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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. The mood in the Dover mail coach was friendly as usual: the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected each other and the guard, everyone was suspicious of everyone else, and the driver trusted no one but the horses, though he would have sworn on the Bible that they were not strong enough to make the trip.
“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!” “Wo-ho!” shouted the driver to the horses. “One more tug and you’ll be at the top of the hill, and damn you for all the trouble it took to get you there! Joe!”
“Halloa!” the guard replied. “Hello!” the guard replied.
“What o’clock do you make it, Joe?” “What time do you think it is, Joe?”
“Ten minutes, good, past eleven.” “Ten minutes past eleven.”
“My blood!” ejaculated the vexed coachman, “and not atop of Shooter’s yet! Tst! Yah! Get on with you!” “And we’re not to the top of Shooter’s Hill yet!” yelled the angry driver. “Yah! Get a move on!”
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 driver struck the lead horse with his whip, and the horse made a strong push up the hill as the other horses followed. The Dover mail coach pushed on once again, with the high boots of the passengers squashing through the mud next to it. When the coach stopped, the passengers stopped and stayed close beside it. If any of them had been brave enough to suggest they walk ahead into the mist and darkness, one of the others would have suspected him of being a highway robber and shot him.
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. The last push moved the mail coach to the top of the hill. The horses stopped to catch their breath. The guard got down to set the brake for the descent down the hill, and to open the coach door to let the passengers in.
“Tst! Joe!” cried the coachman in a warning voice, looking down from his box. “Hey, Joe!” yelled the driver in a warning voice, looking down from the top of the coach.
“What do you say, Tom?” “What is it, Tom?”
They both listened. They both listened.
“I say a horse at a canter coming up, Joe.” “Sounds like a horse trotting toward us, 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!” “I’d say that horse is moving faster than that, Tom,” replied the guard. He let go of the door and jumped back to his place on the coach. “Gentlemen, in the name of the king, get back in the coach!”
With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stood on the offensive. With this hurried command, he cocked the gun, and stood ready to fire.
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 passenger followed throughout this book was on the coach step getting in. The other two passengers were right behind him, about to follow. He remained on the step, half in the coach and half out. They all looked back and forth between the driver and the guard, listening. The driver and the guard looked back at the passengers, and even the lead horse listened and looked back at them.
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. It became very quiet once the rumbling and struggling of the mail coach had stopped, adding to the stillness of the night. The panting of the horses made the mail coach shake as if it, too, were nervous. The passengers’ hearts beat so loudly it was as if they could be heard outside their bodies. But the quietness reflected the emotions of the passengers, who were out of breath, and holding their breath, their heartbeats speeding up in expectation.