It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before
the first 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 walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest
of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking
exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness,
and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three
times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the
road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and
whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that
article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the
argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had
capitulated and returned to their duty.
With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the
thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were
falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them
and brought them to a stand, with a wary "Wo-ho! so-ho-then!" the near
leader violently shook 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 this rattle, the passenger started, as a nervous
passenger might, and was disturbed in mind.
There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its
forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding
none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the
air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the
waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out
everything from the light 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 it all.
Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the
side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the
ears, and wore 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 as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from
the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travellers
were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the
road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when
every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in "the
Captain's" pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable
non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of
the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one
thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter's Hill, as
he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet,
and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded
blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited
on a substratum of cutlass.
The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected
the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they
all suspected 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 the two 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
and be 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
a decided scramble for it, and the three other horses followed suit. Once
more, the Dover mail struggled on, with the jack-boots of its passengers
squashing along by its side. They had stopped when the coach stopped, and
they kept close company with it. If any one of the three had had the
hardihood to propose to another to walk on a little ahead into the mist
and darkness, he would have put himself in a fair way of getting shot
instantly as a highwayman.
The last burst carried the mail to the summit of the hill. The horses
stopped to 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
"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 the door, and mounting nimbly to his place. "Gentlemen! In the
king's name, all of you!"
With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stood on the
The passenger booked by this history, was on the coach-step, getting in;
the two other passengers were close behind him, and about to follow. He
remained on the step, half in the coach and half out of; they remained in
the road below him. They all looked from the coachman to the guard, and
from the guard to the coachman, and listened. The coachman looked back and
the guard looked back, 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
the coach, added to the stillness of the night, made it very quiet indeed.
The panting of the horses communicated a tremulous motion to the coach, as
if it were in a state of agitation. The hearts of the passengers beat loud
enough perhaps to be heard; but at any rate, the quiet pause was audibly
expressive of people out of breath, and holding the breath, and having the
pulses quickened 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! I
The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing and floundering, a
man'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,
the coachman, and the two other passengers eyed him distrustfully.
"Keep where you are," the guard called to the voice in the mist, "because,
if 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 the road—assisted
from behind more swiftly than politely by the other two passengers, who
immediately scrambled into the coach, shut the door, and pulled 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 the
guard, 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 that
saddle o' yourn, don't let me see your hand go nigh 'em. For I'm a devil
at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead. So now
let's look at you."
The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddying mist, and
came 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 folded paper. The rider's horse was blown, and both horse and rider
were covered with mud, 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 raised
blunderbuss, his left at the barrel, and his eye on the horseman, answered
"There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellson's Bank. You must know
Tellson's Bank in London. I am going to Paris on business. A crown to
drink. I may 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
to himself and then aloud: "'Wait at Dover for Mam'selle.' It's not long,
you see, 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
as if I wrote. Make the best of your way. Good night."
With those words the passenger opened the coach-door and got in; not at
all assisted by his fellow-passengers, who had expeditiously secreted
their watches and purses in their boots, and were now making a general
pretence of being asleep. With no more definite purpose than to escape the
hazard of originating any other kind of action.
The coach lumbered on again, with heavier wreaths of mist closing round it
as it 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 to the supplementary pistols that he wore in his belt, looked to a
smaller chest beneath his seat, in which there were a few smith's tools, a
couple of torches, and a tinder-box. For he was furnished with that
completeness that if the 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 well off the straw, and get a light with tolerable
safety and ease (if he were lucky) 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 it
Jerry, left alone in the mist and darkness, dismounted meanwhile, not only
to ease his spent horse, but to wipe the mud from his face, and shake the
wet out of his hat-brim, which might be capable of holding about half a
gallon. After standing with the bridle over his heavily-splashed arm,
until the wheels of the mail were no longer within hearing and the night
was quite still again, he turned 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 his mare. "'Recalled to life.' That's a Blazing strange
message. Much of that wouldn't do for you, Jerry! I say, Jerry! You'd be
in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion,