Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
FLORA and the Bridge-shooter were up by times, and never did two lovers-for they now no longer disguised their affections from each other -go to work with such happy hearts as they did while preparing for the family breakfast. William himself gave the last polish to the pewter platters; for the return of the child was an occasion too joyous to be treated but as a fete, therefore Flora had, unbidden, brought out some of the best things in the house.
The silver tankards were all displayed on a side buffet. William had knocked up at least half a dozen of their neighbours to procure sundry dainties, such as sea-gulls, served up in cold jelly; reys and ruffs, and delicious venison pasty, too, were procured; and conger eels, in a rich sauce of cream. Then there were fruits, among which were plums that had been introduced from Italy by Cromwell himself in . A great addition to our fruits had been lately made; for instance, the pale gooseberry, the apricot, and the musk-melon from the Netherlands, had not been known in England twenty years before; and cherries were only just brought into notice. To the Netherlands we also owe our salads and our cabbages, which were first brought over about . Pippins came about a year after; and artichokes were not cultivated until this reign. Currants, which afterwards came from Zante, were not yet known-not indeed until .
The superb breakfast now being laid out, was rendered complete by several flagons of Cromwell's sweetest ale. All the flower vases, containing the hop plant-for hops were as yet regarded in scarcely any other light than that of a garden plant-were brought into the breakfast room; so that when the merchant, who was the next to make his appearance, entered, he was quite struck and delighted
|at Flora's forethought and taste. The merchant's countenance beamed with joy, as he thanked them both for their kindness, and thought of the blessed occasion, for which these preparations had been made.|
" So happily had I gone to rest last night," observed the merchant, "that I had scarcely placed my head upon the pillow, ere I was lost in profound slumber, and- I fear me, I have overslept myself this morning. Where's Edward ?"
They said " no doubt that he too had slept soundly, and not believing that any would that morning be inclined to very early rising, he played the sluggard." Scarcely had they said this, when Edward entered, and surprised them greatly by his limping gait; but they were far more astonished, when he related what had passed during the night. On speaking of his lameness, he held forth a sharp piece of steel, which he said he had discovered stuck deeply into the floor of Horton's room; it was evidently the point of a knife or dagger, and was stained with rust, or something that looked more like blood.
Osborne was about to throw it into the river, when William said it would do capitally for him to scratch out the blots he was always making in his copy books; so taking it from Edward, he carefully placed it in his pouch.
Flora now went to call her mistress, but soon returned with her and the child; they had been up before any in the house, and Anne had been so industriously at work, that she had cut and contrived the things her mother had given her, so judiciously, that she appeared quite a " lady again," as Flora said.
The moment the child saw the merchant, she run to him, and throwing her arms round his neck, exclaimed-" Then you are indeed my father, and you will never again give me to that wicked woman, who used to beat me so; will you, father ?"
"No, no, dear child," said Hewet, kissing her tenderly, " you have nothing more to fear from any mortal living; having once regained our treasure, we will guard it as our lives."
Anne evinced great anxiety at observing Edward's lameness, but he passed it off as a mere trifling hurt in his foot, and not worth a thought. Not a word was said about the attempted robbery, fearing that it might alarm Alyce and the child. They now sat down to the morning meal; William alone acted as carver and waiter, for in consequence of Edward's hurt, he did not act this morning in his usual capacity of assistant to his master and mistress.
Every moment Anne's eyes were wandering from one spot to another, as she recalled to her memory the various objects, that had so often recurred to her mind, in the mysterious visions of sleep " Ah," she said, "how often used I to dream of this dear room, and then awake with my eyes streaming with tears: how I used to pray that I might one day, only for one day, be here again as I used to be; and now to think that I am really, really here !-or, perhaps, I am dreaming now-oh, Heaven, grant that it be not a dream !" As she said this, she looked round imploringly; anxiety was depicted on her beautiful countenance-"Oh, do speak," she said, " and tell me it is not a dream !" "No, love," replied the merchant, "only look upon the misery you
|. have just escaped from, as a dream; all the happiness you see here is real. But what meant you by praying of me not again to give you to that wicked woman? Did you not know that you had been stolen away ?"|
" Oh, no! I was made to believe," replied Anne, " that I was really the child of that cruel woman, Nan."
" Nan !" exclaimed every one present.
"Yes," said the child, " Nan; she was always called Nan; I never heard any other name; but she had had a good many, for she had been married six times."
This assertion caused Flora to lift up her eyes in horror, as the child went on.
"Her present husband is called Ray-Ray the Clipper."
"And what's a clipper ?" enquired Flora, in astonishment.
"What, don't you know that ?" said the child, quite innocently; "oh, a clipper is any one who gets his living by cutting people's purses; Ray was once quite celebrated, but left off that business when he married my mother-no, no, I don't mean that-I don't mean my own dear mother here-I mean Nan."
" But who is Nan, dear ?" enquired the merchant.
" You remember," said the child, turning towards Flora and Edward, " the woman who came here on that dreadful day, three years ago? Oh, that day ! never, never shall I forget that day !" Anne shuddering cast a glance round the room, as if almost expecting to see the wretch lurking in some comer, ready to seize her-" That woman was Nan. She told you that she was to take me to my mother. You recollect how joyously I left the house with her, for I thought she had then told me the truth. My father, you know, was away with Horton-how strange I should never think of him, and yet I used always to be thinking of Edward-but where is Horton ?"
