+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers
fired on the mob; and nobody thought any of
these occurrences much out of the common way.
In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy
and ever worse than useless, was in constant
requisition; now, stringing up long rows of
miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker
on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday;
now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by
the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the
door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the
life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a
wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy
of sixpence.

All these things, and a thousand like them,
came to pass in and close upon the dear old year
one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five.
Environed by them, while the Woodman and the
Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large
jaws, and those other two of the plain and the
fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried
their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did
the year one thousand seven hundred and
seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and
myriads of small creaturesthe creatures of this
chronicle among the restalong the roads that
lay before them.


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 forbad 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 itlike 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 cheek-bones 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 nondescript, 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 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.