Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
NEVER had the sun been known to shine more brightly, nor the sky to look clearer or serener, than it did towards the latter end of August, . Could it have been the beauty of the day, for fine weather ever has a powerful influence upon the spirits of poor mortals, or some other cause, which had thrown the inhabitants of Old London Bridge into such a happy vein ? No doubt the glorious sun had its usual share in adding to the delight felt upon this occasion; but there was a second, and a most powerful reason for being merry, which we shall very soon explain. There was one odd circumstance about the doings of the good folks of the Bridge, which to a stranger would have conveyed the idea that the whole of the inhabitants were, in a body, about to emigrate. Not a door was to be seen without a cart, or truck, or porter, standing near it, each being loaded with the various articles brought from the different shops; but, perhaps, from none came forth greater quantities, nor more valuable commodities, than issued out of the dwelling of Master William Hewet, clothworker and merchant. The fact is, the 24th of August was near, and whom, we should like to know, was there then living in London, not aware that that day was the one dedicated to St. Bartholomew ? Now, it so happened, that some good four hundred years before our tale began, a certain King Henry the First, of England, had a certain jester, named Rahere. Rahere thinking he could do something better for himself than to be laughed at all his life, turned monk, and built a most magnificent priory with other people's money. The King gave him the ground, which at that time was a most unpromising spot on one side of Smithfield, the only dry part of which is said to have been ornamented by a gallows, on which thieves were hanged. But a few pretended miracles soon produced a real one; for we find that, ere long, this penniless monk managed to raise a structure which, for grandeur and riches, could be surpassed but by few in all the land. This magnificent edifice he dedicated to St. Bartholomew. Every privilege the King could bestow upon this Prioryhe did bestow, and many indeed were the privileges a crowned head then possessed; some of them have odd-sounding names to our modern ears, such as soccage and saccage, and thol and theme, and infangtheof, fordwit, hengwit, ward-penny, ave-penny, bloodwite, fightwite, and childwite, thring-penny, manbratre, and mischinige, schewinge, frithsoke,
|. and westgeilteof, not forgetting forefenge and whitfonge! All taxes were remitted, for, strange as it may appear, the monks in their days disliked paying taxes quite as much as the laity does in our own.|
Now, there was another peculiarity about the monks of old, and that was, that whilst there was a chance of getting anything more, they were never satisfied with what they had; so the Prior of St. Bartholomew, being perfectly aware that the greater the number of persons he could get to visit the Monastery on St. Bartholomew's day, the more would his shrine be loaded by offerings, hit upon the expedient of asking from the King the permission to establish a FAIR in and about his holy dwelling. The grant was obtained from Henry the Second, and thus was established the well-known Bartholomew, or, as it is vulgarly called, Bartlemy Fair, which continued to be holden for more than seven hundred years; indeed, until within these last few years.
A fair in the olden time was a very different thing to that which the present generation has witnessed. Now, it is a mere collection of gingerbread stalls, and here and there a locomotive playhouse; but some hundred years ago, a great portion of the mercantile wealth of the kingdom found its way, en grosse, or, as we should say now, wholesale, to 'these receptacles of every useful article, and thence was distributed in small parcels, or retail, east, west, north, and south. The two main objects of this fair, after the one of bringing crowds to the shrine of St. Bartholomew, were for the collection and disposal of woollen cloths and cattle. The first grant was for three days-the eve of the Saint's day, the day itself, and the morrow; but, notwithstanding all the efforts made by the city authorities, for the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs possessed great power over this fair, the worthy traders and showmen found so much profit, and the citizens so much amusement, and pleasant opportunities for spending their money, that the three days were soon extended to fourteen.