The merchant placed his finger upon his lips. Alyce had fortunately not heard the name, and the child had for so long been schooled to understand the merest glance, that she felt that that was a name, for some reason or other, not to be spoken, so continued-" I sang and danced along across the Bridge, the woman holding fast by my hand. The moment we had quitted the Bridge, she turned suddenly down to the Bank-side, and along some miserable and dirty lanes. I began to cry with fear; she dragged me on violently, and with horrid oaths, declared she would murder me, if I did not instantly cease my howling. We went on and on, through places I had never seen before, to one more dark and horrible than any I had yet passed through-it was called the black arch of the Clink."
" I know it well," exclaimed William, " and a viler spot is not in this great kingdom. Why, none but thieves and murderers ever dwell there -it's the rogues' sanctuary, and woe betide the honest foot that treads that path."
"At that black arch," continued Anne Hewet, "there are three miserable dwellings; the entrance to one of them was by a vast flight of rugged stone steps; she dragged me up the whole of them on my back, for I had become so frightened, that I screamed, and struggled to get away;
|but I was very little then, and she dragged me up as easily as if I had been a feather, for Nan was wonderfully strong When she had me securely in the room above, she gave me a violent blow on the side of the head, and said, 'Now, mark me, if you cease not your bellowing I'll strip your skin off as quickly as I do these clothes;' saying this she, began to tear off my things.|
" Where, where is my mother ?' I screamed out. 'Here,' she said, there-I am your mother-the only mother that you will ever know.' 'No,' I said, ' you are not my mother; she's all goodness and kindness, she --' ' She has done with you,' she replied; ' and now know the truth-you were never Dame Hewet's child-but mine. I lent you to her when she had lost her own; she paid me for the loan; but she has found her real daughter, and has returned you upon my hands; so now you know they have turned you off, you will learn to obey me, as a child should do, or--but you know the weight of my hand already, so dread it and be silent."
The poor girl here began to weep, and indeed there were more tear- filled eyes than her own.
"Oh, mother !" she exclaimed, as she kissed her passionately, " think what I suffered upon hearing that cruel woman say I had lost you for ever, and that you had found another child, and cared no more for the little thing you used to caress so fondly, and seem so proud of! But I won't cry any more-no, no, indeed I won't; so dry your eyes, dear mother, and I'll tell you all the rest some other time."
" No, dear-now, now !" said Alyce, appearing quite to understand all that her child was saying.
" Well then, I will; but if anybody cries I shall stop; it was all my fault; I had no business to cry, now I am so happy; and it seems strange, that I, who but yesterday could have checked my tears in an instant, had Nan but looked at me, should now find it so difficult."
Edward took one of her hands and held it kindly within his own, as Anne proceeded. "The woman soon stripped off all my good clothes, and replaced them with complete rags; then making a fire, she burnt everything that had belonged to me. As she sat over the fire, I crept into a dark corner, and crouching down, wept myself fast asleep. When I awoke, I found myself quite alone; the room was large and dark; for a time I knew not where I was. I listened for the falling of the waters; that well-known sound was gone--all seemed in death-like silence; a few rays of the moon stole in at the broken window, which caused such strange forms on the walls and floor, that I screamed with fear. I found the door; it was fastened securely on the outside. Oh ! I tremble now whenever I think of that horrid night. All sorts of dreadful fancies came into my mind: I thought, perhaps, I was to be shut up there, and starved to death. I went to the casement; it was very high from the ground-not a sound was to be heard. I watched the moon; it must have been for hours; at last that sank, and I was in total darkness. Presently I fancied I heard a footstep approaching. I cared not who it might be, for it was so dreadful to be alone, that even the presence of my cruel mother, as I was now to believe that woman, seemed a blessing to be coveted; the door opened, and Nan came in.
Has no one been ?' she said; ' I expected them, long ere this.' Nan then lighting a lamp, took out some food from a basket she had brought with her, and placing it on the table gave me some, and desired me to take it with me to my bed, and after eating it, to go to sleep as speedily as I could She pointed out a place under the stairs, that led to an upper room, in which was a little hay and straw-this was my bed. How I ever lived over that dreadful night seems to me now a wonder, nay, a miracle. Oh! how I thought of my own dear, dear little room; and then I fancied all that you might then be doing; and then I pictured to myself the kind looks that used to be lavished upon me, when we parted for the night, but that were now to be bestowed upon another, and I to be left in that horrid place : with that cruel thought, my heart felt sick with grief. How little did I imagine the trouble you were all in on my account. But why should that woman have stolen me away ? can you, dear father, tell the cause ?"
" No," said her father; " if you, my dear child, have not been able to discover the reason for that wicked act, it must still remain a mystery. I have never, to my knowledge, wronged a human being."
" That I am sure of, father; but there was one amongst them, when I first was taken away, that appeared to have a dreadful hatred to all in this house."
" And who was he ?" enquired the merchant, astonished.
" I never knew his name-but he came to the Clink in the middle of the night with two others; one was Ray the Clipper; the other was wet through and through, as though he had been thrown into the river. I couldn't then understand what they said, for they spoke in a language quite new to my ears-they used the strangest words-but strange as they were, I dare say I could understand them now, for I have had plenty of practice in odd-sounding jargons, only known to those who use them. I watched them from the dark place in which I lay beneath the stairs; now and then I caught some sound that was familiar to me. I heard your name, father, and Edward's; and the tallest of the men seemed delighted when Nan pointed to the spot wherein I lay. And then the tall man kissed Nan, and Ray looked savage. At last they all ascended to the rooms above, and I, worn out with grief, at last fell into a deep slumber.
