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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 8

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“‘Doctor, finding my brother in this difficulty with these hinds, I recommended that your aid should be invited. Your reputation is high, and, as a young man with your fortune to make, you are probably mindful of your interest. The things that you see here, are things to be seen, and not spoken of.’ “‘Doctor, when I found my brother in this difficult situation with these beastly peasants, I suggested that we ask for your help. You have a good reputation. As a young man who is trying to make his fortune, you are aware of your own self-interest. The things that you have seen here are not to be spoken of.’
“I listened to the patient’s breathing, and avoided answering. “I listened to the patient’s breathing and didn’t answer.
“‘Do you honour me with your attention, Doctor?’ “‘Are you paying attention, Doctor?’
“‘Monsieur,’ said I, ‘in my profession, the communications of patients are always received in confidence.’ I was guarded in my answer, for I was troubled in my mind with what I had heard and seen. “‘Monsieur, in my profession, the things said by a patient are always kept secret,’ I said. I was careful with my answer, because I was troubled by what I had seen and heard.
“Her breathing was so difficult to trace, that I carefully tried the pulse and the heart. There was life, and no more. Looking round as I resumed my seat, I found both the brothers intent upon me. “It was so difficult to tell if she was breathing that I carefully felt her pulse and heartbeat. She was alive, but barely. Looking around, I took my seat again. The brothers were watching me carefully.”
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“I write with so much difficulty, the cold is so severe, I am so fearful of being detected and consigned to an underground cell and total darkness, that I must abridge this narrative. There is no confusion or failure in my memory; it can recall, and could detail, every word that was ever spoken between me and those brothers. “It is very difficult for me to write. It is so cold, and I am so afraid of being discovered and sent to an underground cell in total darkness, that I must cut my story short. I am not confused—my memory is still sharp, and I can remember every word that was spoken between those brothers and me.
“She lingered for a week. Towards the last, I could understand some few syllables that she said to me, by placing my ear close to her lips. She asked me where she was, and I told her; who I was, and I told her. It was in vain that I asked her for her family name. She faintly shook her head upon the pillow, and kept her secret, as the boy had done. “She lasted for a week. Toward the end I could understand a few syllables that she said to me if I put my ear close to her lips. She asked me where she was, and I told her. She asked me who I was, and I told her. I asked her for her family name, but she wouldn’t tell me. She shook her head a little on her pillow and kept her secret, as the boy had done.
“I had no opportunity of asking her any question, until I had told the brothers she was sinking fast, and could not live another day. Until then, though no one was ever presented to her consciousness save the woman and myself, one or other of them had always jealously sat behind the curtain at the head of the bed when I was there. But when it came to that, they seemed careless what communication I might hold with her; as if—the thought passed through my mind—I were dying too. “I had no chance to ask her any questions until I had told the brothers that she was fading fast and would not live another day. Until then, although no one was ever present with us except for the peasant woman and myself, one of the brothers had always sat behind the curtain at the head of the bed when I was there. When they realized that she was going to die, though, they didn’t seem to care what conversation I had with her. The thought passed through my mind that it was as if I were dying too.
“I always observed that their pride bitterly resented the younger brother’s (as I call him) having crossed swords with a peasant, and that peasant a boy. The only consideration that appeared to affect the mind of either of them was the consideration that this was highly degrading to the family, and was ridiculous. As often as I caught the younger brother’s eyes, their expression reminded me that he disliked me deeply, for knowing what I knew from the boy. He was smoother and more polite to me than the elder; but I saw this. I also saw that I was an incumbrance in the mind of the elder, too. “I always noticed that their pride caused them to resent the fact that the younger brother, as I call him, had had a swordfight with a peasant, and that the peasant was just a boy. The only thing that appeared to bother them was the idea that this was degrading to their family and undignified. Whenever I looked into the younger brother’s eyes, I could tell that he strongly disliked me for knowing what I had heard from the boy. He was gentler and more polite to me than the older brother was, but I could see this. I also saw that it bothered the older brother, too.
“My patient died, two hours before midnight—at a time, by my watch, answering almost to the minute when I had first seen her. I was alone with her, when her forlorn young head drooped gently on one side, and all her earthly wrongs and sorrows ended. “The young woman died two hours before midnight. By my watch it was almost the exact time that I had first seen her. I was alone with her when her sad, young head drooped gently to one side, and all her earthly suffering ended.