Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
* * * * in less than in an hour Shall all be drench'd, so hideous is the shower. .
THE night on which the fair closed, turned out wet and melancholy; the wind whistled mournfully beneath the arches of the Bridge, and the creaking sign-boards, as they swung slowly backwards and forwards, sent forth a wailing sound, that to an imaginative mind, seemed like the voices of weeping spirits, sighing o'er the dead.
Flora was sitting endeavouring to amuse her poor mistress, by telling her fairy tales, and chanting the prettiest ditties of the day. The one she was now singing, was a prodigious favourite with the Bridge-shooter,
|more perhaps on account of the fair writer, than for the merit of the words-for be it known, it was written by Flora's self! This attempt of hers need scarcely be wondered at, for love makes all of us wonderfully poetical. Thus ran the lay:-|
When Flora ceased, the wind sighed its sad approval; it then became louder and louder. Alyce started-her countenance beaming with hope, for nothing could convince her but, that each sound she heard floating upon the night breeze, was the voice of her child. Every few minutes Flora was compelled to open the casement and look out, and as the breezes rushed in, Alyce would exclaim, " There, there! I hear her plainly. Oh ! do, do let her come to me-the curse is taken from me now, and I may see her-indeed I may."
As the night advanced, the wind and rain increased, and anxiously did Flora await the return of her master, with Edward and the Bridge- shooter; for until the merchant came, she knew it were useless to endeavour to get Alyce to retire to rest. Her complaint had taken a perfectly new turn; instead of remaining for hours, nay days, without moving or speaking, she was now ever restless, ever talking; this was regarded as a good sign, for no madness is so certainly incurable, as that of a fixed melancholy.
The bell of Saint Paul had struck ten--another hour passed-the eleventh hour was heard, but still the merchant came not. Flora, just as the clock was striking the midnight hour, heard Master Hewet and his companions entering the house. Alyce started, and running towards the door of the apartment, would not believe but that her husband had brought home her child.
"To-morrow, to-morrow, dear Alyce," said the merchant, to pacify her, but he felt ashamed at deceiving one so dear to him, for he could
|. not disguise from himself, how hopeless were his promises. He told Flora, that from circumstances they had that day heard, there was really some shadow of a chance of having at least their doubts resolved. The sudden disappearance of the monster show, a day before the closing or the fair, looked suspicious, it must be owned. Hewet had, he said, laid a plan, by which the truth he hoped would be brought to light; he had sent one of his most trusty men, one who had known the child from her birth, to follow the show from place to place, as, in all probability, when the parties, if they were really guilty of stealing away the child, were far away from London, and off their guard, they would again employ her as before. The mountebanks had gone, it was said, to Uxbridge, so his spy had that night started upon their track.|
As they were about to retire to rest, they all shuddered at hearing a sound, the meaning of which they knew full well; it was that of some poor drowning wretch, struggling against the pitiless waters of the cataract beneath the Bridge-such accidents were almost of daily occurrence; they crossed themselves, and mentally offering up a prayer for the soul of him, who had at that moment gone to another world, they took their lamps, and retired to their various chambers.
Edward had just entered his own dormitory, when he remembered that he had not secured the outer door, so once more descending, he placed his hand upon the bolt, when he fancied he heard a moan! He started; then looked around; but thinking it must have been merely the sighing of the wind, he proceeded to finish his task, when the moan again struck upon his ear, more sadly than before; he could not imagine whence the sound proceeded. He listened-all was still-again he listened; when suddenly his doubts were doubts no longer; the person in distress, he now felt sure, was lying near the door--he opened it-the rush of the wind had nearly extinguished his lamp. In another moment, those above were frightfully alarmed at hearing Edward calling aloud, as if he had gone mad; they hurried down, where they saw Osborne kneeling by some helpless human being.
Hewet flew to lend his assistance, when who can paint the scene which followed, for in another moment the merchant was holding in his arms his own, his long lost child !
So suddenly, so unexpectedly had this happiness burst upon the merchant, that he gave himself no time for reflection, but at once hurried with his precious load into the presence of his wife, exclaiming--" Alyce, Alyce, God be thanked, for he has heard our prayer, she is here !"
Had Hewet thought for an instant of the overpowering effect, that such an unprepared restoration of the child might have had upon his wife, he would not have dared this venture; but it was done, and he now trembled for the consequence.
So strangely had Alyce been working upon her own shattered mind, that when she embraced her child, she did so, certainly with all the true feeling of a doting mother, but without any approach to that overwhelming burst of joy and wonder, that might have been looked for in ordinary cases; no, the coming of her soul's idol seemed to her as a thing of course.