" The men remained there for some days, but from their anxious looks, and incessant watchings from the casement, it seemed to me that they were fearful of being surprised. There were always mysterious nods and winks, and signs going on between Nan and the Clipper. On the last day I was in that dreadful place, I heard above my head the whole four quarrelling and fighting-oh, it was dreadful to listen to ! Presently Ray rushed down the stairs, his face covered with blood; he was pursued by the tall man, who, seizing him just as he had reached the door, hurled him headlong down the long steps, up which I had been so cruelly dragged. I knew how hard they were, and I shuddered as I heard him strike against them in his fall. The woman who was screaming above, and evidently endeavouring to overcome the other man, at last rushed down, frantic, and foaming with rage. 'Have you murdered him ?' she exclaimed.' 'I hope I have,' was the tall man's reply; 'go to him, wretch, .
|and if his neck be not broken, no doubt the charm of your fair arms, if flung around it, will soon make all right again.' The woman looked at him as if she could have struck him dead with her eyes-for Nan had the eyes of a tiger when she was in a rage; but this fearful look only caused the man, who seemed to have the strength of a giant, to burst into a violent laugh, and snapping his fingers at Nan, he again ascended to the upper floor."|
At this pause, the whole party drew a long breath, but so interested had they become, that as the Bridge-shooter appeared about to speak, the others, as if actuated by a single feeling, placed their fingers upon their lips, fearful of breaking the thread of the child's exciting narrative.
Anne, appearing to comprehend their feelings, continued-" The woman bit her lips, until I saw the blood come from them; then striking her forehead two or three times with her clenched hand, she turned suddenly to where I was crouching in fear; she seized me by the hand, and said, ' Come, come with me-this day shall end my slavery; my heart is now fixed, fixed as a rock-and he shall find it as hard as one, or I will tear it from out my breast, and-- But come, come; life or death may hang upon my speed.' I felt relieved at the chance of any change, and as I then thought she was, in truth, my mother, I had already seen enough to know how useless it would be to oppose her, be her commands whate'er they might. I started up, and with her hurried from the place. As we descended, we found the stones were spotted all down with blood; this sight seemed to add speed to her steps. We entered beneath the black arch; no one was there; we proceeded further on, when she soon found the object she sought. Ray was seated upon a stone, stanching the blood which flowed from a dreadful wound in his head. 'Ray,' said the woman,' I have determined; your plans now are mine; this day's work has settled all between us. But tarry not here- he will soon discover my intentions, and then woe to us both if we are overtaken in this vile place.' The rest of my story is soon told," said Anne. " Ray had just bought a show that went from fair to fair. I was made to dance, to sing, to do anything. At last the idea struck Ray, that as a contrast to the monster he had engaged, I should be exhibited as the youthful Venus: they dressed me up in all sorts of finery, and tried to persuade the people (and you have no idea, until you try it, how easily people are persuaded), that my hair was the most beautiful that had ever grown upon mortal head-that my face was the fairest that had ever been placed on mortal shoulders-that my eyes--but you know what stories they tell at fairs; and I was proclaimed to be a perfect angel."
" And so you are, my dear child," said Alyce, kissing her, "you are an angel, for you have been the salvation of my soul."
The poor merchant sighed, as he heard his beloved wife still touching upon that theme, the one on which he knew all her intellect had been wrecked, if not for ever lost.
Then it was you we saw at the monster show ?" exclaimed Flora; "and that was the wretch of a woman who stole you away ? I knew it was--I knew it was !"
"And Ray," said Edward, "the Clipper, as you call him, was no doubt the monster I suspected him to be."
"And, oh, gracious !" said the Bridge-shooter, " then it might have been you I heard screaming, as the van passed the house, in its way across the Bridge ?"
"It was," replied Anne, in a tone of horror, as she remembered the dreadful beating she had received upon that occasion.
Not one who heard her relate the cruelty she had endured, for having tried to look, but for a moment, at her once-happy home, could stifle their indignation. All were violent in execrating the wretch, Nan.
The merchant, striking the table with his clenched hand, exclaimed, "If I but live, there is not a wretch amongst them that shall not be hunted down, and brought to justice: no, not one of them shall escape my vengeance."
" Oh, yes," said Anne, clinging to her father's arm, " yes, yes, there's one-one who has ever been kind to the poor child, when she thought she had no other friend on earth."
" Kind to you?" said the merchant, "to you, Anne-to you, my poor child? then God's blessing light upon him !-he shall never want again; he shall be rich-he shall be happy, if wealth can make him so -quickly tell me who it was."
" I never heard his real name," replied Anne; "amongst us he was always called the Old Devil."
"The what !" exclaimed every one who heard her.
"The Old Devil," repeated the child, as though there had been no more meaning in the name, than there is in Jack, or Tom, or Bill, or Joe; and indeed as it passed through her lips it seemed to be sanctified, and to lose all its original wicked import.
"And what was the old--gentleman ?" said Flora, not possessing courage sufficient to let her lips pronounce such a wicked name.
" Oh, the Old Devil," repeated Anne, " oh, he was Nan's father."
"I thought so," said the Bridge-shooter. "Egad, no one, but the Old Devil, could have had such a child."
