It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before th_irst of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter’s Hill. He walke_p hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passenger_id; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under th_ircumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and th_ail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to _top, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous inten_f taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpos_therwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals ar_ndued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.
With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through th_hick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were fallin_o pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them and brough_hem to a stand, with a wary “Wo-ho! so-ho- then!” the near leader violentl_hook his head and everything upon it—like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coach could be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made thi_attle, the passenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbe_n mind.
There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in it_orlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. _lammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air i_ipples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of a_nwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from th_ight of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made i_ll.
Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the sid_f the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the ears, an_ore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost a_any wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of hi_wo companions. In those days, travellers were very shy of being confidentia_n a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league wit_obbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house coul_roduce somebody in “the Captain’s” pay, ranging from the landlord to th_owest stable non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So th_uard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, on_housand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter’s Hill, as h_tood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, an_eeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loade_lunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited o_ substratum of cutlass.
The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected th_assengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they al_uspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on th_wo Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
“Wo-ho!” said the coachman. “So, then! One more pull and you’re at the top an_e damned to you, for I have had trouble enough to get you to it!—Joe!”
“Halloa!” the guard replied.
“What o’clock do you make it, Joe?”
“Ten minutes, good, past eleven.”
“My blood!” ejaculated the vexed coachman, “and not atop of Shooter’s yet!
Tst! Yah! Get on with you!”
The emphatic horse, cut short by the whip in a most decided negative, made _ecided scramble for it, and the three other horses followed suit. Once more, the Dover mail struggled on, with the jack-boots of its passengers squashin_long by its side. They had stopped when the coach stopped, and they kep_lose company with it. If any one of the three had had the hardihood t_ropose to another to walk on a little ahead into the mist and darkness, h_ould have put himself in a fair way of getting shot instantly as _ighwayman.
The last burst carried the mail to the summit of the hill. The horses stoppe_o breathe again, and the guard got down to skid the wheel for the descent, and open the coach-door to let the passengers in.
“Tst! Joe!” cried the coachman in a warning voice, looking down from his box.
“What do you say, Tom?”
They both listened.
“I say a horse at a canter coming up, Joe.”
“I say a horse at a gallop, Tom,” returned the guard, leaving his hold of th_oor, and mounting nimbly to his place. “Gentlemen! In the kings name, all o_ou!”
With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stood on th_ffensive.
The passenger booked by this history, was on the coach-step, getting in; th_wo other passengers were close behind him, and about to follow. He remaine_n the step, half in the coach and half out of; they re-mained in the roa_elow him. They all looked from the coachman to the guard, and from the guar_o the coachman, and listened. The coachman looked back and the guard looke_ack, and even the emphatic leader pricked up his ears and looked back, without contradicting.
The stillness consequent on the cessation of the rumbling and labouring of th_oach, added to the stillness of the night, made it very quiet indeed. Th_anting of the horses communicated a tremulous motion to the coach, as if i_ere in a state of agitation. The hearts of the passengers beat loud enoug_erhaps to be heard; but at any rate, the quiet pause was audibly expressiv_f people out of breath, and holding the breath, and having the pulse_uickened by expectation.
The sound of a horse at a gallop came fast and furiously up the hill.
“So-ho!” the guard sang out, as loud as he could roar. “Yo there! Stand! _hall fire!”
The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing and floundering, _an’s voice called from the mist, “Is that the Dover mail?”
“Never you mind what it is!” the guard retorted. “What are you?”
“Is that the Dover mail?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I want a passenger, if it is.”
“Mr. Jarvis Lorry.”
Our booked passenger showed in a moment that it was his name. The guard, th_oachman, and the two other passengers eyed him distrustfully.
“Keep where you are,” the guard called to the voice in the mist, “because, i_ should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime.
Gentleman of the name of Lorry answer straight.”
“What is the matter?” asked the passenger, then, with mildly quavering speech.
“Who wants me? Is it Jerry?”
(“I don’t like Jerry’s voice, if it is Jerry,” growled the guard to himself.
“He’s hoarser than suits me, is Jerry.”)
“Yes, Mr. Lorry.”
“What is the matter?”
“A despatch sent after you from over yonder. T. and Co.”
“I know this messenger, guard,” said Mr. Lorry, getting down into th_oad—assisted from behind more swiftly than politely by the other tw_assengers, who immediately scrambled into the coach, shut the door, an_ulled up the window. “He may come close; there’s nothing wrong.”
“I hope there ain’t, but I can’t make so ‘Nation sure of that,” said th_uard, in gruff soliloquy. “Hallo you!”
“Well! And hallo you!” said Jerry, more hoarsely than before.
“Come on at a footpace! d’ye mind me? And if you’ve got holsters to tha_addle o’ yourn, don’t let me see your hand go nigh ’em. For I’m a devil at _uick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead. So now let’_ook at you.”
The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddying mist, an_ame to the side of the mail, where the passenger stood. The rider stooped, and, casting up his eyes at the guard, handed the passenger a small folde_aper. The rider’s horse was blown, and both horse and rider were covered wit_ud, from the hoofs of the horse to the hat of the man.
“Guard!” said the passenger, in a tone of quiet business confidence.
The watchful guard, with his right hand at the stock of his raise_lunderbuss, his left at the barrel, and his eye on the horseman, answere_urtly, “Sir.”
“There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellson’s Bank. You must kno_ellson’s Bank in London. I am going to Paris on business. A crown to drink. _ay read this?”
“If so be as you’re quick, sir.”
He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side, and read—first t_imself and then aloud: “‘Wait at Dover for Mam’selle.’ It’s not long, yo_ee, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, RECALLED TO LIFE.”
Jerry started in his saddle. “That’s a Blazing strange answer, too,” said he, at his hoarsest.
“Take that message back, and they will know that I received this, as well a_f I wrote. Make the best of your way. Good night.”
With those words the passenger opened the coach-door and got in; not at al_ssisted by his fellow-passengers, who had expeditiously secreted thei_atches and purses in their boots, and were now making a general pretence o_eing asleep. With no more definite purpose than to escape the hazard o_riginating any other kind of action.
The coach lumbered on again, with heavier wreaths of mist closing round it a_t began the descent. The guard soon replaced his blunderbuss in his arm- chest, and, having looked to the rest of its contents, and having looked t_he supplementary pistols that he wore in his belt, looked to a smaller ches_eneath his seat, in which there were a few smith’s tools, a couple o_orches, and a tinder-box. For he was furnished with that completeness that i_he coach-lamps had been blown and stormed out, which did occasionally happen, he had only to shut himself up inside, keep the flint and steel sparks wel_ff the straw, and get a light with tolerable safety and ease (if he wer_ucky) in five minutes.
“Tom!” softly over the coach roof.
“Did you hear the message?”
“I did, Joe.”
“What did you make of it, Tom?”
“Nothing at all, Joe.”
“That’s a coincidence, too,” the guard mused, “for I made the same of i_yself.”
Jerry, left alone in the mist and darkness, dismounted meanwhile, not only t_ase his spent horse, but to wipe the mud from his face, and shake the wet ou_f his hat-brim, which might be capable of holding about half a gallon. Afte_tanding with the bridle over his heavily-splashed arm, until the wheels o_he mail were no longer within hearing and the night was quite still again, h_urned to walk down the hill.
“After that there gallop from Temple Bar, old lady, I won’t trust your fore- legs till I get you on the level,” said this hoarse messenger, glancing at hi_are. “‘Recalled to life.’ That’s a Blazing strange message. Much of tha_ouldn’t do for you, Jerry! I say, Jerry! You’d be in a Blazing bad way, i_ecalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!”