In England, the Dover mail coach makes its way up a hill one late November night. The foreboding atmosphere of night and mist makes everyone uneasy — the passengers, the coachman, and the guard. Highway robberies are common, and the travelers are as wary of each other as they are of anyone else they might meet on the road.
As the coach reaches the top of the hill, the travelers hear a horse approaching at a gallop. The rider, Jerry, is a messenger from Tellson's Bank in London, and he has a message for one of the passengers, Mr. Jarvis Lorry, an employee of the bank. Mr. Lorry reads the message, which states, "Wait at Dover for Mam'selle."Mr. Lorry tells Jerry to return the answer, "Recalled to Life,"and the coach continues on its way. As Jerry gallops back to London, he muses over Mr. Lorry's mysterious response.
Like many nineteenth-century authors, Dickens uses atmosphere and setting to establish the mood of a story, and this chapter exemplifies his mastery of the technique. The action of the novel begins with discomfort and anxiety as the characters slog along the muddy highway in the dark, damp chill of a late November mist. The threat of highway robbery that Dickens describes in the first chapter combines with the misty cold to create a sense of vulnerability and apprehension.
Mr. Lorry serves as a figurative and actual link between France and England throughout the book. As Dickens reveals in later chapters, Mr. Lorry is first and foremost a man of business, and his business — Tellson's Bank — carries him between England and France. At this point, though, his current business is a mystery to everyone but himself.
The messages exchanged between him and Jerry are a puzzle to all that hear them, especially Mr. Lorry's response: "Recalled to life."This theme of mystery and secrecy will recur repeatedly and will play a central role in the unfolding of the plot.
the mail "short for "mail coach,"a coach that carried mail and passengers.
arm-chest a chest containing weapons.
cutlass a short, curving sword, originally used by sailors.
jack-boots heavy, sturdy military boots that extend above the knees.
"The rider's horse was blown"The horse was out of breath.
flint and steel Flint is a fine-grained, very hard rock that produces sparks when struck against a piece of steel. Before the invention of matches, people used flint and steel to start fires.