"But he was so kind to me," continued Anne; " often and often used he to starve himself, that I might not be hungered. They used to treat him much worse than they did me, for he was old and worn out; and even his daughter, at times, would strike him, and ask him why he did not die-oh, they were very cruel to him! But when we got alone- together, and he was not afraid," said the child, quite warming with the subject, and seeming to look back with pleasure to those moments, "he used to make me forget all my misery, and then would he tell me the strange chances of his early life: but he was not bad-indeed he was not, though he used to think he had been; and then he'd teach me to read-"
Here she hesitated for some time, and she then continued-" Yes, I may tell you-he had an old copy, I mean one torn and worn, for he told- me that there were none yet really old in all England. Yes, he had a tattered copy of the New Testament in our own language, and we used to read it together,. and it was so beautiful; and it used to make me
|hope and feel so happy whilst we read it. He used to hide it from everybody but from me; for he told me that he was what they called a heretic, and that if that were known they would tie him to a stake and burn him alive in Smithfield. Now, can you tell me, father, why they should wish to burn the poor old man for being good, and reading the best book, as he said, that ever come upon earth !"|
This was a question rather difficult to answer; so each looked at the other, and all held their peace.
" He told me too," she continued, " that there was a wonderful man beyond the seas, called Luther, who was fighting against the Pope, and that our King Henry had been, I mean in books, fighting against him, and that how God was making Henry, in spite of himself, work like a slave to build up the towers of true faith upon the foundations laid by the very man he professed to despise-the good, the unanswerable Luther. I am still too much of a child to understand exactly what he meant; but this I understand, that all he said was kind, was charitable, was good."
" Ah, me !" sighed Alyce; " would that I could bring him back from the error of his ways !"
It is true that this ejaculation emanated from a poor soul partially deprived of sense, otherwise those who heard her might have wondered wherein " the error of a man's ways lay, who was kind, was charitable, and good ;" but in those days the name of a sect bore more weight, than the acts of its members, whether good or evil. Alyce had caught the word heretic, and that word, to her benighted mind, contained all errors of the human heart.
Even the good merchant, being still a Roman Catholic, felt a doubt creeping into his heart, like a cancer, to dry up its purest blood, and eat away its vital part, CHARITY; for he could not yet comprehend how it were possible a heretic could be good. 'Tis true, his sense of gratitude knew no bounds towards the old man who had befriended his child in her affliction; but then he sighed to think that her benefactor was not of the creed to which he still so firmly, so undoubtingly adhered. His wavering thoughts were made firm, immoveably rooted in his heart, as he learnt that but for that poor old man, he perhaps had never again beheld his long-lost, his unceasingly-prayed-for child; for Anne now began to detail the circumstances which led to her ultimate return to her dear loved home.
She told them of all that had passed after her mother had so alarmed the people in the show; all about the changing of the dresses, which at that time she had not been able at all to comprehend: then she described to them how she had listened to Nan and the Clipper, as she peeped from beneath her tent, and had, from their lips, discovered all the truth. " And, oh," she said, " I thought my heart would have betrayed me to them, it beat so loudly, as I heard them own that I was not Nan's child, but yours. I had often before thought of running away, and coming here to throw myself on my knees, and pray to be your servant, so that might be near you all; but then, I knew that if that wicked woman were indeed my mother, you could have no power to keep me from her, and I should be used far worse when she got me back again; but now
|. now I had learnt the truth, my heart bounded within my breast. I could not rest an instant. I silently tore away part of the covering of my tent, and creeping out, crawled along on my hands and knees, as close as I could to the ground, fearing, in the moonlight I might be seen, and to have been detected at that moment would have cost me my life. I knew that full well. When I believed myself out of their sight, I arose to my feet, and sore and bleeding as they were, I flew across the heath towards the Tybourne Tree; but before I reached it I was once more obliged to hide, for the jingling of our horses' bells told me the rest of our troop were coming. When they had passed, so much worse had my feet become, that I was again compelled to crawl along; and when I thought of the distance I must travel ere I should reach this spot, all hope seemed dying within me. Presently in looking back, my alarm was redoubled, for I could see lights moving about in every direction: my escape had evidently been discovered, and I so near them still. In hopeless despair I threw myself upon the ground at the foot of Tybourne Tree, and prayed to die before they should approach and find me. Nearer and nearer some of them came-then all the lights seemed to recede again towards the spot whence they had started-all but one, and that one came on, and on, slowly, but steadily towards the very spot on which I lay. I thought at that moment I should have gone mad with fright, when suddenly I heard my name called in a feeble voice-- Anne, Anne, if you hear me, answer; I would save you.' So suddenly had hope again revived, that for a moment I could not utter a word; at last, rising upon my knees, I called as loudly as I could-' Grandfather, grandfather, I am here-here,' for it was my only friend, it was the poor old man who had always been so kind to me. ' Heaven be thanked,' he exclaimed, 'that it is I who have found you! Had Nan discovered you, I verily believe she would have beaten you to death. The moment your flight was detected, I guessed at once that you had overheard the very conversation, which I myself had been secretly listening to; feeling that now you knew the truth, there was but one direction you were likely to pursue, I started as swiftly as my wornout limbs would bear me, straight into the road to London. But you must not lose a moment; yonder lies your way; here is a little money;' and the poor old man put a few pence into my hand. 'Up child, up and away,' he said, assisting me to rise. I was now forced to tell him how impossible it was for me to proceed further. ' Then you are lost,' he said, ' for Nan will not give up the hunt so easily ; I know her too well for that. Yet there is a hope still-this tree.' It was Tybourne Tree, a hopeless tree to most, but to me it was my all. I understood him in a moment. He took me in his arms, and as he helped me to his shoulder, he kissed me, and calling upon Heaven to bless my ways, hoped, for my sake, we might never meet again. I felt the tears fall from the poor old man's eyes. I returned his kiss; then standing upon his shoulders, as he supported himself against the trunk of the tree, I exerted all the strength I had, and at last succeeded in reaching the thickly-shading branches. 'On your life,' said the old man, 'stir not until daylight shall show you that we have left the place. God bless you, child! and sometimes think of your poor old friend-pray for him,|
