Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
DAY after day passed by, but still no tidings of either Alyce or of her child. A settled melancholy fixed upon the heart of the merchant Hewet. All in his dwelling having been forbidden to speak of his unnatural bereavement, to a casual observer, there appeared within that house of real sorrow, but little to call forth pity or surprise. But, although the good merchant, in external appearance, seemed but as a sedate and thoughtful man, there was within his breast a hidden serpent, ever gnawing at his heart. Hewet's love for his wife had been of that all-absorbing nature-that one single feeling of the soul, in which every other sensation of his kindly nature centred. He had had but one thought, one hope from the moment they had plighted their vows, and that hope, that thought, was for the happiness of his adored Alyce. So ingeniously, with such seeming truthfulness, had she returned his love, that to have allowed a doubt of her pure faith to take birth in his mind, would have seemed as sacrilegeous, as to have distrusted the goodness of Heaven itself.
In exact proportion to his former unbounded confidence, now came the bitterness of finding himself deceived. Every incident of his wedded life flitted before his heated imagination, as he, night after night, lay upon his sleepless couch; but in no one of his wakeful dreams, could he ever picture to himself a single look, or bring to his remembrance a single word, that had ever passed from the eyes or lips of his adored Alyce, that should have raised a blush upon her cheek, or have blanched his own. But the more these reflections crowded upon his mind, the more violent became his resentment against one, whose consummate art could so cloak her vile feelings beneath the guise of sincerity, that no eye, but the one she wished to do so, could ever penetrate her designs. Could such proficiency in deceit be drawn from a pure heart in an instant, as by a spell? or was this perfection of duplicity the slow growth of long continued habit? He feared the latter; and then the remembrance of his every act of former kindness to her he had loved and trusted, would bring a blush upon his cheek, for having been such a weak confiding dupe. He soon persuaded himself, or believed he had done so, that the only grief he now suffered, was for the loss of his child.
" Why had the wretch," he muttered, " stolen away the only consolation she could have left me! Was it the overpowering love a mother might feel for her offspring? Banish the impious thought! What mother, loving her child, could bring upon that child the stain of infamy
|. that its parent's guilt must stamp upon its future life, if that life were to be passed with one, revelling in vice and shame. Oh, no ! hatred to him alone could account for the wicked act." As he was about to call upon Heaven to blast her with its just vengeance, he raised his eyes and encountered the lovely innocent features of Alyce in a picture, which had been painted by the great Holbein, and which was regarded as one of the most perfect specimens of his art. The sight, added to the recollection of the happiness which he believed to have been his own, when that picture was painted, completely overcame him, and he wept aloud.|
Young Osborne, who was ever on the watch, fearful of the turn his master's grief might take, hurried into the apartment.
" Tear it from the wall !" exclaimed Hewet, covering his eyes with one hand, as with the other he pointed to the portrait of his wife, " tear it from the wall-cut it into shreds with your dagger-burn it to ashes -or cast it deep into the flood-do anything with it, so that you utterly destroy that lying semblance of a fiend in angel's form !"
Osborn could not resist heaving a sigh, as he looked upon the heavenly features of Alyce; but knowing that at that moment it were better not to combat the commands of his agitated master, he hurried away with the picture, promising its immediate destruction.
After this last paroxysm of the merchant's despair, no mortal eye ever again witnessed his distress. His whole mind was henceforth, to all appearance, bound up in his worldly affairs; but inwardly there was a powerful spring at work, which drew into one focus every action; this was, his secret determination to be revenged upon the ungrateful cause of all his sorrow-in fact, to discover, and to kill his wife. To such a pitch of madness had he wrought himself, that in order that his child should never fall as her mother had, his next intention was to bestow the whole of his wealth, and it was already vast, upon some nunnery, with the condition that she should for ever be kept from the eyes of men.
Did he fulfil these insane fantasies ?-the book of fate is not yet opened to reveal.
From all the information that had hitherto been obtained, it was pretty evident that the course the fugitives had taken, was towards Italy. Hewet, therefore, under pretence of the King's service, now he had become his Grace's merchant, requiring that he should visit Milan and Venice, in order to select the most costly stuffs, and finest gold work that the world could then produce, obtained permission, and safe conducts, by the King's grace, to enable him to pass through the various states he must traverse, with speed, and tolerable security. Taking advantage of one of his own ships, at that moment about to sail for the Adriatic, he hurriedly prepared for his long and perilous journey. Osborne was placed in flll authority at the dwelling upon the Bridge. His other affairs he left in equally trusty hands; then, with a heart sustained against an almost insupportable pressure of grief, merely by the unholy stimulant, a thirst for vengeance, the merchant hastened upon his melancholy way.
