A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 2 : The Grindstone | Summary



Mr. Jarvis Lorry is in Tellson's Bank's Paris office, which inhabits one of the wings in the house of the very same Monseigneur who once needed three strong men to serve his hot chocolate. The Monseigneur escaped the country dressed as his cook, and his three strong servants escaped punishment for being part of his household by denouncing him and joining the patriots, who have now taken over the main part of the house.

Lorry looks out the window to where a huge grindstone has been set up across the courtyard. He closes the window, but still hears "the usual night hum of the city, with an indescribable ring in it now and then, weird and unearthly, as if some unwonted sounds of a terrible nature were going up to Heaven." He thanks God that no one he loves is in Paris tonight. Suddenly, he hears the gate clang, and in rush Lucie and Dr. Manette. Lucie is deathly pale and falls into Lorry's arms, panting, "O my dear friend! My husband!" In a jumble she manages to explain that Charles Darnay is in Paris and in prison. Meanwhile, the doctor asks, "What is that noise?" and goes to the window. Lorry begs him to stay away from the window, but the doctor says that no one would ever hurt him, a former prisoner in the Bastille.

As soon as he learns Darnay is in La Force, Lorry sends Lucie to wait in his room, telling her she can do nothing to help Charles and that he must speak alone with her father without delay. Lorry and the doctor look out the window at a terrible sight: Around the grindstone is a crowd of people covered with blood; they have come to sharpen hatchets, knives, bayonets, and swords taken from people they have killed. Lorry whispers, "They are ... murdering the prisoners" and asks the doctor to use his reputation to get to the prison to save Darnay. The doctor immediately joins the crowd around the grindstone, and it is not long before there are cries to save the "Bastille prisoner's kindred in La Force."

Returning to Lucie, Lorry finds that Miss Pross and little Lucie are also there, and they wait together for news, sleeping intermittently. Twice more during the night, Lorry hears the grindstone at work, and at sunrise he sees that it is red with blood.


Again, Lucie is being protected from knowing anything about Charles Darnay, which is indicative of the status of wives in England at the time, but also speaks to what the men around her view as her fragility. In reality, she is extremely sensitive to the plights of others, and although she is prone to fainting and grabbing onto people for support, it takes serious bravery to head back to France. After all, she knows about the law that was passed on the day Darnay left England, so she has a much better notion than he did of how dangerous France might be. But her father is certain his status will protect both of them. Dickens portrays Lucie as an interesting mix of feminine weakness and gutsy strength, and she'll certainly need her strength now that she is in the middle of such chaos and danger. As he did in the beginning of the novel, Mr. Jarvis Lorry serves as the rock to which Lucie clings.

The doctor, knowing he is a hero to the patriots, makes use of his reputation to go to La Force to try to free Darnay. He has convinced and fired up this raggedy group of "murderers," but like Lorry, readers cannot be sure he will succeed, which provides the cliffhanger for this chapter.

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