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Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of books, it was the saddest of books, it was a story of love, it was a story of vengeance, it was a tale of a squandered life, it was a tale of redemption, it was the story of two men and the woman they both loved.

There once was a good doctor in Paris who was secretly imprisoned for nearly twenty years. When he was released, he was a broken man, a maker of shoes. He had had a wife who was expecting a baby when he first went into the North Tower of the Bastille.

His English wife had died not soon after she despaired of ever finding her husband. She left a baby girl who was returned to England by Mr. Lorry, a trusted banker at Tellson’s. Lucie Mannette grew up believing her father was dead.

Now eighteen years later, Lucie traveled with Mr. Lorry to Paris to bring her father home. They found him locked in a room near Monsier Defarge’s tavern working at his cobbler’s bench. He knew not his own name, this poor broken prisoner of the North Tower.

Five years later, Dr. Mannette and Lucie were called to be witnesses against Charles Darnay who was accused of treason. Mr. Darnay had sailed to England on the same vessel that Lucie and her father had traveled on. Lucie was a reluctant witness and was distressed to think that she might help send Mr. Darnay to a horrible death. Dr. Mannette had recovered, thanks to his daughter’s loving care, but could not give witness as he could not remember anything about that time.

However, Darnay’s lawyer, with the aid of his associate Sydney Carton, discredited a couple of witnesses of dubious character. Mr. Carton helped the case further by showing that he looked enough like Mr. Darnay to throw doubt upon the eyewitness. And Mr. Darnay was acquitted.

After this Darnay and Carton were frequent visitors at the home of Dr. Mannette. Miss Pross, who had cared for Lucie as a child, continued on with the family. Mr. Lorry was a frequent visitor in this loving home.

Sydney Carton was always a gloomy guest. He was a troubled man who knew he had had great prospects but had not met his potential. He drank heavily though he never came into Lucie’s house drunk. Once he confided to Lucie how he loved her but he could never be better than he was and he was not worthy of her. But he promised if she, or anyone she loved ever needed help, he would be there. He showed her his heart and she was sorrowed by his depth of feelings and despair.

After a year of calling on the family, Darnay had a private conference with the good doctor to let him know of his love for Lucie. Darnay wanted to tell the doctor his real name but the doctor insisted in not hearing it until the morning of the wedding.

All went well at the tiny, private wedding, although Dr. Mannette seemed strained. The newlywed couple left for a two-week honeymoon; then Dr. Mannette was to join them for two weeks in Wales. However, Dr. Mannette was found working away on a pair of shoes in his room. He was once again the poor broken prisoner in the North Tower of the Bastille.

Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross were mortified by the turn their good friend had taken. So Mr. Lorry took a leave from the bank and helped care for Dr. Mannette. They kept her father’s condition secret from Lucie so her honeymoon would not be spoiled. On the ninth morning, Dr. Mannette came down to breakfast as usual. He was baffled by his leather-stained fingers. Mr. Lorry gently told him about “a friend” who had relapsed. They determined that it would be best if the cobbler’s tools disappeared during Dr. Mannette’s vacation.

Sydney Carton visited the family occasionally over the next few years. Little Lucie loved him well. And her little brother, who died young, felt pity for poor Mr. Carton.  Though Sydney seldom called on the family, many an evening he walked by their house.

Meanwhile, across the English channel a storm was brewing. The people who had lived in extreme poverty for years were preparing for revolution. They suffered many injustices from the nobility. One day, a mob led by Defarge and his wife, stormed the Bastille. When they took it, Defarge paid a visit to one hundred five North Tower. He searched the cell of the man he once worked for, Dr. Mannette.

Darnay’s uncle, the Marquis Evremonde, was one of the worst of the brutal aristocracy. He was murdered in his bed by the grieving father of a child he had run over in his carriage. Darnay did not claim his inheritance because of the great injustices in France. Instead, he tried to ease the burden of his people by not charging any rent or taxes. His mother had taught him compassion.

Darnay received a letter from one of his men in France saying that he was held in prison until his master returned to France. Not realizing how bad things were in France, Darnay returned. He was taken into custody and thrown into a prison. Mr. Lorry was in Paris on bank business during this time. Lucie, her daughter, father, and Miss Pross all came to France as soon as they got the note Charles had had delivered soon after his departure.

Dr. Mannette had great pull with the revolutionist as a former prisoner of the Bastille. He was able to get a trial for Charles. Charles Darnay explained how he had been living in England and working for his living. He had tried to ease the burdens of the common people. Dr. Mannette swung the jury and the crowd during his testimony, so popular was he with the people. (He had been working hard at doctoring during the long wait for the trial.)

So Charles was released. The family was together once again but they could not leave France. However, their victory was short-lived. Charles was arrested again that same evening.

In the new trial, Defarge testified against Darnay. Defarge had found a letter behind some stones in the prison cell of the good doctor. The letter was considered the testimony of the doctor against Darnay’s father and uncle. It explained how Dr. Mannette became a prisoner many years before.

Dr. Mannette was hired by twin brothers to care for a sick young woman in a deserted house. Charles’ uncle had had his way with her after killing her husband and father. The girl’s brother had tracked her down to the house where she was being held. He forced the evil uncle into a duel and was mortally wounded. There was nothing Dr. Mannette could do for the boy except listen to his sad story. The young woman died a few days later. The noble twins asked for discretion from the doctor but the doctor wrote a letter to the authorities stating the entire story of abuse and death.

The good doctor was called away from home the next evening to see a patient. But it was just a ruse by the brothers who had the letter in their possession. Charles Darnay’s uncle and father were responsible for the imprisonment of Dr. Mannette! The doctor’s written account ended by denouncing the Evremonde brothers and all their prosperity.

This time, Charles was found guilty and sentenced to death the next day. The doctor, unable to save Charles, became the tragic cobbler, desperately searching for his workbench and tools. Unbeknownst to the family, except Mr. Lorry, Sydney Carton came to Paris. He blackmailed a guard at the prison into helping him with a plot.

Sydney visited Charles’ cell an hour before the execution. He exchanged clothes and drugged Charles. Sydney took Charles’ place. His accomplice got Charles’ back to his family who had a carriage waiting. Mr. Lorry, Dr. Mannette, Lucie, little Lucie, and unconscious Charles’ who had Carton’s papers, hurried traveled from Paris.

Miss Pross and Jerry (who worked for Mr. Lorry) stayed behind in the house to get another carriage a bit later. This arrangement allowed the first carriage to travel faster than it could have with all of them. While Jerry was gone to get the carriage, Mrs. Defarge showed up to gloat. She was determined the Lucie and her child would meet the guillotine as well. You see, she was the younger sister of the woman who had met the tragic death at the hands of Charles’ uncle. She had already arranged for the arrest to take place that evening. The house was abandoned except for Miss Pross. During a violent struggle, the pistol of Mrs. Defarge went off killing her. Miss Pross and Jerry made their getaway.

Meanwhile, at the prison, Sydney Carton comforted a poor working girl who was meeting the guillotine that same day. She realized that this was not Charles, though the resemblance was strong, and was awestruck by Sydney’s courage and willingness to take the place of another. She clung to him and was as brave as she could be with his help. During the last day of his life, Sydney showed a Christ-like courage. He not only redeemed Charles Darnay’s life but also his own misspent life. He gave his true love the greatest gift he had to give, his life. The final line of Dicken’s tale is: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (narration by Penny Gardner)

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