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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
No Fear Book 2 Chapter 23
No Fear Book 2 Chapter 23: Fire Rises: Page 4

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The rider from the chateau, and the horse in a foam, clattered away through the village, and galloped up the stony steep, to the prison on the crag. At the gate, a group of officers were looking at the fire; removed from them, a group of soldiers. “Help, gentlemen—officers! The chateau is on fire; valuable objects may be saved from the flames by timely aid! Help, help!” The officers looked towards the soldiers who looked at the fire; gave no orders; and answered, with shrugs and biting of lips, “It must burn.” The rider who had come from the chateau and the tired horse continued through the village. They galloped up the stony hill to the prison on the cliff. At the gate, a group of officers was looking at the fire, and a little ways off was a group of soldiers. “Help, officers! The chateau is on fire! We might be able to save valuable objects from the flames if we work fast! Help! Help!” The officers looked at the soldiers, who were looking at the fire. They didn’t give any orders, just shrugged and answered, “It has to burn.”
As the rider rattled down the hill again and through the street, the village was illuminating. The mender of roads, and the two hundred and fifty particular friends, inspired as one man and woman by the idea of lighting up, had darted into their houses, and were putting candles in every dull little pane of glass. The general scarcity of everything, occasioned candles to be borrowed in a rather peremptory manner of Monsieur Gabelle; and in a moment of reluctance and hesitation on that functionary’s part, the mender of roads, once so submissive to authority, had remarked that carriages were good to make bonfires with, and that post-horses would roast. As the rider went down the hill again and through the street, the village grew brighter. The repairer of roads and two hundred and fifty of his companions, inspired by the fire at the chateau, had hurried into their houses and were putting candles in every little pane of glass in the windows. Since they didn’t have much of anything, they decided to force Monsieur Gabelle to lend them some of his candles. When Monsieur Gabelle hesitated to give them the candles, the repairer of roads, who had once been so submissive toward officials, threatened him. He said they could always make a fire with Gabelle’s carriages and roast his post horses.
The chateau was left to itself to flame and burn. In the roaring and raging of the conflagration, a red-hot wind, driving straight from the infernal regions, seemed to be blowing the edifice away. With the rising and falling of the blaze, the stone faces showed as if they were in torment. When great masses of stone and timber fell, the face with the two dints in the nose became obscured: anon struggled out of the smoke again, as if it were the face of the cruel Marquis, burning at the stake and contending with the fire. The chateau was left alone to burn. In the raging fire, a hot wind, issuing from the fire, seemed to be blowing the building away. The stone faces looked as if they were being tortured as the flames rose and fell. Large pieces of stone and wood fell, covering the face with the two dents that resembled the marquis. It became visible again, as if the marquis were being burned at the stake and were struggling with the fire.
The chateau burned; the nearest trees, laid hold of by the fire, scorched and shrivelled; trees at a distance, fired by the four fierce figures, begirt the blazing edifice with a new forest of smoke. Molten lead and iron boiled in the marble basin of the fountain; the water ran dry; the extinguisher tops of the towers vanished like ice before the heat, and trickled down into four rugged wells of flame. Great rents and splits branched out in the solid walls, like crystallisation; stupefied birds wheeled about and dropped into the furnace; four fierce figures trudged away, East, West, North, and South, along the night-enshrouded roads, guided by the beacon they had lighted, towards their next destination. The illuminated village had seized hold of the tocsin, and, abolishing the lawful ringer, rang for joy. The chateau burned down, and the trees closest to it also caught on fire and shriveled up. Trees far away, set on fire by the four fierce figures who had set fire to the chateau, sent more smoke to surround the building. Molten lead and iron boiled in the marble basin of the fountain, and the water dried up. The tower’s tops, which looked like candle extinguishers, disappeared like ice in heat and melted into the flames. Huge splits and cracks appeared in the walls, as if it were crystallizing, and confused birds flew around in circles and fell into the furnace. The four fierce figures walked away in four different directions—east, west, north, and south—along the dark roads. The light they had used to set the fire guided them toward their destinations. The village, which was lit up with candles, had taken over the alarm bell, and getting rid of the official ringer, the villagers rang the bell for joy.
Not only that; but the village, light-headed with famine, fire, and bell-ringing, and bethinking itself that Monsieur Gabelle had to do with the collection of rent and taxes—though it was but a small instalment of taxes, and no rent at all, that Gabelle had got in those latter days—became impatient for an interview with him, and, surrounding his house, summoned him to come forth for personal conference. Whereupon, Monsieur Gabelle did heavily bar his door, and retire to hold counsel with himself. The result of that conference was, that Gabelle again withdrew himself to his housetop behind his stack of chimneys; this time resolved, if his door were broken in (he was a small Southern man of retaliative temperament), to pitch himself head foremost over the parapet, and crush a man or two below. Moreover, the people of the village were giddy with hunger, fire, and the ringing of the bell now. They started to think that Monsieur Gabelle collected their rent and taxes, even though in those later days it was only a small amount of taxes and no rent at all. They wanted to talk to him right away. They surrounded his house and told him to come out and talk to them. Monsieur Gabelle barred his door and stayed inside by himself. He went to his rooftop and hid behind his chimneys. He decided that if they broke his door down (he was a small man from the South with a vengeful personality) that he would throw himself headfirst over the edge and try to crush a person or two below as he fell.