Why do the passengers on the Dover mail act towards each other as they do? A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the opening chapter of the Dickens's historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens creates a tableau of the times:  Highway robbers are proliferate as "in England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting."  Robberies and buglaries are nightly occurrences. Highwaymen, too, abound; so, there is a tremedous distrust and fear that exists within the hearts of many a Englishman.

Therefore, in Chapter II of the Book I, the passengers on the Dover Mail, the stagecoach that carries the mail to the Dover point where it then goes on to Calais, France, are extremely wary and very suspicious of anyone they do not know.  Dickens writes that the three passengers, one of whom is Mr. Lorry, have their faces covered with only their eyes peering out from "many wrappers."

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.

The coach guard is extremely cautious as anybody on the road that they traverse may be a robber, or in league with robbers; in fact, he watches the "arm-chest" that has six or eight loaded rifles and several cutlasses on top of it.

As the passengers who "suspected everyone else," mount the hill by walking in the mud next to the stage, not one ventures ahead for fear that he

would have put himself in a fair way of getting shot instantly as a highwayman.

Being an older gentleman, Mr. Lorry remains on the step of the coach, half in and half out, but he like the others looks to the driver to the guard and back again as they continue up the muddy hill.  When the coach stops, it is as though the beating of their fearful hearts can be heard, especially when the sound of a horse at a fast gallop is discerned.  When he detects this sound, the guard calls out, "So-ho!" and threatens to shoot.

It is Jerry Cruncher who approaches and asks for the passenger Mr. Lorry, who verifies himself.  But the guard tells Cruncher to approach slowly,

"And if you've got holsters to that saddle...don't let me see your hand go high 'em.  For I'm a devil at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead."

At this point Mr. Lorry calls out to the guard, who has his right hand on the stock of a blunderbuss:  "There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellso's Bank....I am going to Paris on business."  When Mr. Lorry returns to the cab, the others have secreted their watches and purses, pretending now to be asleep.  The coach moves forward, and the guard replaces his blunderbuss with attention to where is artillery is should he need it again.

 

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