|for he needs your prayers. Bless thee, child, bless thee! Heaven be thy guard this night !'|
" I could not bid him good by. I saw by the wavering of his lantern how tottering were his steps; more than once too, I saw him raise his hand and pass it across his eyes; he hurried on, and I was left alone; when he was quite gone, I endeavoured to ascend still higher into the tree-the branches were thick and easy to mount, and I almost felt secure. I had not been there any great length of time, when I was nearly falling to the ground from alarm, for two horsemen came from the Edgeware Road, and stopping beneath the tree, revealed to me by their voices that they were the Clipper and another of the troop. I held my breath with fear. I strained my nerves to hold my limbs from trembling, lest the shaking of the boughs should attract their notice-they would doubtless have thought it the wind, but you can little imagine, unless in such a situation, what strange fancies fear will raise up in the mind. Presently they moved on slowly towards our camp, and I felt for a moment relieved and safe; but I was doomed to be yet more alarmed than ever, for ere long I heard the horses' bells, the heavy rumble of the wheels, and soon was made sensible that our whole company was journeying towards the place of my concealment. The line of vans, and carts, and trampers, passed round close beneath the tree-I could hear their voices -and between the leaves could just discern the various parties as they passed. When I thought they had all gone, there was one still loitering behind; it was the old man; I saw him turn his face up towards where I lay concealed-I heard him whisper another blessing-and then again move slowly on.
" I cannot describe to you all the feelings that passed through my mind that night. I knew not whether hope or fear were stronger. At last the daylight began to cast its gray tint all around. I crept lower down, and finding that no human being was near, I ventured to descend to the earth. I tore off part of my dress, and tied the pieces round my feet; this relieved them greatly, and remembering that as we came along the road I had seen a lonely public, I managed, in time, to reach it; the pence the old man had given me, procured for me food, and permission to lie upon some straw in the loft of the stable. Here I slept nearly the whole day-when night again came on I once more began my journey; it seemed endless; every step I took appeared to steal away my nerves; and oh, can I ever forget the painful joy that burst upon my heart, as I first beheld our dear Old London Bridge. So worn out had I become, from anxiety and fear lest I might never reach my home again, that when I stood before the door, I could not raise my hand to knock, nor my voice to cry for help. I felt sick and dizzy, all strength deserted my limbs, and I fell at the threshold of my longed-for home. The rest you know. Oh, mother, father! I am so happy,'that I feel I could die with joy."
As she said this, she again threw her arms around the neck of her parents, and hugged and kissed every one present, the Bridge shooter not excepted.
The merchant now began to consider the best course to pursue, in order, if possible, to bring justice home to those who had been guilty of
|. stealing the child. From what Anne had said, both the merchant and Osborne no longer doubted but that the Clipper was the man whom Edward had at first suspected him to be-namely, one of the three wretches of the marsh; this gave them a further incentive for exertion, and it was settled that not a moment should be lost in obtaining the necessary powers to bring Nan and her paramour to punishment.|
"Master," said the Bridge-shooter, who had been very thoughtful for some time, "if I might venture to give an opinion, I should say that where there is a jackal, there is most likely a lion skulking not far behind."
"What mean you," said the merchant, " by such a figure of speech ?"
" What I means- mean, I mean," replied the Bridge-shooter, correcting himself, and at the same time giving a sly look at Flora, as much as to say, "come, you have not caught me tripping this time-I was rather too quick for you there ;" then continuing, he said, " what I mean is, that there's more in all this trying first to kill Edward, and then robbing you of your child, and then so many thieves coming climbing up to that -you know what I mean-than one would at first think, and so mother thinks, and we've often talked about it; and depend upon it, though she's no witch, she's no fool; I mean, sometimes, and it's she who says the woman was the jackal, and we shall one day find the lion in his den not far off: but says she, 'if ever Mistress Anne should be recovered, let Master Hewet guard her well, for those who have done the wrong once, won't be slow in repeating it if they can."
There is some reason in what you say," replied the merchant, " and indeed I had already determined to keep the whole affair a secret, at least for the present, in order to throw the perpetrators of the crime off their guard, and -"
The whole party were here made to start up, for through the open casement flew something that fell clattering upon the table.
" Gracious ! what's that ?" exclaimed Flora, after a good scream; then picking up the cause of her alarm, she said, " why, bless me, it's a stone, and round it is tied a paper, and see, there's writing upon it."
The merchant took it from Flora, and untying the string, found the paper was directed to Edward; the writing was in a female hand, and thus it ran :-" The moment you have received this, hurry with all speed to the Southwark end of the Bridge; as you quit the gateway, say, as if to yourself, ' who can have sent it ?' the answer you will receive, will at once convince you that nothing but good is intended: take no notice of the speaker, be whom it may, but follow : I dare not say more; many lives depend upon your speed."