We have often pictured to ourselves, the wonderful diversity of sights we should behold, had we the power to pull down the external walls of even a single street, the inmates still remaining
|unconscious of our intrusive gaze. What fooleries should we not discover some of our before-thought wisest capable of enacting?- what virtues in one place--what vices in the next! A simple wall here dividing the most abject suffering from the most maddening joy; the spendthrift here-the miser in the floor beneath. Here the anxious mother blessing with her first kiss the new-born child, while there, at the same moment, the affrighted lost one might be perceived concealing the body of her strangled babe ! And yet there is an Eye that sees all this, and more, far more, than even the inventive powers of man could ever dream of. Were we always to keep this one simple truth before our own eyes, how far less actions should we perform that we dare not let the eyes of others gaze at ? But if so much of varied interest could be found in the mere visible actions of mortal beings, while viewed without the actor's knowledge, what endless wonders should we not discover, could we but look into all human hearts at once, and there behold the secret workings of hope and fear, of virtue and of vice. How strangely should we be astounded to find that the weal or woe, the happiness or misery of whole nations, instead of springing from the apparent wisdom or mistaken views of sagest or weakest counsellors, was far more likely to be dependent upon the mere smile or frown of some capricious wanton fair one !-to hear the mitred abbot preaching humility, and know that inwardly he was revelling in the pomps and vanities of the high station his hypocrisy had raised him to !-to see the devotee robbing his children to build some abbey-for religion's sake ? No ! for a monument to his own ostentatious vanity. Had we this searching power, we should find that scarcely one action of a man's whole life ever sprang from the cause professed; but we should also discover that the mainstring by which the heart is moved, however long that string might be, however twisted in and out, or winding through the mysterious secret crannies of the mind, yet it would ever end in one carefully-hidden spot-SELF! Perhaps, of all the selfish feelings of human nature, the two most selfish are those we deem to be the least so-GRIEF and LOVE. The most selfish instance of grief is that which we endure when we are sorrowing for the loss of some dear friend, or child, or beloved partner of our joys and cares. Do we really grieve because of their death ? No. It cannot be because they have left this weary world for realms of endless joy- that would be impossible. Then why do we grieve? Because we ourselves have lost the happiness their presence ever brought us-that is the selfish cause. The passion, miscalled love, is one entire mass of selfish feelings. Let but the beloved object tell us she would be happier with another than with us, if we really loved, that object's happiness would be our only thought, and we should glory in resigning all our hopes. Is there one mortal who ever did or ever could do this ? we fancy not. The love that Master Hewet had ever felt for his dear Alyce, was as pure and as intense as mortal was capable of feeling, and the time had been when he fancied there was no sacrifice he would not submit to for her happiness; but then he believed she was willing to endure as great a sacrifice for him. Every kindness a lover bestows he fully expects will be returned, and that with interest too; if lie find that all is taken, and nothing given love soon gives up the ghost, or flies to some mere generous object.|
|Master Hewet loved his Alyce so devotedly, that he would willingly have laid down his life for her, but then he would have expected her to have died in consequence-a lover never kills himself if he thinks his death would really please his mistress. Thus it was with the merchant now he thought his wife would wish him dead, it never for a moment crossed his mind to take his own life; but having had his self-love cruelly wounded, he determined to take hers; and on this, his unhallowed mission, we must leave him for the present.|
Time, that untiring old gentleman, who never will be quiet himself, nor let other people be so, was soberly pursuing his way at the merchant's house, when suddenly an odd-looking little fellow flew right in his face. This odd-looking little fellow was a chubby boy, rather saucy in appearance, and has ever been a great favourite with the ladies; he had a pair of wings upon his shoulders, and was armed with a bow and arrows-his name was Cupid. He was perfectly naked, which we presume is the real cause why this odd-looking little fellow is always getting into dark corners, and ever trying not to be seen, at all events, by more than two at a time. " Come, move on, move on !" said the odd-looking little fellow in the most insolent manner, addressing old Time. " When I want You to stay, you never will; so move on, old one, or I'll send you a dart right into your heart, and that's what you won't like; for you know I can destroy you when I will."
