In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protectionto justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, andhighway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night;families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town withoutremoving their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; thehighwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, beingrecognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped inhis character of “the Captain,” gallantly shot him through the headand rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guardshot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, “inconsequence of the failure of his ammunition:”
after which the mailwas robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor ofLondon, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by onehighwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all hisretinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with theirturkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them,loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamondcrosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms;musketeers went into St. Giles’s, to search for contraband goods,and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fir on themob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of thecommon way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and everworse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing uplong rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker onSaturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in thehand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door ofWestminster Hall; to-day, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boyof sixpence.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in andclose upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred andseventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmerworked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two ofthe plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried theirdivine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand sevenhundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads ofsmall creatures- the creatures of this chronicle among the rest- alongthe roads that lay before them.IT WAS the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late inNovember, before the first of the persons with whom this history hasbusiness. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, asit lumbered up Shooter’s Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by theside of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not becausethey had the least relish for walking exercise, under thecircumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, andthe mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times alreadycome to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, withthe mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whipand coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that articleof war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of theargument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the teamhad capitulated and returned to their duty.
With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their waythrough the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as ifthey were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as thedriver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary “Wo-ho!so-ho-then!” the near leader violently shook his head and everythingupon it- like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coachcould be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, thepassenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbedin mind.