As nearly all the clothworkers and drapers of the kingdom congregated at Bartlemy Fair, it was but natural to suppose that one of the principal shearmen, as clothworkers were called, until joined to the trade or mystery of the fullers, which happened in , such an one as honest Master William Hewet, would not be found wanting; consequently, we find the largest stall or standing in the Churchyard of the Priory, adorned not only by that worthy name, but also by the identical sign of the Golden Fleece and the Bag of Wool, which had been brought from the merchant's house on the Bridge, and fixed over his stall. This was done to show the country trader that it was the same honest merchant and no impostor, who now offered to their notice his costly wares.
Having said thus much as a sort of preface to the fair, the reader will no longer wonder what could have been the cause of such a seeming general removal from Old London Bridge. Masters Catchemayde, Silkworm, Checklocke, and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, had entered into partnership, and built a stall with four sides, so that their four several trades, or mysteries, were combined under one roof, and yet kept separate.
So extensive had Bartlemy Fair become at the period of which we are
|writing, that it stood in no less than four parishes-Christ Church, Great St. Bartholomew, Little St. Bartholomew, and St. Sepulchre's. Busy indeed were all the traders of London, as well as those of the Bridge, removing their most tempting commodities to their stalls in Smithfield. The artists and picture-dealers hurried towards the cloisters of Christ Church, for these were the galleries appropriated to the pictorial exhibition. Several times, during the day we are speaking of, had the Bridge been completely choked up by the numberless shows, each professing, by external decoration, that that one was the greatest wonder in the whole world. On they passed, and on posted multitudes of country people, all laden with baskets filled with butter, cheese, fruits, and poultry; but the last was a rare and dear article; but then it was coming to a market where there would be plenty of rich customers, so it was sure to be disposed of. A few droves of cattle, too, wended their way across the Bridge; but the greater portion of this sort of merchandise came from the north, so the Bridge was not greatly troubled by them.|
A little incident occurred exactly opposite the merchant's dwelling, which raised the Bridge-shooter's indignation; but being alone in charge of the house, he could not leave it to interfere. This was, that as one of the most splendidly-adorned caravans was passing the Golden Fleece, on which was written in letters of gold, " THE GREATEST WONDERS IN THE WORLD! The Real WOOD MONSTER and the INFANT VENUS," a violent screaming of a girl who was suffering from blows that could be distinctly heard, issued from the said caravan; and these words were uttered by the woman who might be supposed to be inflicting the chastisement :-" I'll teach you, you blue-eyed minx, to look out of the window: who do you think will pay to see your ugly face, if you show it for nothing " Then came more abuse, more blows, and more screaming, as the caravan passed on its way towards the fair.
All this happened on the day previous to the eve of St. Bartholomew's day. Just before twelve o'clock at night, crowds of the lower orders hastened towards Cloth Fair, a name that has descended to our own time, and may be found attached to a very dirty little street, or lane, adjacent to Bartholomew Close, for here it was that as the hour struck which killed the night and straight gave birth to a new-born day, out rushed from a house of entertainment a number of tailors, shears in hand; the leader, addressing the crowd, proclaimed the opening of the fair. Having done this, the whole party of tailors snapped their shears, and with a loud shout retraced their steps to the drinking-house. The rabble, also shouting, now scampered off towards Smithfield, knocking and ringing at every house door in their road, to the great discomfiture and alarm of the sober- minded inmates. When arrived in Smithfield, here the rabble in their turn proclaimed the fair duly opened, and then passed several hours in riot and disorder. The lawful proclamation did not take place until the afternoon, and this was done with much state and splendour, according to the following order:-
" The Aldermen meete the Lord Maior and the Sheriffes at the Guildhall Chappel, at two of the clocke after dinner, having on their violet gowns lined, and their horses, but without their cloakes, and there they heare evening prayer. Which being done, they mount on their horses, and,
|. riding to Newgate, passe forth of the gate. Then entering into the Clothfayre, there they make a proclamation, which proclamation being ended, they ride thorow the Cloth-fayre, and so returne backe againe thorow the Churchyard of great Saint Bartholomewes to Aldersgate: and then ride home againe to the Lord Maior's house."|