"I told you, William," she said, "I told you, she would return'
|often have I heard her gentle voice, whispering into my ear in the dead of night -' Weep not, mother, weep not for me-for I am safe; I will return; I will conquer the evil fiend, and then I will come again;' did you not say so, Anne ? did you not whisper those words of hope into your mother's ear ? But for that hope, I had gone mad-I had gone mad."|
The child was so overcome with fatigue and suffering, with fear, hope, wonder, joy, that for a time she neither saw nor heard what passed around her. All she did was to cling round the neck of her mother, and sobbing, repeat again and again-" Are you not my mother ?-my real, real, mother ? Oh, tell me you are, or kill me-kill me !"
Flora did not hesitate for a moment to give way to her feelings, so supporting herself in a corner of the room, she roared out lustily.
Edward and the Bridge-shooter stood looking at each other very stoically, as much as to say, " Will you cry ? I wont, if you don't ?" But in spite of all their contortions of visage, and sundry little gulps, a vast deal more of the heart's dew would hang about their eyelids, than they were willing, or would have allowed, to be seen there.
Again and again did the child cling, first to the neck of her mother, then to that of the merchant; when presently, turning and seeing Flora standing with open arms, she quite screamed with joy, and flew into them; their embrace was mutually loving and sincere. She laughed and cried both, as she embraced her childhood's playmate, Edward, but checked herself suddenly, as she was going to bestow the same endearment upon Flora's lover, in whom she fancied she saw a perfect stranger; the Bridge-shooter she only remembered in his rags and tatters.
Poor William felt quite hurt that he should not be recognised, so blubbered out-" Why, don't you know me, Mistress Anne ? and have you quite forgotten poor ragged Billy-the-bridge-shooter ?"
" No, no ! indeed I have not !" said Anne running to him, " it was you who taught dear Edward how to save my life-bless you, bless you !"
William was so delighted, that he seized up the child and completely swung her round, as he kissed her. When he put her down again, he said, " Mother is a witch-upon my life I'm afraid she is-she has always said that little Anne, for that's what she calls Mistress Anne, would start up when we least expected it, and I'm sure we least expected it such an awful night as this. I hope she may prove a witch in everything;" then whispering to Flora, he said "for she tells me that our dear mistress, there, will yet be wiser than ever, now she has no holy father near her; that's wicked though, isn't it?"
" I'm not quite sure," replied Flora, in a like whisper; the truth was, Flora had become a little tainted with the coming protestantism of the day, and therefore eyed the old-fashioned priestcraft with a rather doubting glance.
When the first burst of joy and astonishment had in a degree subsided, they began to turn their thoughts to the arrangements for the night. It was at once settled, that until the morning, no questions should be put to little Anne, as they still called her, concerning what had happened to her since her abduction, three years before. This was a sore trial to all, for all were burning with curiosity. But the-child's care-worn look, and
|. the state of her feet, which they now, for the first time, perceived were partially bandaged up in rags, and other parts bare, and torn by wandering over the rough and rugged roads, induced them to conclude that the sooner she could be consigned to sleep's soothing care the better.|
As Anne was to pass that night with her mother, the first for three long years, it was arranged that Edward should resign his room to the merchant, and himself take up his quarters in Horton's former dormitory.
We will not attempt to describe the varied feelings of this now happy party, as they, laughing and crying, and hugging the child again and again in their arms, took their leave of each other for the night.
What appeared to amuse Flora most, was her own perplexity in not knowing where she should find proper clothes for her young mistress ; for, as she said, " I'm sure it's no use bringing her own old things, for she's grown out of all knowledge, and is really quite a woman !"
It was certainly true that Anne had grown, even more than is usually the case, in a like space of time; and from the life of care which she had lately passed, her countenance had all the thoughtful expression of one far older; she had, in fact, become a woman in her childhood.
Although the weather continued as stormy, and the wind howled as sadly, as it passed along the Bridge, yet the inmates of the merchant's dwelling heeded them not; there was a bright sun shining in all their hearts, that seemed to light up every object with its own golden rays. Edward Osborne hummed a cheerful air as he descended towards the sleeping room of his former fellow-apprentice; and the Bridge-shooter, so far forgot himself in his feelings of content, that for some time after he had ascended to the top of the house, he could be heard whistling in high glee; and there was a peculiar sound, as if he were dancing to his own music.
Horton's old room had, in a certain degree, changed its appearance very much since he had last seen it; in fact, it had been made the magazine of warlike arms, belonging to the peaceful garrison of Hewet's citadel of the Golden Fleece!
