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A Tale of Two Cities

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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. This story starts with a man traveling along the road to Dover on a Friday night in late November. The Dover mail coach was also on the road and was moving slowly up Shooter’s Hill. The man walked up the hill in the mud next to the mail coach, as did the rest of the coach’s passengers. The passengers weren’t walking because they wanted exercise; they were walking because the hill, the harness, the mud, and the weight of the mail made the coach so heavy that the horses pulling it had already stopped three times. The horses had even tried to turn around and drag the coach back to Blackheath, an act equivalent to mutiny. The coachman and the guard, however, refusing to allow such behvior, whipped the horses with the reins and persuaded them to continue on.
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. With their heads bowed down and their tails shaking, the horses stomped their way through the thick mud, struggling and tripping as if they were coming apart at their joints. Whenever the coachman stopped them, yelling “Wo-ho! so-ho-then!” the lead horse would violently shake his head, as if he were trying to tell the driver that the coach would never make it. Each time the lead horse shook like this, one of the nervous passengers would jump, and feel uneasy.
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. A steam-like mist moved gloomily up the hill, like a ghost looking for a place to rest, but finding none. The mist was cold and damp, and it moved slowly through the air in ripples that flowed on top of one another like the waves of a rough sea. It was so thick that all that could be seen by the light of the coach lamps was the mist itself and a few yards of the road. Steam rose off the struggling horses and mixed with the mist, as if the mist were coming from the horses themselves.
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 two other passengers, beside the one already mentioned, were also plodding their way up the hill beside the mail coach. All three men were bundled up all the way to their ears and wore high boots. They were so covered up that not one of them could say what the others looked like, and all were so secretive that their minds were just as hidden as their faces. In those days, travelers kept to themselves, because anyone on the road could be a robber or in league with robbers. Every inn and alehouse had someone in it working for thieves, from the landlord down to the lowliest stable boy—anyone could be a criminal. This is what the guard of the Dover mail coach thought to himself that Friday night in November 1775, as the mail coach lumbered up Shooter’s Hill and the guard stood at his place on the back, stomping his feet and staying close to the chest of weapons. In the chest was a loaded

blunderbuss

an early form of shotgun with a short barrel

blunderbuss
, six or eight handguns, and a layer of swords at the bottom.

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