The proclamation above referred to was read by the Lord Mayor's attorney, at the great gate going into Cloth Fair, Smithfield, and commanded that " all persons, of whatsoever estate, degree, or condition they be, should keep the peace of their sovereign Lord the King;" and then forbad any one from selling " wine, ale, or beer, but in measures ensealed, as by gallon, pottle, quart, or pint, upon pain that will fall thereof." No bread was to be sold, but such as was "good and wholesome for Man's Body." No cook, pie-maker, nor huckster, was to sell any " victual, unless it be good and wholesome for Man's Body," &c. &c. &c.; and concluded by informing all who might feel aggrieved during the continuance of the fair, they could meet with redress at the Court of Pie Powder." This was a temporary court of record, properly then called Pepoudres, or Pedes Pulverisati, meaning that justice was there as quickly done, as dust can fly from the feet. The proclamation being ended, the fair began in right earnest. Every conceivable voice that the ingenuity of man, woman, or child could invent, was brought into requisition. Gongs, cymbals, trumpets, drums, whistles, rattles, bawlings, cryings, screamings, laughings, shoutings, all burst forth, as if let loose by the spell of silence being broken by the cessation of the proclamation. The whole space of Smithfield was surrounded, first by a row of small stalls, filled with thousands of various articles; here a line ofjewellers' stalls, there a row of those appropriated to toys for children. Cake stalls were innumerable -but oh, what a glorious sight was to be witnessed at Pasty-nooke, or Pie-corner! It was there you could find at one view some hundreds of smoking, savoury-smelling, little roasted pigs-always hot, always ready, always delicious, and always disappearing into stomachs whose dimensions seemed to increase upon every coming mouthful. It was at this corner that the great fire of London terminated; and some of the very houses which witnessed the preparation of these delicious little pigs. were standing within these last forty years.
At the backs of these smaller stalls stood the grand exhibitions and shows, their fronts towards the open space of Smithfield cattle market; but the cattle caused but little inconvenience to the gay throng, for be it remembered that much less meat was consumed at that time, for London was then not quite so big as it is at this day, and Smithfield was a great deal bigger. It may not be out of place here to mention, that the term " Smithfield " comes not, as many have supposed, from the name of Smith, but is really a corruption of "SMOOTH-FIELD," that place having been kept as smooth as possible, on account of the jousts and tournaments and other exhibitions requiring a clear smooth field of action. Many of the shows would, in these our days, produce an odd effect-for instance, a representation of the " Old Creation of the World new Revived, containing the creation of Adam and Eve; the intrigues of Lucifer in the garden of Eden; King Herod's cruelty, his men's spears laden with children; Rich Dives in hell, and Lazarus in Abraham's bosom;"
|mixed up with "figures dancing jigs, sarabands, antics and country dances, with Spendall and Punchinello ;" an odd mixture of subjects for a show at a fair. But the monks of old had prepared the public for such sights in their churches, so they were now looked upon as matters of course everywhere, and relished highly. A live hare beating a tabour while standing on his hinder legs, was a favourite exhibition, and remained so for many hundreds of years; as did the same thing we see at this day in the streets, namely, a man throwing up three or four balls, and as many knives, and catching them in all manner of directions.|
Edward Osborne and his master were too busily employed in the close-yard of the Priory, attending to their numerous country connection, who came now to lay in their stock of goods for the ensuing year, to take much notice of the fooleries of the outward fair. Not so Flora Gray and the Bridge-shooter; their very hearts, as much as love had left them of such commodities, seemed wrapped up in the delights of Bartlemy Fair. Every moment they could spare was devoted to that fascinating spot; and as the only pleasure the afflicted Alyce seemed to feel, was that of wandering about, Flora made the amusement of her mistress a sort of innocent excuse for being out in the fair from morning till night. Alyce's fancy, as well as they could guess from the very few words she ever spoke, was that her's was a body walking the earth without a soul, but that her soul would again be her own, if she could but discover something that was lost. What that something might be, no persuasion on their parts could ever tempt her to name; if they tried to lead her to that subject, she would invariably place her finger upon her lip, and smiling for a moment, sink suddenly into a deep reverie, and mutter to herself, "Oh, my poor lost soul! but time-time-time; yes, it shall yet be found." Then for hours after not a syllable would pass her lips. She never appeared to have the least command over her memory. The names of all around her she knew, but invariably applied them to the wrong persons. Often would she address Edward as though he were her husband, and speak of her husband by the name of Horton. It was strange, but there were three names she never