The truth was, that ever since the Pope's bull of excommunication against Henry had been promulgated, which bull had been long before prepared, but had been kept back in terrorem, until his Holiness should be quite convinced that Henry was an incorrigible and disobedient son of Rome-warlike preparations had been going on throughout the King's dominions. As many of our readers may have often heard of excommunications, without perhaps being aware of the gentle, charitable, wording of such works, we will give an extract, and leave it to their own minds to decide, whether such document was not more beseeming the invention of a fiend, then becoming the Christian feelings of Heaven's Vicegerent, as the Pope professed himself to be.
The Bishop being clothed in white, and accompanied by other priests belonging to the church, with uplifted cross and candles burning, stood up in the pulpit, and said, " By the authority of God the Father Almighty, and of the blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints, we excommunicate, and anathematise, and deliver over to the devil all the aforesaid malefactors, that excommunicated, anathematised, and delivered over to the devil they may be;" the following surely must have been penned by
|Beelzebub himself:-" Accursed be they in towns, in fields, in highways, in footpaths, under roofs, out of doors, and in all other places, standing, sitting, lying down, rising up, walking, running, awake, asleep, eating drinking, and doing whatsoever other thing; from all illumination, and all other good things of the church we debar them; to the devil we condemn them ; and in the pains of hell-fire we extinguish their souls-unless they repent and make SATISFACTION, even as this candle is extinguished." And so having said, to strike the more terror, amidst the sounding of bells he put out the light.|
Although Henry the Eighth lived in an age which had become sufficiently enlightened to allow kings to smile at such impotent blasphemy, there had been times when such denunciations would bring the mightiest potentates crouching bare-headed, bare-footed, on their hands and knees, to supplicate at the foot of the Pope, his intercession with Heaven, to remove such a weighty curse.
Although excommunication was one of the most powerful weapons wielded by the once-resistless head of the Romish Church, and was by that head so frequently employed for political as well as religious purposes, yet it was not, and is not confined exclusively to the Pope; nor, if such anathema could really send man's soul to perdition, is the Pope himself quite safe; for in the Greek Church, the Patriarch of Jerusalem annually excommunicated, not only the Pope, but the whole Church of Rome! There are one or two oddities connected with the Greek excommunication; for it condemns the body of offenders after death to remain " as hard as a flint, or piece of steel." And, as the Greeks believe, that if a person die excommunicated, the devil immediately enters into the lifeless corpse, the relatives, to prevent him, cut the body in pieces, and boil them in wine. Now, for ourselves, we had always imagined that wine was far more likely to bring the evil spirit, than to keep him away; but it appears we are never too old to learn.
It is true that Henry had the courage to set the Pope and all his Bulls at defiance; but as the kingdom was still a Roman Catholic kingdom, and remained so until the death of Henry-for, as it has been correctly stated, Henry did not object to the Pope nor his power, but to the person-in short, in his own kingdom he wished to be himself the Pope-and in his capacity of "supreme head of the church," he exercised quite as great a system of tyranny as ever did the Bishop of Rome -the title by which the Pope was henceforth to be known in England.
The Bishop of Rome now being convinced that further attempts to reclaim Henry, and bring him back to " holy obedience" would prove abortive, set seriously to work in uniting in one bond the Catholic princes of the continent. He made strenuous efforts, which, at last, were crowned with success, to bring about a reconciliation between the two great enemies, Charles the Fifth, Emperor of Germany, and Francis the First, King of France. A truce for ten years was concluded between these two powerful sovereigns, which circumstance not only alarmed Henry, but the whole kingdom; for it was currently reported, and believed too, that Francis and Charles were to head a league against this land.
So ill prepared was Henry for war, that he was in a continued state
|. of fear and alarm He now, too, began to be suspicious of his own subjects. So many cruelties had been inflicted upon all sects and parties, who, in any way dared to differ from him, that people began to get tired of such atrocities; and it may be doubted, but for the mutual hatred of the now rising Reformists, and the champions of the old religion, whether or not Henry the Eighth might not have been driven from his throne.|
To allay the King's fears was a most troublesome task for Cromwell, who, in order to obtain all the secret information he could from abroad, kept spies "in Rome, Naples, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Frankfort, and in almost every corner of Europe." We need scarcely say that Horton and Spikely had been more than once employed upon this service. To raise a feeling of security in the minds of the citizens of London, and give an appearance of preparation to enemies abroad, all the males between sixteen and sixty years of age were once more enrolled, and exercised in the discipline of war.
This circumstance accounts for Horton's old room being, as we have before remarked, greatly changed in appearance; for the walls were everywhere hung with accoutrements of one sort or another.
The merchant Hewet was a captain of archers; and Edward, with William-the-bridge-shooter, two of his men; and very proud the two latter were, when they appeared in public armed to their teeth.