Time laughed at Love, as he had often done before. " Poor silly fool," said the old man, " you always were a fool, and always will be; have I still to teach you it is Time that destroys Love, not Love Time? I fly before you, it is true; but that I do because I know you hate to see me fly; so, since you have come thus suddenly upon this spot, I'll hurry away faster than ever; for I always fly the swiftest wherever you come the quickest." And sure enough, old Time flew off like mad; Cupid, to save trouble, sent two darts at once after him, and where these two darts fell we will now endeavour to discover.
Osborne, as might be supposed, his master being away, and the whole weight of the concern resting upon his shoulders, had enough to do, without spending much time upon the education of Billy-the-bridge-shooter, who was now regularly domesticated in the merchants's house. But as Osborne was not one to form a good intention and not carry it out, he begun seriously to think upon some means of getting the youth a proper master, more particularly as the Bridge-Shooter evinced not only a desire to have his profound ignorance enlightened, but a great aptness in receiving instruction.
It turned out oddly enough, that the master he chose proved to be a mistress. She had herself been a pupil of Osborne, and had, for those days, become a very fair scholar. She could read and write uncommonly well; as to figures, she was not very great ; she seemed to think that it was quite enough for girls to do to study their own figures; and the only arithmetic required by the fair sex was the first rule in Hymen's arithmetic, where, strange to say, one added to one only makes one. This rule she had learnt by heart, but as yet had not put it into practice. The reader will doubtless guess, without much difficulty, that the fair instructress chosen by Edward Osborne for the guide of Billy-the-bridge
|shooter, in his studies, was pretty Flora Gray. For a long time did she despair of making any impression upon his " stupid head," as she called it; and perhaps his tree of knowledge, which afterwards flourished so well, would have been nipped in the bud, had she not by some unaccountable process, made an impression a little lower down than the head,-in short, just on the left side of his breast. The cause of his making such slow progress at the commencement of his academical labours, arose from a feeling of shame at " a great man "-for youths think themselves great men at a very early age-" being instructed to read and write by a little girl." But he very soon began to discover, like Lord Byron, that fair lips, of all instructors of languages, are the very best. The two great stumbling-blocks over which every sentence he attempted to utter, fell and rolled about in the most admired confusion, were the W's and the V's! "Now, it is a very odd thing," as Flora sagaciously observed, " that all uneducated people should find any difficulty in pronouncing these two letters in their proper places, while they do it with perfect ease when placed where they ought not to be."|
"But I can't, and I never shall be able to get over those two horrid little letters," said the Bridge-shooter, with a look of utter despair.
"Nonsense," replied Flora; "now try-say water!" " Vorter !" roared out the Bridge-shooter.
" Now say virtue," continued Flora, looking very gravely.
" Wirtue !" said the Bridge-shooter.
" There, you see; you find no difficulty in pronouncing the letters, only you will put them in the wrong places: adorn your virtue with a V, and pop your W into the water, and we shall get on swimmingly."
The poor Bridge-shooter screwed about his lips in all sorts of ridiculous shapes, ere he ventured to exhale his breath in his attempt upon VIRTUE, and when it did come, the V was about half a yard long; for; having once caught hold of it, he seemed but little inclined to relinquish so valuable an acquisition. "V-e-e-e-e-e-hirtue !" said he, with a jerk, and then took a long-drawn breath, as if completely overcome by the effort he had made.
"Excellent, excellent, excellent, indeed," said Flora, with an encouraging smile. Her smile of encouragement, at such a moment, instead of laughing at his awkward attempt, proved Flora to be an instructress of consummate tact-those who would teach well, must praise, never ridicule. So delighted was the poor Bridge-shooter with this, his first conquest over so formidable a foe, that "virtue" henceforth was for ever in his mouth, and, we are delighted to add, in his heart too. He got over the WATER with much less difficulty; here he seemed more in his element, and by following the same process of elongation, wor-or-- or--r-ter flowed on brilliantly, and he was again encouraged by Flora's pretty smile. After their lessons, which generally took place an hour before sunset, in the pretty room behind the upper balcony, overlooking the river, their conversation always reverted to the strange and wicked conduct of Alyce Hewet. One evening William, for now Flora never allowed him to be called by such a vulgar title as Billy- the-bridge-shooter, observed, " Although I knows-"
"Know," said Flora.
"Know," said William.
" Yes," said Flora.