uttered-those of her child, Sir Filbut, and the saintly Father Brassinjaw. Once, the good merchant, thinking that perhaps the pious converse of the priest of St. Thomas of the Bridge, much as he himself disliked him, might bring comfort to his adored wife, pressed Father Brassinjaw to try his power. The priest would have gladly been excused, but not being able to form any plausible excuse, reluctantly attended. The moment he appeared before Alyce, and she caught the sound of his voice, she was seized with raging madness, rushed into the darkest corner of the room, and there crouched down, trembling in every limb, and exclaiming that the fiend who had her soul was still standing behind her. This had occurred soon after her restoration to her home, and having been tried a second time with exactly similar effects, the experiment was never again repeated. She, after a time, became again composed, but never ceased to be, as it were, searching for something she had lost. When she fancied she was perfectly alone and unseen, then she would steal about on tiptoe, and look into every corner of the place. Nothing that she could open was left unexamined. At the slightest sound, she would hurry back to her seat, and
|. smile with delight at having, as she seemed to imagine, cheated those who would keep her from finding what she desired. The fair gave her great happiness, for here there was an endless opportunity of searching. The good merchant, seeing this, gave Flora ample means to gratify his Alyce, who, protected by the Bridge-shooter, passed her whole time there. At night she would return home worn out with fatigue, but the fatigue always produced a sound sleep, which appeared to benefit her strength of body, if not her mind. Every morning she was the first ready to sally forth on her beloved search. One day, towards the close of the fair, they were stopped by a crowd, dragging along some one towards the Court of the Pye-Powder, to answer for an alleged impropriety of conduct, and whom should this turn out to be but our friend, the Cripple of the Bridge-gate Tower. The Bridge-shooter, seeing him in custody, could not think of leaving a friend in such a plight; so quitting Alyce and Flora for a time, he accompanied the Cripple to the Court. It appeared that the complainant was the manager of the exhibition of the "REAL WOOD MONSTER and the INFANT VENUS;" and as the Wood Monster (so ran the man's account) had the night before overeaten himself, at his evening repast of sawdust and the bark of trees (the real truth was, the man had been so dead drunk, that he was scarcely living at that moment) he could not appear before the public. In order that his audience should have a monster of some sort, he had applied to the Cripple of the Bridge to come and act for a day or two at an enormous salary; but this offer had so insulted the Cripple, that he at once broke the head of the complainant, and would, in all likelihood, have murdered him outright, had the crowd not interfered. Now, the Court of the Pye--Powder, as we have before remarked, made short work or justice, so at once fined the poor fellow with the broken head, for daring to insult any one holding an official situation. The man with the broken head could not quite understand the justness of this decision, but well knowing how useless remonstrance would prove, and might very likely add the stocks to his other sufferings, paid the fine and left the Court, rubbing his head and grumbling like a bear.|
After the Bridge-shooter had left Flora, she led her mistress, who was as docile as an infant, towards the very show of the Monster and the Venus. Here Alyce gazed with childish delight at the gay dresses of the paraders in front of the show, and Flora was debating in her own mind which exhibition she should patronise first, that which gave her mistress such pleasure, or the next one, into which crowds were flocking. The show next to the Monster was a most extraordinary one to be at a fair, and one that could never have been thought of but in this year of the persecution of all the religious orders in the kingdom. The exterior of the building was painted to represent a monastery, and here, it was announced, a "mystery" would be enacted by "real monks and real nuns," showing the world how jollily they used to live before their houses were suppressed, and explaining all the deceits they had practised to delude the world." Such extraordinary stories had been told of late, for the purpose of setting the public against the poor nuns and monks, that this novel speculation proved an enormous "hit." These poor creatures had been doubtless what they professed, for at this time
