A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
No Fear Book 3 Chapter 10
No Fear Book 3 Chapter 10: The Substance of the Shadow: Page 5

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“‘Doctor, they are very proud, these Nobles; but we common dogs are proud too, sometimes. They plunder us, outrage us, beat us, kill us; but we have a little pride left, sometimes. She—have you seen her, Doctor?’ “‘Doctor, these nobles are very proud. But sometimes we peasants are proud, too. They steal from us, anger us, beat us, and kill us. But sometimes we still have a little pride left. She—have you seen her, doctor?’
“The shrieks and the cries were audible there, though subdued by the distance. He referred to them, as if she were lying in our presence. “The screams and cries could be heard there, although they were quieter and in the distance. The boy referred to them as if she were lying there near us.
“I said, ‘I have seen her.’ “I said, ‘I have seen her.’
“‘She is my sister, Doctor. They have had their shameful rights, these Nobles, in the modesty and virtue of our sisters, many years, but we have had good girls among us. I know it, and have heard my father say so. She was a good girl. She was betrothed to a good young man, too: a tenant of his. We were all tenants of his—that man’s who stands there. The other is his brother, the worst of a bad race.’ “‘She is my sister, Doctor. They have taken their right as nobles and have had their way with our sisters and peasant women for many years. But we have good girls among us. I know it and have heard my father say so. My sister was a good girl. She was engaged to a good young man too, a serf that belonged to this noble. We were all serfs that belonged to him—that man standing there. The other man is his brother. He is the worst of all of this terrible family.’
“It was with the greatest difficulty that the boy gathered bodily force to speak; but, his spirit spoke with a dreadful emphasis. “It was very difficult for the boy to find the strength to speak. But he spoke with a dreadful passion.
“‘We were so robbed by that man who stands there, as all we common dogs are by those superior Beings—taxed by him without mercy, obliged to work for him without pay, obliged to grind our corn at his mill, obliged to feed scores of his tame birds on our wretched crops, and forbidden for our lives to keep a single tame bird of our own, pillaged and plundered to that degree that when we chanced to have a bit of meat, we ate it in fear, with the door barred and the shutters closed, that his people should not see it and take it from us—I say, we were so robbed, and hunted, and were made so poor, that our father told us it was a dreadful thing to bring a child into the world, and that what we should most pray for, was, that our women might be barren and our miserable race die out!’ “‘We were robbed by that man standing there, the way all peasants are robbed by nobles. We were taxed mercilessly and forced to work for him without pay. We were forced to grind our corn at his mill and forced to feed our poor crops to his tame birds. We weren’t allowed to keep any tame birds ourselves. We were robbed and abused so much that when we did have the luck to have a bit of meat to eat, we ate it in fear, with the door barred and the shutters closed so no one would see it and take it away from us. We were robbed, hunted, and made so poor that our father told us that it was a terrible thing to bring a child into the world. He told us that we should pray that our women would be unable to give birth and that our family would die out!’
“I had never before seen the sense of being oppressed, bursting forth like a fire. I had supposed that it must be latent in the people somewhere; but, I had never seen it break out, until I saw it in the dying boy. “I had never seen someone speak of their oppression so passionately before. I had assumed that it had to be deep down inside the peasants somewhere, but I had never seen it break out until I saw this dying boy.
“‘Nevertheless, Doctor, my sister married. He was ailing at that time, poor fellow, and she married her lover, that she might tend and comfort him in our cottage—our dog-hut, as that man would call it. She had not been married many weeks, when that man’s brother saw her and admired her, and asked that man to lend her to him—for what are husbands among us! He was willing enough, but my sister was good and virtuous, and hated his brother with a hatred as strong as mine. What did the two then, to persuade her husband to use his influence with her, to make her willing?’ “‘Nevertheless, Doctor, my sister got married. Her husband was sick at the time, the poor fellow. She married the man she loved so that she could take care of him and comfort him in our cottage—our doghouse, as that man would call it. She had only been married a few weeks when that man’s brother saw her and was attracted to her. He asked her husband to lend her to him. What terrible husbands are there among us! The husband was willing enough, but my sister was good and virtuous. She hated this man’s brother as much as I did. What did the two brothers do then to persuade her husband to convince her to go through with it?’
“The boy’s eyes, which had been fixed on mine, slowly turned to the looker-on, and I saw in the two faces that all he said was true. The two opposing kinds of pride confronting one another, I can see, even in this Bastille; the gentleman’s, all negligent indifference; the peasants, all trodden-down sentiment, and passionate revenge. “The boy had been staring into my eyes. He slowly turned to the brothers, and I saw in their faces that everything he said was true. The pride of the boy confronted the pride of the two brothers. Even here in the Bastille I can see the gentleman’s indifference and the oppressed boy’s desire for revenge.