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Chapter 2 The Mail

  • 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.”
  • “What passenger?”
  • “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.
  • “Hallo, Joe.”
  • “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!”