|thousands of the various orders were wandering about in a state of abject want and starvation, so that a designing speculator need not have looked far to have found as many as ever he might have required. At this moment, Edward Osborne happened to pass, and stopped for an instant to gaze with sorrow upon his dear mistress, who was quite absorbed with the gay sights she beheld. She took no notice of Edward, but exclaimed, "There, there," and pointed towards a man who now advanced to the front of the Monster show. This man was splendidly dressed in green velvet and gold; and on his head he wore a richly trimmed hat, with a superb and lofty plume of feathers; his face was tolerably handsome, what with the paint upon his cheeks, and the neatly trimmed beard, and elegant moustache. He was just about to address the crowd, when a clown, jumping upon his shoulders, popped his hand before his mouth-this caused a roar of laughter; as this told so admirably with the audience, it was repeated several times; at last as the people appeared to cease laughing, the clown, the last time he jumped up, tumbled over the head of the gentleman in green, and in doing so, caught hold of his beard and moustache, and pulled them off; then ran about, pursued by the gentleman, who ordered the clown to be placed in the stocks at the end of the platform, and then began to re-adjust his beard, &c., amidst the laughter of the people.|
While lie was doing this, young Osborne said to Flora, "It's very strange, but that face, without the beard, reminds me strongly of one I have seen before, but where, or when, or under what circumstances, I cannot bring to mind; but I am certain we have met before." The gentleman in green and gold, having replaced his moustache, began to address the company. The moment the moustache and beard were on, the resemblance which had appeared to Osborne, vanished; so, advising Flora not to go to the exhibition of the nuns, but rather to enter the one before them, he pursued his way to rejoin his master at his stall in the Priory Churchyard.
The man in green said, "My right worshipful and dearly-beloved friends, on most occasions, when I come forward to proclaim a disappointment, I do it with exquisite pain; but now I do so with unutterable delight, because the disappointment will be no disappointment, but a wonderful gain to you. You are doubtless fully aware of the unlooked-for misfortune that has befallen the greatest wonder in the world -the REAL WOOD MONSTER ? But I see you are, so I will touch upon that painful subject no further, but tell you what I have done for you. When your pleasures are in the scale, what care I for trouble-what care I for money ? I would starve rather than you, my patrons, should be disappointed; so I have engaged-ha ! ha! ha ! he ! he ! he !"- here he pretended to go into a most violent fit of laughter-" oh, dear! oh, dear! how can I pronounce that wonderful name! But it must out-yes, it must out, though I burst in the effort"-here he once more pretended to become speechless from laughing, and did it so well, that the laugh became infectious, and an universal roar was the consequence; then wiping the tears from his eyes, the man in green and gold went on -" Yes, I have engaged him; I have, indeed; but my mouth is too small to pronounce so great a name. Oh, ye spirits of magic, that obey
|. my commands, aid me-aid me !" The words were scarcely uttered, when a gigantic placard flew up to the top of the show, and on it appeared the words DIDDLE'EM DOWNY!!! Never, during the present fair, had been heard such a shout of applause and laughter as this placard produced. The man in green proved himself green in nothing but his dress, for he had been working up to this point to introduce his newly engaged "star"; so, now the enthusiasm seeming to be at the highest, up drew a canvass curtain, and sure enough, there was the far- famed ' DIDDLE'EM DOWNY," seated upon his travelling jackass. Need we say that the roar and applause now became redoubled, or that the steps were instantly besieged by crowds of anxious people, ready to pay their last penny rather than not witness the performance of one of whom fame spoke so highly ?|
This Diddle'em Downy was, in truth, no other than our old acquaintance Knowy, the flying newsman. It may be remembered that poor Knowy had, when we last saw him, entered upon the SCANDAL TRADE, which, like most scandal merchants, he found, for a time, a very lucrative employment; but by degrees becoming bolder and bolder, he began to take liberties with those who not only had the will, but the power to resent his insults; so that scarcely a week passed without witnessing Master Knowy in the stocks, or with his back as black as his own ink, from sundry good cudgellings. Now, this he might have put up with, for what will not those scamps, we mean all who live by pandering to the vilest feelings of their readers, not do for money? But Knowy, on one unlucky day, happening to touch upon the irregularities of his Grace the King, found himself whipped within, we may say, half an inch of his life, at the cart's tail, and the pleasing intimation given to him, that if he meddled with scandal again, he would discover a cravat round his neck, that he would find rather difficult to untie; so he determined to alter his course of life, and thenceforth became a celebrated comic singer. He had been fortunate enough to make an enormous hit, with the first song he wrote and sang; he henceforward was known only by the name mentioned in that song; and as this ditty was called " London Rogueries, or the Life and Adventures of Diddle 'em Downy," we may presume that of many of the rogueries therein rehearsed, he could vouch for the truth, for we suspect he had been the principal actor himself.
