the cliff wasn’t as intimidating as before. There were soldiers there to guard it, but not many of them. There were officers to guard the soldiers, but none of these officers knew what his men would do—they only knew that the men would likely not do what they were ordered.
Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation. Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as shrivelled and poor as the miserable people. Everything was bowed down, dejected, oppressed, and broken. Habitations, fences, domesticated animals, men, women, children, and the soil that bore them—all worn out. The countryside was ruined everywhere. It produced nothing but misery. Every leaf, blade of grass, and grain was as shriveled and poor as the miserable people. Everything was bent over, oppressed, and broken. Houses, fences, farm animals, men, women, children, and even the soil they lived off of—all were worn out.
Monseigneur (often a most worthy individual gentleman) was a national blessing, gave a chivalrous tone to things, was a polite example of luxurious and shining fife, and a great deal more to equal purpose; nevertheless, Monseigneur as a class had, somehow or other, brought things to this. Strange that Creation, designed expressly for Monseigneur, should be so soon wrung dry and squeezed out! There must be something short-sighted in the eternal arrangements, surely! Thus it was, however; and the last drop of blood having been extracted from the flints, and the last screw of the rack having been turned so often that its purchase crumbled, and it now turned and turned with nothing to bite, Monseigneur began to run away from a phenomenon so low and unaccountable. The upper class was supposed to be a blessing for the country. They made everything polite and mannerly and exemplified the life of luxury. Nevertheless, the upper class had somehow brought the country to this state. It was strange that the upper class, believing the universe had been designed for them, could be so quickly stripped of everything! There must be something shortsighted about the way the world was made! This is how it was, though. The upper class didn’t run away from the threats of the pathetic lower class until the last drop of blood had been removed from the flints, and the last screw of

the rack

a torture device with ratchets at either end that would pull the victim’s limbs out of their sockets when turned

the rack
had been turned so often that its hold gave out, leaving it to turn and turn with no effect.
But, this was not the change on the village, and on many a village like it. For scores of years gone by, Monseigneur had squeezed it and wrung it, and had seldom graced it with his presence except for the pleasures of the chase—now, found in hunting the people; now, found in hunting the beasts, for whose preservation Monseigneur made edifying spaces of barbarous and barren wilderness. No. The change consisted in the appearance of strange faces of low caste, rather than in the disappearance of the high caste, chiselled, and otherwise beautified and beautifying features of Monseigneur. But this wasn’t the change that took place in the village, and in the many villages like it. For many years, the upper class had abused the village and had hardly even come there except to hunt. Sometimes they came to hunt people, sometimes animals, for which the upper class preserved pieces of wild and barren wilderness. No. The change was that the rough lower classes were appearing, rather than that the beautiful upper classes were disappearing.
For, in these times, as the mender of roads worked, solitary, in the dust, not often troubling himself to reflect that dust he was and to dust he must return, being for the most part too much occupied in thinking how little he had for supper and how much more he would eat if he had it—in these times, as he raised his eyes from his lonely labour, and viewed the prospect, he would see some rough figure approaching on foot, the like of which was once a rarity in those parts, but was now a frequent presence. As it advanced, the mender of roads would discern without surprise, that it was a shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian aspect, tall, in wooden shoes that were clumsy even to the eyes of a mender of roads, grim, rough, swart, steeped in the mud and dust of many highways, dank with the marshy moisture of many low grounds, sprinkled with the thorns and leaves and moss of many byways through woods. Now, the repairer of roads worked alone in the dust, not bothering to think that

he was made of dust and to dust he would return

In the book of Genesis in the Bible, God creates man out of dust

he was made of dust and to dust he would return
. He was too occupied thinking about how little food he had for dinner and how much more he would eat if he could. Now, as he looked up from working alone, he would often see a poor person walking toward him. This used to be a rare occurrence, but now it happened frequently. As the person came closer, the repairer of roads would notice without surprise that it was a shaggy-haired man who looked almost like a barbarian. The man would be tall and wearing wooden shoes that looked clumsy even to the repairer of roads. He would look unhappy and tattered, covered in mud and dust from walking along many highways, and damp with the moisture of the swamps. He would be covered with thorns, leaves, and moss from walking many paths through the woods.