"Know," said William. " Although I know that mother is not a vitch-I mean witch, sometimes it is werry, very, odd that she does stumble upon most extraordinary things. Now I vunder, wonder, whether she could by her conjurations, as she calls them, find out for us what has really become of Dame Hewet and the child. Shall we go and see the poor old soul, and ax her ?"
" Ask her," said Flora, with a look of some little severity, for she had already corrected him upon this vulgarism at least a hundred times.
"Well then, Flora, shall we go and ask her ? You know this is the eve of St. John, and you have promised that I shall take you about to see all the gay sights to-night."
Poor Flora felt a sigh rising from the very bottom of her heart, for she remembered that another used formerly to take her out upon such occasions; but she checked it, and smiling upon her pupil said, "I never forget my promises, mind you remember yours. If you make one mistake in the verb you have promised to learn, dread my power." What this verb was, we shall by and by explain; but he had already learnt it by heart; so he felt perfectly easy upon that score.
The eve of St. John the Baptist, in our City's olden time, was an epoch of vast interest to our forefathers. The great muster of all the watches of the City took place then; feastings, bonfires, and revelries of all kinds flourished to an enormous extent; but upon all these delightful subjects we shall say but little until we find Flora Gray and William on their way home again. The Bridge-shooter, who, now his rags had vanished and a more becoming apparel substituted, was thought to be by most an uncommonly nice young man, and had poor Flora never seen Harry Horton, there is little doubt but she had thought so too. As they wended their way up Fish-street-hill, they could not resist every now and then halting for a moment to gaze at the vernal decorations of the various houses. Many were covered from top to bottom with green birch, long fennel, and a prodigious quantity of St. John's wort, orpine, white lilies, and garlands of beautiful flowers; the whole street was thronged with people busily employed; some bringing out tables to place before their doors, others carrying faggots; many rolling tar-barrels along to the appointed spots where those ever-beloved sources of delight, the bonfires, were to be displayed. Notwithstanding all they saw, their minds were too full of the subject of their errand, to let them loiter on their way; so, having mutually determined to see all that could be seen, as they returned, they hurried along, passed up Gracechurch-street, then called Grassechurch-street, turned into Leadenhall-street, and were soon emerging from the formidable Aldgate. From this gate, without the walls, or ramparts, extending to Bishopsgate, lay a filthy ditch called, as the spot is to this day, Houndsditch. It had gained that designation on account of this portion of the moat having been, from time immemorial, used as a sort of public cemetery for dead dogs. A low mud wall divided it from the main-road, on the other side of which were a number of small cottages, with little plots of garden ground attached to them, all beyond being open country, including Spitalfields, then a charming
|rural Sunday walk, greatly frequented by the citizens. The whole of these cottages were inhabited by poor bedridden people, who were always to be seen lying in their beds close to the open windows, which were built purposely very low, in order that the inmates might be easily viewed by the passers by. On the window-sill was spread a clean white napkin, upon which lay a cross and beads, to indicate that the afflicted could now do nought but pray. It was the custom of the more affluent upon holidays, and many other occasions, particularly on Fridays, to stroll out this way, and while laying in a stock of health for the body, by deserting for a time the too-densely built city, and breathing a little fresh air, to add somewhat to the soul's health, by relieving the wants of their poor afflicted fellow-creatures. In consequence of the ill-usage, and the dreadful fright the Bridge-shooter's mother had experienced on the night when the murder of Edward Osborne had been attempted, she had been seized by a succession of violent fits, which ended in paralysis of the greater portion of her body. Master Hewet's interest had been exerted in her behalf, and she was now settled for the rest of her days in one of those charitably-bestowed cottages. Upon the white napkin lying in her window, were not only the cross and beads, but, considering its reputation, an odd accompaniment to such holy gear-the old black cat was to be seen seated in great dignity. As the Bridge-shooter and Flora Gray entered Houndsditch from Aldgate, William was surprised, in looking along the road towards his mother's cottage, to see before her door a splendid retinue, composed of some twenty gentlemen, all in oright harness, and mounted on magnificent horses. Two running pages were holding the bridle of a superb charger, the saddle of which was then vacant. Before he and his pretty companion had proceeded many paces, a youth, gorgeously attired, came from the cottage, and mounting the charger, led the way, followed by the twenty horsemen. As they passed by, the Bridge-shooter had an opportunity of regarding the youth very minutely, for, on seeing Flora was a pretty girl, the youth kissed his hand to her, and seemed inclined to make a halt, which caused a dreadful frown from the poor Bridge-shooter. This called forth a laugh from the whole party, who, as they moved on, kept looking back and imitating their leader's example, all kissing their hands to Flora. The poor Bridge-Shooter was very much annoyed to observe that Flora, instead of being terribly angry, as he thought she ought to have been, raised her head higher than ever,, and seemed to regard their insolence as anything but disagreeable.|
" Oh, lie is coming, Spirit, is he ?" said the old woman to the cat, as she saw it rise up, elevate its tail, and arch its back, and then begin to walk along the sill, rubbing itself against the uprights, first on one side, then on the other, and at last against the Bridge-shooter's shoulder, as he now leant into the window to kiss his mother.