The attempt on the marshes, at once recurred to all present, for that had been brought about by an anonymous communication ; so to be on the safe side, it was at once determined not to notice this mysterious summons in any way.
The merchant being sent for to his shop descended, telling the Bridge- shooter to go to the barber-surgeon, that he might attend to Edward's wound. In due course the barber arrived, dressed the cut, which he declared, owing to his infillable balsam, would be perfectly healed by the next day.
As all the parties had gone about their various concerns, it was unnoticed for a long time that the Bridge-shooter had not returned. Poor Flora was the first to remark the circumstance, and by degrees became quite alarmed, for William never went any where without it being known to her; she at last found it impossible to keep from the window, where she remained straining her eyes first up the Bridge, then down the Bridge, but still no William could she see. Presently she exclaimed, " Oh, yes, here he comes, and running like a King's hound- what can it mean ?" She flew to meet him.
" Where's our master ?" enquired William, as he entered the house, quite out of breath.
" In yonder room," said Flora; " but what is the matter ?"
The Bridge-shooter, as he hurried to the room behind the shop, replied, " Something that may turn to a serious matter for us all."
When the Bridge-shooter entered the back room he was glad to find Edward with the merchant, so closing the door, that the men in the shop might not hear what he said, " Master !" he exclaimed, " you have not a moment to lose, you must fly."
" What mean you ?" ejaculated both the merchant and Edward, at the same moment.
" I mean what I say. In two hours from this time it may be too late. In a few words I can tell you all. You must know that when I had been to Pole-squeeze, the surgeon, my curiosity was such that I could not resist going to the Southwark gate, just to see if any suspicious-looking person were lurking about; the only soul I saw was a poor nun begging, as there is at the corner of every street and lane now. But though there was nobody else, I thought I'd try what charm there was in the words Edward was told to repeat there, so I said, ' Who can have sent it ' The words were scarcely out of my mouth, before the old nun walking past me said softly, ' The Cripple !' she said no more, but at once moved off. I stood for a moment doubtful what to do; but thinking that if the summons really came from the Cripple, there was surely no harm intended, but perhaps much good, I boldly started off after her. I kept at a good distance, but I saw that at every corner she peeped slily round to see that I was on her track. And now where, of all places in the world, think you she led me to ?" William did not wait for an answer to his query, but said-" the very spot where Anne was taken-the black arch of the Clink !"
"Good Heavens!" said the merchant, " are those wretches there again ?"
" You shall hear," replied William and then went on. Before we arrived there, I began to look suspiciously about, for I liked not the quarters we were in, and when she pushed open the door immediately under the black arch, and entered, I made a dead stop, and was about to let my heels save my throat, for I feared some treachery. ' Do you not know me ?' said the nun; ' have you forgotten the Abbess of St. Clair ?' She threw back her hood, and then I saw it was she.
"Eoline and her husband are here,' she said; 'ascend; you'll find them above; you will be as welcome as Edward would have been.' I groped
|. my way up the ruined staircase, and there sure enough, in the room above the archway, I found the Cripple of the Bridge seated on the floor, supporting his blind wife in his arms-she was ill, and appeared almost dying-not a bit of furniture was in the wretched place; no bed, no couch, not even a stool. ' Why did not Edward come?' said the Cripple, ' I would have done as much for him.' I told him of your hurt, and also of our doubting whether to notice the summons or not, for no name being written, we all feared it was the scheming of an enemy, not the wishes of a friend. I enquired why he was there. 'Better to be here and starve, than burning in the flames of Smithfield. I forgot, dear child,' he said, addressing Eoline, who clung closer to him as he spoke of the fire, ' I forgot thee, dear one; but fear not, we are both safe here, if Edward, or William, have courage to befriend a heretic ' He then told me, what in a degree we already know, that ever since his marriage with Eoline, Horton has been employing every artful scheme to bring about his destruction, and now, as a last effort, he has accused him of heresy, and of what in these days is worse, the denial of the king's supremacy. 'But for the poor Abbess of St. Clair,' said the Cripple, ' I had ere this have died upon the rack, for if once there, Horton will never let me leave it but through the gates of death. Were I dead, Eoline would be completely in his power, and that is all he aims at."|
"The fiend !" exclaimed the merchant; "were it but for the sake of Eoline, I will save them both-to her I owe the life of my own dear Alyce-but for Eoline, the burning ruins of the convent had been her grave."
"Alas, master !" rejoined the Bridge-shooter, " I fear me much, that all your power will be required to save yourself; the man now serving Horton, was once a dependant of the Abbess; he owed her a deep debt of gratitude, and knowing somewhat of the great interest she takes in all that concerns the blind beauty of the Minories, he secretly divulged to her the designs of Horton, not only regarding the intended destruction of the Cripple, but also of a warrant of suspicion issued against you and yours. In two hours Horton himself, with his minions, will be here to search the house for unlawful and heretical books."
