With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their waythrough the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as ifthey were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as thedriver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary "Wo-ho!so-ho-then!" the near leader violently shook his head and everythingupon it- like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coachcould be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, thepassenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbedin mind.
There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed inits forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest andfinding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow waythrough the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread oneanother, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was denseenough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps butthese its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of thelabouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.
Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hillby the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbonesand over the cars, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three couldhave said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two waslike; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from theeyes 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 ashort notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in leaguewith robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-housecould produce somebody in "the Captain's" pay, ranging from thelandlord to the lowest stable nondescript, it was the likeliestthing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought tohimself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred andseventy-five, lumbering up Shooter's Hill, as he stood on his ownparticular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eyeand a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss layat the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on asubstratum of cutlass.
The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guardsuspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and theguard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure ofnothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clearconscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they werenot fit for the journey.
"Wo-ho!" said the coachman. "So, then! One more pull and you're atthe top and be damned to you, for I have had trouble enough to get youto 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 ofShooter's yet! Tst! Yah! Get on with you!"
The emphatic horse, cut short by the whip in a most decidednegative, made a decided scramble for it, and the three other horsesfollowed suit. Once more, the Dover mail struggled on, with thejack-boots of its passengers squashing along by its side. They hadstopped 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 towalk on a little ahead into the mist and darkness, he would have puthimself in a fair way of getting shot instantly as a highwayman.
The last burst carried the mail to the summit of the hill. Thehorses stopped to breathe again, and the guard got down to skid thewheel for the descent, and open the coach-door to let the passengersin.
"Tst! Joe!" cried the coachman in a warning voice, looking down fromhis 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 hishold of the door, and mounting nimbly to his place. "Gentlemen! In theking's name, all of you!"
With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stoodon the offensive.
The passenger booked by this history, was on the coach-step, gettingin; the two other passengers were close behind him, and about tofollow. 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 coachmanto the guard, and from the guard to the coachman, and listened. Thecoachman looked back and the guard looked back, and even theemphatic leader pricked up his ears and looked back, withoutcontradicting.
The stillness consequent on the cessation of the rumbling andlabouring of the coach, added to the stillness of the night, made itvery quiet indeed. The panting of the horses communicated atremulous motion to the coach, as if it were in a state ofagitation. The hearts of the passengers beat loud enough perhaps to beheard; but at any rate, the quiet pause was audibly expressive ofpeople out of breath, and holding the breath, and having the pulsesquickened by expectation.
The sound of a horse at a gallop came fast and furiously up thehill.
"So-ho!" the guard sang out, as loud as he could roar. "Yo there!Stand! I shall fire!"
The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing andfloundering, a man's voice called from the mist, "Is that the Dovermail?"
"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. Theguard, the coachman, and the two other passengers eyed himdistrustfully.
"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 inyour lifetime. Gentleman of the name of Lorry answer straight."
"What is the matter?" asked the passenger, then, with mildlyquavering speech. "Who wants me? Is it Jerry?"
("I don't like Jerry's voice, if it is Jerry," growled the guardto 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 intothe road- assisted from behind more swiftly than politely by the othertwo passengers, who immediately scrambled into the coach, shut thedoor, and pulled up the window. "He may come close; there's nothingwrong."
"I hope there ain't, but I can't make so 'Nation sure of that," saidthe 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 holstersto that saddle o' yourn, don't let me see your hand go nigh 'em. ForI'm a devil at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes theform of Lead. So now let's look at you."
The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddyingmist, and came to the side of the mail, where the passenger stood. Therider stooped, and, casting up his eyes at the guard, handed thepassenger a small folded paper. The rider's horse was blown, andboth horse and rider were covered with mud, from the hoofs of thehorse 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 raisedblunderbuss, his left at the barrel, and his eye on the horseman,answered curtly, "Sir."
"There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellson's Bank. You mustknow Tellson's Bank in London. I am going to Paris on business. Acrown 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, andread- 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, RECALLEDTO 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, aswell as if I wrote. Make the best of your way. Good night."
With those words the passenger opened the coach-door and got in; notat all assisted by his fellow-passengers, who had expeditiouslysecreted their watches and purses in their boots, and were nowmaking a general pretence of being asleep. With no more definitepurpose than to escape the hazard of originating any other kind ofaction.
The coach lumbered on again, with heavier wreaths of mist closinground it as it began the descent. The guard soon replaced hisblunderbuss in his arm-chest, and, having looked to the rest of itscontents, and having looked to the supplementary pistols that hewore in his belt, looked to a smaller chest beneath his seat, in whichthere 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-lampshad been blown and stormed out, which did occasionally happen, hehad only to shut himself up inside, keep the flint and steel sparkswell off the straw, and get a light with tolerable safety and ease (ifhe 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 sameof it myself."
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 ofholding about half a gallon. After standing with the bridle over hisheavily-splashed arm, until the wheels of the mail were no longerwithin hearing and the night was quite still again, he turned towalk down the hill.
"After that there gallop from Temple Bar, old lady, I won't trustyour fore-legs till I get you on the level," said this hoarsemessenger, glancing at his mare. "'Recalled to life.' That's a Blazingstrange 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 comeinto fashion, Jerry!"