" I knew you were coming, boy, I knew you were coming," said she.
"Well, but I don't think that very wonderful, mother," he replied, "considering I come every day !"
"Shall I never convince you that I am gifted to know every event before it happens ?"
" I should like to be convinced of that," said the lad, " above all things, and, in fact, I've come to-night on purpose to put your boasted foresight to the test; but before I tell you what I've come about, you must tell me, if you do know everything:"-here he made a motion with his hand behind him to Flora Gray to keep out of sight-" just you tell me who it is I have brought with me ?"
" Flora Gray," replied the old woman, unhesitatingly.
The fact was, that in the glass window she saw the reflection of Flora Gray standing behind her son; but this little natural aid to her magic she kept secret to herself; but her reply had an enormous effect in shaking her son's doubts regarding her supernatural powers.
" Hang me, if you're not right, mother," said the Bridge-shooter, drawing Flora forward, "and if you can tell us what we wish to know, as truly as you have hit upon this, I'll swear you're a witch to the last day of my life,'though they should burn us both for saying so. But I say, mother, who was that insolent stripling who just left you ?"
"One," said the old dame," who has more faith in a witch's words than her own fleshand blood has; he has gone away in the fullbelief of my secret influence over the spirits of another world-he came for knowledge, and I gave it to him-but let that pass-let that pass--'tis useless to try to persuade a stone." Saying this she looked very angrily at her son.
Flora softened the old dame wonderfully, by professing implicit belief in the power of witchcraft; but, indeed, nearly the whole population of the kingdom had faith in it, excepting, perhaps, those who professed it.
Had the Bridge-shooter not been her son, and thus too familiarly mixed up with the absurdities of the deceit, he, most likely would have given credit to all she said, as easily as many others did; and even as it was, he, at times, felt his disbelief terribly shaken, by the chance hits she was fortunate enough to make.
As all other attempts to discover the fates of Alyce and the child, had failed, he thought there could be no harm, even if there were no good, in just pleasing his old mother so far, as to ask her aid. Flora ncw told the old woman the cause of their visit, but the old dame pretended to know it all beforehand, and said she had been nearly the whole day trying with the cards to discover the truth. "I have failed as yet," she said, but the spell is working-the spell is working !"
At this moment they were all made to start, by the sudden friskines: of the cat, who, jumping down, flew round the room, darted up stairs, was heard bounding about the loft above; then again rushed down, again few round the room, when, having satisfied her volatile propensity, she suddenly seated herself quietly as before upon the window-sill. This mad kind of freak is not at all uncommon in the feline race, but the old woman turned it, as indeed she did almost everything else, to her own purpose, and exclaimed, " Twenty times to-day has my Spirit been thus wonderfully moved; she will yet bring me the secret she is searching for: will you not my Spirit ?"
The cat passed over to her mistress, and began rubbing her head against the old woman's ear, for all the world as though she had bean whispering some secret to her.
Flora quite trembled, for seeing this, she began to have but little doubts,
|if any at all, as to the locality whence the cat had come, and she now felt inclined to make her visit as short as possible, fearing that the old gentleman might come to claim his imp, but the dame insisted upon trying the cards once more. She took up a worn-out pack, or pair, as they were then called, and spreading them before her on the bed, said,|
" Every time I open this book of fate, there do I find the Queen of Hearts, meaning dame Alyce--"
"She was indeed the Queen of Hearts, of all hearts, until this sad affair," said Flora, sighing deeply.
" Before her is a knave, and behind her is another; this is the twentieth time they have fallen in the same position-the Knave of Diamonds and the Knave of Clubs."
Oh," said Flora, " the Knave of Diamonds is plain enough, that means the wicked Sir Filbut, who has caused us all our trouble--"
" And himself some too," said the old woman, " for see, he's turned upside down, and standing upon his head; that speaks but badly for the comfort of his own position: but who know you that would answer to the Knave of Clubs ?"
