Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities Volume I, Chapter Two – The Mail

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Volume I, Chapter Two – The Mail

  • Our friendly narrator sets the scene: it’s a Friday night in November. We’re on the Dover road.
  • This should spark some bells for anyone who spent the summer traveling around Europe.
  • Long, long ago, in the years before the Chunnel was built, people who wanted to travel to France took a boat from Dover to Calais.
  • Based on this information, we’re guessing that we’re about to see some traveling going on. It’s just a hunch.
  • Anyhow, we zoom in on a guy who’s supposed to be traveling by mail coach to Dover.
  • A mail coach is a coach that, well, carries mail. And people. It’s drawn by horses.
  • We say that he’s supposed to be in the coach because, at the moment, he’s walking in the mud alongside it.
  • In fact, all of the passengers on the coach are walking beside it. In the mud. And no one’s all that happy about it.
  • The horses, you see, have gotten bogged down in the mud.
  • Since this is long before the time of cars (and long, long before planes or nice, clean trains), the passengers don’t have any choice but to hop out and walk.
  • Besides being muddy, it's cold and foggy and altogether disgusting.
  • The longer we think about it, the less we understand why anybody would want to travel to Dover at all.
  • Finally, the coachman manages to push the horses up to the top of the muddy hill. By the time they climb up it, it’s almost 10:00.
  • All of a sudden, the coachman (we’ll call him Joe, since that's his name) hears horses’ hooves pounding in the distance.
  • A rider is following them!
  • Everyone stops and listens as a horse draws up to the carriage.
  • The rider of the horse asks for Mr. Jarvis Lorry.
  • A small man answers. He seems to think that the rider’s name is Jerry.
  • As it turns out, this is because the rider’s name is Jerry. We’re starting to trust this Mr. Lorry already.
  • Jerry gives Mr. Lorry a letter.
  • All of the other passengers eye Jerry suspiciously. Now that Mr. Lorry’s got a letter from Jerry, they eye him suspiciously, too.
  • Mr. Lorry assures Joe that there’s nothing wrong. He (Mr. Lorry) is from Tellson’s Bank in London.
  • Mentioning the name of Tellson’s seems to do the trick. All of a sudden, everyone trusts Mr. Lorry.
  • He reads the note that Jerry handed to him, and tells Jerry to ride back to London to deliver one message: "Recalled to Life."
  • Sound interesting? Just wait. It is!
  • The coach starts off again (this time with the passengers on the inside).
  • As it travels, Joe remarks to Tom (another passenger) that the message Mr. Lorry gave to Jerry was rather cryptic.
  • Tom agrees. They puzzle over it for the rest of the journey.

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