So widely had the fame of this song, "Diddle 'em Downy," flown, that the arrival in Bartlemy Fair of the celebrated singer thereof, was hailed with acclamations. He knew full well that a little eccentricity in any way, always has a powerful effect in fixing the remembrance of any one, in others minds, so he invariably travelled upon an ass; wore a coat of a fashion quite his own, which was profusely ornamented with imitation gold and jewels; but the greatest point of attraction, was his originality in wearing a blue wig, with a pink tail! This was, doubtless, intended as a satire upon the introduction of wigs; for this article of adornment, which, in the time of the Charleses became universal, was unknown in England until the reign of Henry the Eighth. The curtain was allowed to remain up but a very few minutes, for the sight of such a brilliant star as Diddle 'em Downy, was not to be viewed for nothing.
Bong-gingle-bong-gingle-bong-gingle went the gong and cymbals,
|trumpets sounded, fifes played; the man in green and gold walked proudly backwards and forwards, flourishing a long cane, and ever and anon pointed with exultation up to the placard; then placing his hand to the side of his mouth bawled out, in a voice that seemed to be passing fiom a throat lined with sand-paper-" Just going to begin! just going to begin ! all in ! all in ! all in !"-The clown was released from the stocks--the band of musicians vanished through a slit in the canvass-- the man in green and gold heading his troop of actors, passed once along the platform in great state, and then entered the show through another slit in the canvass-the clown was the last, who, pretending to cry bitterly, swore to the people that he was now utterly ruinated, for his master had found a greater fool than himself.|
So great had been the rush, that the common expedient of making two or three false entries, as if going to begin," in order to tempt the audience to enter, was not called into requisition; for indeed, the master of the show soon discovered, that the more frequently he could really begin, the more considerable would be his gains.
It was not to be expected that Flora Gray should resist the temptation of taking her mistress into such a delightful show. Alyce appeared very pleased at being taken in, as indeed she did to any new place. As they entered there were two money-takers, one on each side of the opening- a woman sat in one box, a man in the other; there being less crowd at the man's side than at the opposite, they here paid their money for two of the highest priced seats, and soon found themselves comfortably seated, to witness the wonderful performance of Diddle 'em Downy, and the no less extraordinary, but certainly more classical representation, of the rising of Venus from the sea, and her adornment by the three graces.
The entertainment began with a "motion" performed by puppets; puppet-shows were called motions, representing Noah's Ark, the flood, the rising sun, and the sinking of the waters ; this was an every day sort of exhibition, so elicited but slight applause, as did the clown's dance upon his own head; no, no, Diddle 'em was the attraction in the comic line, the Venus in that of beauty.