"Horton !" exclaimed the merchant, "he dare not approach this roof; but I will beard the villian, and -"
" Not for worlds !" interrupted the Bridge-shooter: "no, no; in these times a word may undo a man, and bring him to the flames. The Cripple, who seems to know more than he chooses to divulge, has advised, and his advice I am sure is best-particularly as it is your plan to keep the restoration of your daughter for a time a secret; for her sake, for your own, and for that of one who is more than all to you, your adored wife yes, he advises that you should secretly leave this place, taking with- you your wife and child. All is prepared; even the tide favours your flight; it is now at the drain, so beneath the Bridge I have stationed a covered barge, but light as a feather, with six right honest Southwark lads, that I have known for many a day, and could trust my life with- they will make the barge fly like an arrow through the flood. That even the neighbours may not be aware of your departure, I have thought of a plan by which you may leave your house unseen by any. The
|next house, the Cardinal's Hat, will be closed till noon: I have sent the old woman who has the care of it, and who has been dreaming all night of money-bags, and gold, and such stuff, on a fortune-telling scheme up to my old mother; and while she is gone I promised to act the warder. I can open the trap-door on the roof-by that you can enter, and then descending to the lower room, by the flight of steps that is there, reach the sterling, and embark safely and secretly." The merchant paused for a moment ere he answered this strange, this unexpected proposition; when suddenly starting up he exclaimed--" It shall be so, for such a scheme will tally well with the plans I have now idetermined on. Edward and you will guard all here-and for the sake of Eoline, to whom I owe so much, I charge you neglect not to look to her immediate welfare; consult with the Cripple, and without telling him 'whence comes the aid, spare not my resources to save them." As not a moment was to be lost, the reader may imagine the bustle and excitement which now took place. Flora was here, there, and everywhere, and had not the sense of William checked her, she would have collected together nearly the whole contents of the house; for like most ladies when they are about to go a journey, if but for two days- she kept saying--"But that's a thing we can't do without." But although poor Flora said it was impossible to do without this thing, and that thing, and t'other thing, when they did leave the place, she found herself in the possession of scarcely anything but what she stood upright in. When all was prepared, Hewet placed a heavy purse of gold in Edward's hand, bidding him employ it as he might best judge, according to circumstances as they arose.|
Anne was the cleverest of all; her recent education had given her a great superiority over every one there, in the art of making shift with, or without almost anything.
They ascended to the roof of their own dwelling, and easily passing through that of the Cardinal's Hat soon found themselves in the lower room. The Bridge-shooter lifted the trap-door, the very same through which Horton had entered the place, in the beginning of our tale, and carefully, with the aid of the merchant, succeeded in placing the three females safely beneath the canopy of the barge; the merchant, as he placed his foot upon the boat, whispered something in the ear of Edward, and then entered the bark.
The tide had by this time turned, and the now gentle fall, caused by the rising of the waters, seemed like the childhood of the cataract, that a few more hours' growth would bring to dread maturity.
The six Southwark lads, the moment the boat had drifted from beneath the Bridge, lowered their oars with one dash into the flood, and then like giants straining every nerve, made the frail bark quiver, as each stroke bore them in triumph o'er the silver flood.
The moment the boat was gone, Edward and the Bridge-shooter returned to their own abode, and immediately began to make arrangements for the comfort of the Cripple and the blind Eoline.
"The first thing," said the Bridge-shooter, " that the poor souls want, is a bed of some sort, for the hard boards make but a sorry couch for a dying girl to lie on, and Eoline, I fear me, is dying."
" True," replied Edward, " and the one that can be best spared, is that on which I last night slept, in Horton's old room. Make it up in the shape of a bale of cloth, and then no one will wonder at your load."
Not many minutes had elapsed after this arrangement, before the Bridge-shooter might have been seen, carrying a huge bale from his master's shop, and wending his way towards Southwark.
He had not been gone an hour before great excitement was caused, not only in the merchant's shop, but in all that part of the Bridge where Hewet resided, for it was soon bruited from door to door, that officers belonging to the ecclesiastical courts of enquiry had taken possession of the Golden Fleece; and that Horton, who was so well known as being the unscrupulous tool of Cromwell, was come to ferret out heresy, if such a wicked thing could there be found.
When Horton entered, he acted as though he had never seen Edward in all his life before. "Where is your master ?" he inquired, in a tone of insolent authority.
Edward was for a moment almost thrown off his guard, for he had not yet arranged any excuse that was likely to be received as a good and sufficient reason for the absence of his master-" Gone", he said, " gone- I know my place too well, to be inquisitive about the movements of the good merchant; he may have gone, and very likely has, to Flanders, for he has a high commission from the King to fulfil, connected with his Grace's intended marriage with the Princess Anne of Cleves."
" Indeed !" replied Horton; and then addressing the officers who accompanied him-" Let not this young man stir from the spot he is in, while I with the searchers commence our duties."
The cause of Horton procuring the warrants of search may easily be guessed at, when we find that the first room he entered was not with the officials, but alone; it was his own old dormitory. The moment he cast his eyes around it-" The furies seize them, I am foiled !" he exclaimed, for he saw at once that all he cared to find was gone; it was the bed, in which was secreted the costly diamond, and those deeds that alone could bring Eoline her rights. Hoping that it might still be found in some other room, he flew over the whole house, the ways of which he knew so well, but failing to discover the lost treasure, he descended to the room in which Edward sat, still guarded; and changing his whole behaviour in the hopes of discovering in what way the old mattress had been disposed of, he ordered his men to leave the place; then turning to his former brother apprentice, he said smilingly, " Edward, I suppose you scarcely knew me when I first came in, for times have wonderfully changed with me since last I entered this abode; and the most painful part of that great change lies in the necessity arising out of my official duties, which compel me to appear harsh and ungrateful to my oldest and dearest friends. I need not tell you how happy I feel, at finding nothing of a dangerous nature here; I have but slightly searched, for I knew it would be so; but yet I was obliged to appear to those about me, that even to such old friends as our good master and yourself, I would shew no undue favour."