" If they were 'prentice clubs," exclaimed William, " I should say it means Harry Horton"
Poor Flora blushed at hearing the Bridge-shooter speak thus slightingly of one she had regarded with tenderness, but even she had began to have her suspicions as to his true character, but she ventured to say, " That it was impossible he could have had ought to do with Sir Filbut's wickedness, for there had been moments when she really believed that Harry was more than half in love with dame Alyce himself."
"Was he, girl?" enquired the would-be witch;" yet the cards speak as much, and they never deceive; but enough for one night-enough for one night; but the spell is working-the spell is working. As you reenter the city, do so by the Postern Gate, the road to it will lead you past the Nunnery of the Minories; ask for the blind girl, Eoline, and give her this little wooden cross-she well knows my meaning. I have seen strange things in the clouds to-day: tell Edward Osborne, on his life not to be away from home to-morrow; he is sought by those who may smooth the rough road he has to follow for many and many a year to come; remember, if I am a witch, the strange visitor to Edward Osborne, I now fortel, will visit him to-morrow-there is much will happen soon-much, much, much !"
" Mother says much," observed the Bridge-shooter to Flora, as they took their way back again, " but we have not gained much for our trouble."
" But what can she want," said Flora, " of the blind beauty of the nunnery; surely one brought up in such a holy place, can have nothing in common with witchcraft."
" I don't know that," replied the Bridge-shooter, "there are strange stories getting about, concerning all sorts of nuns, particularly the nuns of St. Clair. Some say they are no better then they should be, or, rather, not quite so good as they ought to be. But never mind such useless things as nuns, and if you will let me, I will just run through the verb you last set me."
" What verb ?" enquired Flora; " I have quite forgotten which it was."
" I shall never forget it," said the Bridge-shooter; " I never found anything half so easy to remember-it seemed to come quite naturally."
"And what was it ?" again enquired Flora.
"The verb-to love !" answered William, with a peculiar expression, though he imagined it was a verb that could be conjugated by the eyes alone. " It begins, I love, and the plural is we love; that's the present tense."
" Is it?" said Flora; "then it must be an imperfect tense, I'm sure."
"Indeed, it's the present," said William, quite innocently.
"With you it may be," replied the little coquette; " but to me, it sounds much more like thefuture. But I had better set you a different lesson to learn."
" You will set me none," said the youth, ," that will make half the impression that this one does upon my mind; indeed, I have thought of nothing else since you gave it to me to learn. Oh, Flora, I wish I dared add one little pro-pro-noun, I think you say it is, to the present tense of that verb-and then I'd say-I-love-you !"
" For shame, William," said Flora; " we must give up our studies if you talk thus; and know, sir, that I do not love you, nor do I ever intend to do so."
" I know all that, Flora," replied the Bridge-shooter, "nor do I ask you to do it. All I crave, is to be allowed to love you, not because you are pretty, for every one could love you for that, but because you are good and kind to those who require your smile and aid. I have never heard you say a cross word to mortal; and even now, how often do you speak in kindness of that poor lost creature, the merchant's wife. These, Flora, are the things that make me love you-not your pretty face or pretty form."