At last Diddle 'em Downy appeared; but here our pen blushes at its own want of power to express even in a faint degree, the wonderful performance. What words have ever been found to give any just idea of the peculiar excellence of a Betterton, a Garrick, a Liston, or a Kean ? No! an actor's genius cannot be set down in words; the wonderful expression of the eye, the varied intonation of the voice-the features' electric movement, speaking without a tongue-are things that must be seen or heard, to be comprehended. If this be the case, it were useless to attempt a description of Downy's excellence. It is true, that we could say, how at the end of every verse he twisted his celebrated wig into a new position; but what position ? there's the point-what position ! Any one could twist a wig, but no one could twist a wig as Downy did. Another misfortune under which we labour, is to find that his celebrated song was never printed; and although we have searched through every MS. in the British Museum, as well as in more than one foreign library --for Downy's fame, and himself too, visited foreign parts (ill-natured people say at the government expence), we have never been able to meet
|. with it. All we know is, and this is merely traditional, that each verse expressed a peculiar roguery, and ended with these emphatic words-|
and then, as was usual with ancient lyric poetry, the words were repeal again and again--
Three times was the song called for, and three times did Downy vary the Rogueries, until the hearers began to think that the world was made of nothing else.
After a pause, to allow the audience to sober down their feelings, slow sweet music was heard, and again drew aside the curtain. All the platform, or stage, appeared in mist, but this gradually cleared away, and discovered the representation of a calm sunlit sea. Presently, and this part was very ingeniously contrived, dolphins and sea Gods rose from the waves, and swam about to the great solace and delight of the audience. So beautiful was all this preparation, that the beholders naturally expected the appearance of Venus to out do all they had yet seen; and so it did; for now a splendid shell began to rise, all glittering with gold, silver, and pearls, in which stood the youthful Venus, attended by the Graces.
The girl who personated the Goddess of Beauty, was famed for the splendour of her hair, so in order to show that off to the greatest advantage, she first appeared with it in loose ringlets, so luxuriant in their growth, that they completely covered her whole figure, lower than her waist.
Poor Alyce gazed at this scene with almost conscious interest; her eyes were riveted upon the beautiful vision. As the music played a soft and dulcet measure, the Graces throwing themselves into most picturesque and elegant attitudes, began to part the golden tresses to display the beautiful face of Venus. Flora was so taken up in watching the countenance of her mistress, whom she had never yet seen to evince such fixed attention upon any one thing, forgot for a moment all about the show; when suddenly Alyce uttered a shriek that paralyzed every heart, and then franticly exclaimed-" Saved, saved! my soul is saved!" and fell to the ground in a death-like swoon.
All was now consternation-the audience rose in alarm-the curtain was closed suddenly; so piercing had been the shriek of Alyce, that other ladies in their fright began to scream too, and some even fainted. The more brutal part of the assembly began to swear at having their enjoyment interrupted, and said it was " only Hewet's mad wife at one of her freaks."
As Alyce was being conveyed out, the woman from the money-box, came to offer her assistance, but the instant she met Flora's eyes, she started back, and, after a moment's hesitation, vanished through the
|crowd. When they were in the open fair, Flora espied the Bridge- shooter searching for her; him she sent off to acquaint the merchant with what had taken place, and to beg of him to hasten to the Bridge. Alyce was soon conveyed home, where the merchant, with Edward and the Bridge-shooter had already arrived.|
Alyce sat very still for a time, as if endeavouring to collect some wandering thoughts; she muttered "saved, saved! my soul is saved !" then she looked minutely at the features of every one present, examining them again and again; then she passed her fair hand, in the manner of a blind person, gently over the face of her husband, as if to ascertain whether he were a vision, or a corporeal being; when who can paint the feeling of rapture that flew through the merchant's heart, as he heard her, who, for so long had seemed walking the earth unconsciously, as in a living death, say, " William, I have found it, I have found it !"
The poor merchant feared to speak; he dreaded to break the spell, which seemed to make his Alyce thus conscious for a moment, that he was present. At last he said, " Dear Alyce, tell me, tell me, what it is you have been ever seeking, and now say you have found ?"
