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Chapter 3 The Night Shadows

  • A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted t_e that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration,
  • when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustere_ouses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them enclose_ts own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands o_reasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart neares_t! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. N_ore can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope i_ime to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomabl_ater, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses o_uried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the boo_hould shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page.
  • It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when th_ight was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. M_riend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, i_ead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret tha_as always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’_nd. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there _leeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermos_ersonality, to me, or than I am to them?
  • As to this, his natural and not to be alienated inheritance, the messenger o_orseback had exactly the same possessions as the King, the first Minister o_tate, or the richest merchant in London. So with the three passengers shut u_n the narrow compass of one lumbering old mail coach; they were mysteries t_ne another, as complete as if each had been in his own coach and six, or hi_wn coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between him and the next.
  • The messenger rode back at an easy trot, stopping pretty often at ale-house_y the way to drink, but evincing a tendency to keep his own counsel, and t_eep his hat cocked over his eyes. He had eyes that assorted very well wit_hat decoration, being of a surface black, with no depth in the colour o_orm, and much too near together—as if they were afraid of being found out i_omething, singly, if they kept too far apart. They had a sinister expression,
  • under an old cocked-hat like a three-cornered spittoon, and over a grea_uffler for the chin and throat, which descended nearly to the wearer’s knees.
  • When he stopped for drink, he moved this muffler with his left hand, onl_hile he poured his liquor in with his right; as soon as that was done, h_uffled again.
  • “No, Jerry, no!” said the messenger, harping on one theme as he rode. “I_ouldn’t do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradesman, it wouldn’t suit you_ine of business! Recalled—! Bust me if I don’t think he’d been a drinking!”
  • His message perplexed his mind to that degree that he was fain, several times,
  • to take off his hat to scratch his head. Except on the crown, which wa_aggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, an_rowing down hill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’_ork, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair,
  • that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the mos_angerous man in the world to go over.
  • While he trotted back with the message he was to deliver to the night watchma_n his box at the door of Tellson’s Bank, by Temple Bar, who was to deliver i_o greater authorities within, the shadows of the night took such shapes t_im as arose out of the message, and took such shapes to the mare as arose ou_f her private topics of uneasiness. They seemed to be numerous, for she shie_t every shadow on the road.
  • What time, the mail-coach lumbered, jolted, rattled, and bumped upon it_edious way, with its three fellow-inscrutables inside. To whom, likewise, th_hadows of the night revealed themselves, in the forms their dozing eyes an_andering thoughts suggested.
  • Tellson’s Bank had a run upon it in the mail. As the bank passenger—with a_rm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep hi_rom pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner,
  • whenever the coach got a special jolt—nodded in his place, with half-shu_yes, the little coach-windows, and the coach-lamp dimly gleaming throug_hem, and the bulky bundle of opposite passenger, became the bank, and did _reat stroke of business. The rattle of the harness was the chink of money,
  • and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson’s, with al_ts foreign and home connexion, ever paid in thrice the time. Then the strong-
  • rooms underground, at Tellson’s, with such of their valuable stores an_ecrets as were known to the passenger (and it was not a little that he kne_bout them), opened before him, and he went in among them with the great key_nd the feebly-burning candle, and found them safe, and strong, and sound, an_till, just as he had last seen them.
  • But, though the bank was almost always with him, and though the coach (in _onfused way, like the presence of pain under an opiate) was always with him,
  • there was another current of impression that never ceased to run, all throug_he night. He was on his way to dig some one out of a grave.
  • Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before him was th_rue face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; bu_hey were all the faces of a man of five-and-forty by years, and they differe_rincipally in the passions they expressed, and in the ghastliness of thei_orn and wasted state. Pride, contempt, defiance, stubbornness, submission,
  • lamentation, succeeded one another; so did varieties of sunken cheek,
  • cadaverous colour, emaciated hands and figures. But the face was in the mai_ne face, and every head was prematurely white. A hundred times the dozin_assenger inquired of this spectre:
  • “Buried how long?”
  • The answer was always the same: “Almost eighteen years.”
  • “You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”
  • “Long ago.”
  • “You know that you are recalled to life?”
  • “They tell me so.”
  • “I hope you care to live?”
  • “I can’t say.”
  • “Shall I show her to you? Will you come and see her?”
  • The answers to this question were various and contradictory. Sometimes th_roken reply was, “Wait! It would kill me if I saw her too soon.” Sometimes,
  • it was given in a tender rain of tears, and then it was, “Take me to her.”
  • Sometimes it was staring and bewildered, and then it was, “I don’t know her. _on’t understand.”
  • After such imaginary discourse, the passenger in his fancy would dig, and dig,
  • dig—now with a spade, now with a great key, now with his hands—to dig thi_retched creature out. Got out at last, with earth hanging about his face an_air, he would suddenly fan away to dust. The passenger would then start t_imself, and lower the window, to get the reality of mist and rain on hi_heek.
  • Yet even when his eyes were opened on the mist and rain, on the moving patc_f light from the lamps, and the hedge at the roadside retreating by jerks,
  • the night shadows outside the coach would fall into the train of the nigh_hadows within. The real Banking-house by Temple Bar, the real business of th_ast day, the real strong rooms, the real express sent after him, and the rea_essage returned, would all be there. Out of the midst of them, the ghostl_ace would rise, and he would accost it again.
  • “Buried how long?”
  • “Almost eighteen years.”
  • “I hope you care to live?”
  • “I can’t say.”
  • Dig—dig—dig—until an impatient movement from one of the two passengers woul_dmonish him to pull up the window, draw his arm securely through the leather_trap, and speculate upon the two slumbering forms, until his mind lost it_old of them, and they again slid away into the bank and the grave.
  • “Buried how long?”
  • “Almost eighteen years.”
  • “You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”
  • “Long ago.”
  • The words were still in his hearing as just spoken—distinctly in his hearin_s ever spoken words had been in his life—when the weary passenger started t_he consciousness of daylight, and found that the shadows of the night wer_one.
  • He lowered the window, and looked out at the rising sun. There was a ridge o_loughed land, with a plough upon it where it had been left last night whe_he horses were unyoked; beyond, a quiet coppice-wood, in which many leaves o_urning red and golden yellow still remained upon the trees. Though the eart_as cold and wet, the sky was clear, and the sun rose bright, placid, an_eautiful.
  • “Eighteen years!” said the passenger, looking at the sun. “Gracious Creator o_ay! To be buried alive for eighteen years!”