Now, if the poor Bridge-shooter had studied the sex for a thousand years, he could not have hit upon a method more likely to win the good esteem of her he wooed, than the one he, by nature, was pursuing. While denying that he loved her for her beauty, he was still covertly telling her how beautiful he thought her; and yet, even that beauty was nought to be compared to the amiability he discovered hidden beneath it. Why, this was the quintessence of art; and why ? because, as the ridiculous is said to be within a step of the sublime, so is the perfection of art within an inch of nature; then, if consummate art can be so powerful, what must nature be ? why, resistless! And as in the case of the poor Bridge-shooter, all being nature, the effect of his few heart- felt words made more impression upon the mind of Flora Gray than had the years of flattery bestowed upon her charms by Harry Horton. One thing alone was wanting to make the Bridge-shooter's success complete, and chance almost immediately filled up the measure of his hopes, for just after Flora's heart had been so powerfully assailed by the youth at her side, whom should they meet but Harry Horton, now splendidly attired, arm in arm with a man much older than himself, but equally gay in his habiliments. The elder was a tall powerful man, whose face
|was nearly hidden by a profusion of whiskers, beard, and long moue stache. Flora's old feelings for Horton for one instant filled her breast, and she made an impulsive start forward to meet her former flatterer; but he, looking her full in the face, seemed not to know one so humble in station, and turning his head away, passed on. The man of whiskers and of beard had started too, but this was a start of that nature which we make at suddenly finding ourselves in presence of the last person we would have met. He fixed his dark protruding eyes upon the Bridge- shooter, and scowling fiercely upon him, vanished with Horton in the crowd. So astonished had the Bridge-shooter been at seeing a perfect stranger, as he thought him, gaze at him thus, that he had not heeded the agitation which Horton's contemptuous slight of poor Flora had thrown her into. She looked after her false lover, and felt as though she could have sunk into the earth for very shame at herself, for ever having thought of such a worthless wretch. She said not a word, but clung tightly to the arm of William, and pressed it to her heart. She hoped he had not felt the pressure, for she feared the affection she from that moment determined to bestow upon him, might be but the offspring of revenge, and not the pure offering of her heart, which she wished it to be. To hide the mortification she really felt, she put on an air of exaggerated mirth, and laughed quite loudly at the idea of such " a magpie," as she called Horton, " strutting about in his peacock's feathers." But, poor soul! when she returned to her own chamber, she gave way to one long bitter flood of tears, and Horton was torn from her heart for ever.|
When they had arrived at the Convent of the Minories, they learnt that Eoline, the blind girl, had gone to fulfil her usual evening duty, by carrying small cakes and flowers from the nunnery farm to the poor bed- ridden people of the Houndsditch cottages. Upon these errands of charity she was usually accompanied by her brother, as she called him, Willy, the Cripple of the Bridge-gate tower. Now, Eoline was fair- fair as blooming May, and the Cripple had eyes to see and feel that fairness; but Eoline was blind, born blind, and could not see her friend's deformities; she saw but his kindness through the eyes within her heart, and that to her was beautiful. Oft would she say, as they strolled along together, "I wonder, to those who have what you call sight, what the difference can be between ugliness and beauty ?"
"The difference between myself and you," the Cripple would reply; "the difference between a devil and an angel !"
"Hush !" said Eoline, trembling; "know you the meaning of the words you utter ? No, Willy, no. The wicked spirits, they tell me, are all deformity, because they are wicked; you are all goodness, at least to me; you, therefore, cannot be deformed, whatever our ugly nuns may say-I call them ugly because they are always unkind to me, and quarrel with each other-so you see I know, Willy, what ugliness really is, although I have no eyes; do I not ?"
" Poor child !" said the Cripple, " you will never know what real ugliness is, for you will never see me."
" I see you often," was her innocent reply, "often and often. You never sing but I see you in my ears; and oh, you are so lovely !"
"Oh, oh! ha, ha! he, he- !" laughed the Cripple, at hearing himself thus flattered.
" Oh, do not do that !" ejaculated the blind girl, placing her hands upon her ears; " you frighten me when you do that. It seems as if another being were standing by, a wicked one, scoffing at me for my poor blind folly, in saying the foolish things I do. But I am blind, Willy, blind-- and it seems to me that all wisdom lies in the eyes, not in the brain; so do not scoff at me for want of wisdom-I was born blind."
The poor Cripple felt that he would cut out his tongue rather than again utter that discordant laugh; and although he knew he had to fight against all-powerful nature, yet he determined to combat till he conquered-such are the wild achievements love will make mankind attempt.
After the perusal of these last few lines, the reader will not be surprised when we state that the twin shaft which Cupid fired after old Time a few pages back, had fallen upon the heart of the Cripple of the Bridgegate tower. He dared to love, for he knew that she whom he idolized could never see his misshapened form, and would not therefore ridicule him as others did. Ridicule is the death of love.