Before Edward retired to his couch, he amused himself for some time in examining the various arms. He greatly admired his master's sword, which was adorned after the Asiatic fashion, that is, damasquinée, or inlaid with gold-an adornment lately introduced into Europe by Benvenuto Cellini. In examining his own dag, or tacke, or, in other words, a pistol-the only difference between a pistol and a tacke was, that the former had a knob at the end, whilst the butt of the latter was merely cut in a slanting direction-in pretending to go through the practice of loading these fire-arms, Edward discovered that one of the dags was still charged.
" How thoughtless of William," said he, "to leave his arms in this dangerous condition."
He said William, but had he looked a little closer at the weapon, he would have found his own name upon it; but, as is usual with most people, it never struck him that he himself could be so silly, therefore the blame naturally was thrown upon some other person's shoulders.
"Well," said he, as he approached the window with the intention of discharging the dag, but checking himself, laid the weapon down on a chest near his bed, "well, it must remain so, I suppose, until the morning, for if I fire it from the window, it may alarm, not only our house, but the neighbours too."
So, now, turning his mind upon the strange reappearance of his former darling little playmate, Anne, he prepared to go to rest.
" Poor child !" he said, "what a miserable plight was she in. Hers will be a marvellous tale, I suspect. I'm longing for to-morrow."
Having extinguished his lamp, he went to the little window, and casting his eyes towards the heavens-" Come," said he, " the clouds are breaking fast, and the strong wind will soon disperse them. I love to see the moon shining upon the water. Every silver ripple seems .
|to me like a row of tiny spirits, dancing in their own light. The moon is at the full, and even now is labouring hard to get a peep at our dark and sleeping world. Good night, fair queen !" he continued, nodding to the moon, as it for an instant became visible between two dark rolling clouds, "good night! I am too tired to wait until you have subdued your black and vaporous enemies."|
Edward threw himself upon his couch, where he lay for some time, turning over and over in his mind all the strange events of the last three years: as he became more and more drowsy, the dreadful night of the marsh came, in all the vivid colouring of a dream, before his mind's eye: he started wide awake, for he had experienced that very peculiar sensation, not uncommon between waking and sleeping, of suddenly falling from a great height. The light of the moon was now beginning to shine, although faintly, in at the little window. Feeling quite unnerved by the impression his dreamy thoughts had made upon his mind, he covered his head up with the bed clothes, and tried to compose his nerves in the forgetfulness of sleep. He had been lying thus for some time, and counting over and over again numbers from one up to a thousand, to try to bring on slumber: this failing, he shut his eyes, and endeavoured to fancy he saw long lines of sheep wandering along the edge of a mountain, and by counting them one by one, keep unpleasant thoughts away, and thus at last unconsciously sink into the realms of Morpheus. Just when forgetfulness was exerting her power over memory, he was startled by a strange sort of creaking, wrenching noise; he listened; then raising the clothes more from off his head, he felt convinced it came from that part of the room in which the window was placed. He now recollected the former attempt at robbery which had actually been made in that very room; he slowly raised his head until he could see the window; the night was still hazy, but sufficient light was in the heavens to render the window very apparent: presently he saw a hand holding a wrenching-tool rise up; the tool was applied to the casement, which had, ever since the former attempt, been kept securely fastened. Osborne blessed the chance which had left him the loaded weapon; he seized it firmly in his grasp, and remained quietly watching the progress the robber was making, determined not to stir until he could take his aim with certainty and effect: he was not long kept in anxious suspense, for the thief appeared to be so thoroughly a master of his trade, that in a very few minutes the casement gave way, and turned back upon its hinges. Osborne now trembled, not with fear, but from a strange feeling that in another minute, perhaps, he should have sent an erring human being to his dread account; a moment more, and he would have started up to alarm the robber, and thus enable him to escape, but ere he could determine upon which course to pursue, the head of a man was seen above the sill of the window; bang went the pistol; one cry was heard; and then the heavy dash of some one falling into the flood beneath.
Edward sprang from his bed, intending to fly to the casement, but was suddenly checked by striking his foot against something sharp in the floor, which cut his foot severely. As soon as the first shock of pain was past, he limped to the window; but nothing could he there
|. discover, excepting the rope which Horton so long before had placed there for his own purposes. He drew that into the room; then hastened to the door, intending to acquaint his master with what had happened; and whom, with the other inmates of the dwelling, he doubted not must be already alarmed.|
Not hearing the least noise in the house, he believed, which was the truth, that all but himself still slept; so he determined not to disturb them. He again closed his door-barred up the window in the strongest way he could; and having not only loaded his own brace of dags, he loaded those belonging to William as well. He placed them in a row before him on the bed; then, resting his back against the wall at the head of his couch, passed the remainder of the night in watching.