Edward felt so disgusted with what he knew to be hypocrisy, that he disdained to make reply.
Horton, who felt this coldness, but not having yet gained his end, would not shew he did so, continued-" Why, Edward, you are lame; no serious accident, I trust ?"
" A mere slight cut," replied Edward; "I slept last night in your old room; a thief attempted to enter by the window."
" Last night ?" exclaimed Horton, with unfeigned surprise.
" Yes," replied Edward; " but he will not trouble us again, for I suspect I shot him through the brain, and as I ran towards the little casement, I cut my foot against something sharp, which, upon examination turned out to be a piece of knife that was sticking in the floor, and that seemed stained with blood."
Horton turned away, as he felt his own blood flying from his face, for at that instant every dreadful act that had occurred in that room, flew on the wings of conscience, like a dagger into his heart.
" I was fortunately well provided with arms, for you see we have made that room our armory."
"Yes," said Horton, recovering himself, " you have greatly changed the place, even the old bed is gone; it was a great favourite of mine; I passed many a happy night upon it; where is it now ?"
This was a very awkward question for Edward to answer; but before he could make a reply, the Bridge-shooter entered.
"Have you left the bale as directed ?" enquired Osborne, with a look of meaning, as he glanced towards Horton.
"Yes, Master Edward," replied William, "and it arrived just in time."
Horton continued, not deigning to notice the Bridge-shooter--" Yes, would not mind a trifle to obtain that old memento of my happiest days:" here he put on a very sentimental look.
Edward, again giving William a peculiar glance, said, "Master Horton is enquiring after the bed that used to be in his little room below."
"Oh!" said the Bridge-shooter, "that has been burnt I don't know how long-indeed I can't tell when. You see, that superstitious people sometimes don't fancy using a bed again on which a murdered body has been placed, so after Sir Filbut--"
" Pshaw" ejaculated Horton rising, but his lips were white and quivering, notwithstanding his efforts to appear unconcerned-- ' Pshaw ! if the thing be burnt, why, there's an end of it; and I hardly know why I lost my breath in enquiring about it at all. Osborne, when you communicate with our good master, for I still love to call him such, tell him as gently as you may of this my visit; necessity of duty alone impelled it, but if I can, for his good sake, prevent a further examination into the reports that now are current against him, he may depend upon all my power to shield him." Saying this, Horton with his crew departed from the Bridge.
We must now, for an instant, take a glance at the black arch of the Clink, for here a strange incident occurred, a few nights after the day of which we have been writing. The reader has already been informed that close to the black arch there stood three old dilapidated dwellings; in that over the archway, the Cripple of the Bridge-gate-tower, but now the guardian of that tower and its ghastly heads no longer, had
|. taken refuge; the other two, when he first took up his abode in that locality, so dangerous to the honest, so safe for the rogue, were empty. The night after he had arrived, as he sat watching the sleeping form of his beloved Eoline, as she lay in a feverish slumber, he thought he heard the sound of voices in the street, or lane below; he peeped from the window, whence he perceived a man and woman with a lantern ascending the large flight of steps before mentioned; they entered the house, and all was still and dark. Two nights after this, the moon had risen with unusual splendour, and in consequence of the aid, stealthily but kindly sent from Edward by the Bridge-shooter, Eoline had so rallied that she with her darling husband was at the casement. He was endeavouring to explain to her the idea of moonlight. The poor Cripple was just about to give up the hopeless task, when suddenly he checked his speech, for Eoline, clinging fearfully to his arm, whispered, " Hush, my soul's love, hush-there are footsteps near!"|
The Cripple listened, but no sound could he distinguish.
" Yes, yes," she said, " there are, six-seven--eight feet moving; four of them fall heavier upon the earth than do the others."
The Cripple who, from experience, knew how seldom the blind are deceived regarding sounds, was dumb; presently he too felt convinced that footsteps were approaching. He went to the head of the stairs, and enquired softly of the Abbess, whether the door below was well secured; this question alarming her, she rose from the couch upon which she had lain down for the night, and ascended to their room, where, with the Cripple, she watched from the casement, to learn if possible the reason of the approaching sound; they feared they had been betrayed.
Presently they saw issuing from the arch beneath them four men; the one who seemed the leader of the party appeared to have his head covered with thick bandages of some sort; he was tall and heavily built; the other three bore between them something that resembled the body of a man. Not a word was spoken, but the tall man, who ever and anon placed one hand to his head as if suffering from pain, pointed his commands with the other
The three men raised their load upright, and it was then evident to the Cripple that what they had brought was a dead body. At the foot of the long flight of steps stood a massive, tall wooden post; to this they tied the corse, in an upright position; the head fell deathlike upon the shoulder; and now the Cripple could discern that from around the dead man's neck hung down the two ends of a rope, as telling the fearful tale of murder by strangulation. While the three men were thus employed, the fourth, he with the bandaged head, was fumbling with an old key in the rusty lock of the door of the house, opposite to that of the steps. When the horrid work performing by the trio was ended, the tall man approaching the dead body, gazed for a moment in its face-then laughed aloud, and spitting at it, he with the other wretches entered the third dwelling, and all again was still.