Flora and the Bridge-shooter left the cross for Eoline with the portress at the convent gate, and as the night was now fast setting in, they moved quickly forward to enter the city by the postern gate; they strolled through Tower-street, now gaily lighted up, then into Escheppe (Eastcheap), gayer still, which brought them soon once more to Fishstreet, now a scene of perfect magnificence. The standing watch were taking their stations, all habited in bright harness, looking like burnished men of silver, from the reflection of the bonfires, roaring at the corner of every street. "Bonfire"-a word formed one half of French, the other Saxon, meaning good fire-was lighted for two most worthy purposes. It was anciently at these good fires the neighbours came together, and those who had hitherto been enemies, were, by the intercession of others, made to shake hands and become sworn and loving friends. The bonfire also had the power of purifying the air, and thus to a degree preventing plagues and deadly fevers. At every door, that is, of the richer citizens, was placed a table, well supplied with sweet bread and goodly drinks, the worthy owners inviting their neighbours, and strangers passing by, to come and sit awhile in unconstrained familiarity, to make merry, and praise God for the benefits he had bestowed upon them. Not only were the houses, particularly the doorways, adorned with leaves and flowers, but glass lamps were' hung out in great profusion, and which burnt the whole night through. In some places, huge branches of iron curiously. wrought, were hung out, upon which hundreds of lamps were alight at once, so that nearly the whole city, by the bonfires, lamps, and burning cressets, became almost as light as day. But all this brilliancy was nothing to what was soon to follow, we mean the procession of
" THE MARCHING WATCH," and a magnificent procession it certainly was. It passed from the little Conduit at Paule's Gate, to West Cheape, then by the Stocks through Cornhill, by Leadenhall to Aldgate, then back down Fenchurch Street, by Grasse Church, about Grasso-
|Church Conduit, and up Grasse-Church Street into Cornhill, and thence into West Cheape again.|
To light the watch upon its way, there were no less than seven- hundred cresset bearers, besides the two hundred and forty city constables, every one of whom also bore a cresset; each cresset bearer was attended by a man, carrying a bag containing fuel, so that the cresset bearers and their fuel-men, alone amounted to nearly two thousand. The cresset was a sort of open-work iron basket, fixed upon the end of a long pole, and filled with coals, or other burning materials.
The men wore straw hats, in the front of which was a painted badge according to the company to which he belonged; besides their pay, they were all entitled to a breakfast in the morning. The remaining part or the marching watch, contained about two thousand more persons, many of them old soldiers, who acted as captains, sergeants, &c.; then there were the whifflers, or fifers, drummers, and standard-bearers, sword, players, and trumpeters, the demi-lances, mounted upon their magnificent horses; amongst these, the Bridge-shooter and Flora recognised the young spark, and his twenty gaily-attired friends; then there were, as usual, the morris-dancers, and various pageants, or shows, drawn upon wheels; next came a hundred and twenty constables all attired in bright harness, all of them wearing a large scarlet cloak, called a jornet, and a chain of gold; then came the mayor mounted on horseback, the sword-bearer before him, also mounted, and in fair armour; these were preceded by the minstrels and city waits, the mayor's officers for his guard, in livery of worsted, or say jackets, party-coloured. About him, too, were his footmen and torch-bearers, and two henchmen on strong horses followed close behind.
The sheriff's watches came the next, but not so large in number as the mayor's, for the mayor had besides his giant, three pageants, while the sheriffs had but two, but they also had a giant each, with harnessed men, that is, men fully armed, in great numbers.
The reader will be at little loss to picture to his imagination the gorgeous, but extraordinary scene, which such a moving mass of light and splendour must have created. So monstrously expensive were these civic displays, that three years afterwards they were entirely put down by royal mandate.
Many were the tables placed without the doors, at which the Bridge- shooter and his fair companion were compelled to take their seats, now beside some princely merchant's dame, now by a wandering friar or a beggar; for on St. John's eve all were supposed to be friends and equals. and none, without offence, could refuse the invitation proffered.
When Flora and her new lover had completely tired themselves out. by seeing the procession pass at least half a dozen times, by running down little by-streets and alleys, in the geographical knowledge of which Billy the-bridge-shooter had for some years been very great, and then catching the marching watch in a new spot, they took one more glance a the two principal streets, Fish Street and Thames Street, and they returned towards their home upon the Bridge. The gaieties and decora tions here were not to be despised, although this was no road by which the'watch would pass. Many a well-stored table stood before the open
|. door of more than one dwelling there. At one of these were seated Master Checklocke, and his two loving friends, Catchemayde and Silkworm. Cromwell's good ale had done its work so well, that now they not only swore they loved each other, but were in love with all the world this they endeavoured to prove, by insisting upon kissing Flora Gray, but, being a little the worse for liquor, the Bridge-shooter good humouredly managed to receive all their embraces, instead of the maiden, and then left them in a furious quarrel about whose wife she really should be. Flora and her swain as they entered their door, looked back, and saw the three friends embracing at once, and then fall over the table into the middle of the road.|
Edward Osborne had already returned home; they acquainted him with the witch's prophecy, that he would have a strange visitor the next day, and then all retired to rest.