" You know," she replied, smiling faintly, and then almost whispering she continued, " I have found the salvation of my soul ?"
" In what ?" exclaimed the merchant.
Alyce first looked up to heaven, then flinging her arms around his neck, and bursting into a violent flood of tears, exclaimed " My child, my child !".
Nature seemed by some powerful effort, suddenly to have burst the barriers, that had so long pent up in Alyce's breast those floods of the heart's relief; fit after fit of weeping followed each other, in an almost uninterrupted succession. The poor merchant's hopes again sank, as he fancied he heard but the outpourings of his wife's now hopeless madness.
" Good Heavens !" exclaimed Flora, " it may-it must be so. Master," she continued, "there is more than madness in her words. I believe, sincerely believe, that she has seen her child." Flora then explained to Master Hewet all that had passed at the fair; that being so intent upon watching her mistress, she had scarcely looked at the stage, but what confirmed her in her belief was, the woman whom she had seen at the doorway, and whom she now felt certain was the same who had stolen away the child.
Not a moment was to be lost. The Bridge-shooter, with Alice Vaughan, from the opposite dwelling, who had ever been most kind in her attentions to Alyce Hewet since her dreadful affliction, were left with the merchant's wife, while Hewet, with Flora and Edward Osborne, for Edward now said that he too had his suspicions that the mountebank in green and gold, would prove to be one of the wretches who had formerly attempted his murder, started again for the fair. As they went along they obtained the requisite assistance from the authorities, at the Court of Pye-Powder, to enable them to search the show for the lost child, and thus armed, they hastened to the booth.
When they arrived there, "Diddle' em Downy," was once more in the middle of his song, but seeing officers of justice coming on to the stage,
|. for reasons best known to Downy, he imagined that they could want no one but himself, so jumped into the middle of the pit, and escaped by the front of the show. When the woman wearing the dress as described by Flora was produced, great was her disappointment to find a person in no respect, but the dress, resembling the one who had taken the child. This she declared was not the woman she had before seen so recently, but in answer to this, everybody belonging to the booth swore that no other had taken money at the door that day, and indeed no other ever had. The girl, too, that was now brought forward, as the youthful Venus, was but very scantily entitled to bear the name; she was a rather plain bandylegged girl, and much older than Anne could have been. The poor merchant's heart sank within his breast as he turned away. Edward Osborne was doomed, also, to disappointment, for the man in green and gold, when he had removed his moustache and beard, was very, very unlike what he had fancied him to be, when, as he supposed, he had last seen him.|
They all returned in a most dejected state. The only one who seemed to feel happier at the events of the day, was Alyce. A wonderful change had taken place in her mind; which, although still unsettled and wandering, was less frequently entirely lost. There was evidently something in her own thoughts which brought a degree of comfort to her, and even the merchant could not quite banish the hope that still she might be restored to reason. It could not be denied that she now recognised every one who approached her; but could not be made to understand why they kept her child from her; formerly she had never named it, now she would scarcely speak of anything else. Once after a long silence she took them all by surprise, by saying, " How wonderful she is grown -and how beautiful she is-I wish she would come home."
The merchant gave up all hope of ever again seeing his child. Not so Flora; nothing, she declared, " should ever make her doubt her own eyes; that was the woman, she was certain; only, as they were conjurors, perhaps they had changed her for a time, but she should find her out yet-and her dear little Anne too, or there was no truth in dreams, or in cards neither."
The next day was the last of the fair, but Diddle 'em Downy having absconded from fear, and the lack of beauty in the Venus being blown, and for other reasons, easily to be guessed at, the monster show packed up all its goods and chattels, and that very day left the ground.
The merchant had been more than usually fortunate; what with sales and orders, this had proved the greatest year he had ever known; so while he is busily counting up his gains, and preparing for the next day's removal of the few remaining goods, not forgetting the celebrated sign of the Golden Fleece and Bag of Wool, we will introduce the reader to a new scene in man's chequered life.