Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





Her bright hair combed was untressed all. Chaucer

As Lerue sauntered along towards the ostlery of the ferry, the awkward position he found himself placed in, on account of the young girl Lillia, came very forcibly upon his mind; the only point upon which he could then determine was, that he must immediately remove from his present quarters, but as to his abandoning the vicinity of the heath, such a step he could not bring his mind to contemplate. Anne had made dreadful havoc with the feelings of his heart, and come of it what might, he felt it to be impossible to quit so bright a treasure, just at the moment, he flattered himself, the full possession of it might be obtained. By the time he reached the inn, it was rather late in the night; he had purposely loitered on his way, in order that the host and his child might, at least, have retired to rest.

Just as he was entering the door of his apartment, which, coward conscience made him do on tip-toe, that he might not be heard, he was startled by a gentle voice pronouncing his name; he turned; it was Lillia standing by him.

" I could not go to rest, Walter," said the girl, "until I knew you were safe: there have been such desperate people about here lately, that no one, it is said, is secure after nightfall, so that I have been picturing to myself all kinds of dreadful things; but now I know you are here, I shall to sleep quickly-happily!"

" You're a foolish child, Lillia," replied Lerue, " to think so much about such a worthless fellow as Walter Lerue. I am not sorry, though, since you are up, for I should have been annoyed at leaving here tomorrow morning--"

" Oh, Walter !" exclaimed Lillia, with an imploring look, "leave here to-morrow, and wherefore ?-but you will soon return ?"

" Why, not for some little time," he replied; " it is necessary that I go to London. You know, Lillia, one cannot live without money."

"I wish we could," said the girl; " we should be much happier- at least I should, for then you need not leave me ever again. But why not, instead of seeking it elsewhere, speak to my father ? If once he consents to give me to you, you need not fear his giving all else you may ever ask!"

" There are reasons, my poor, generous girl, that render such a step at this moment impossible; there are family reasons, which I will one - day explain !"

" He says," said Lillia, "an artist is worthy any man's child; and that talent in itself is a nobility; so you need not be afraid he will refuse on that account !"

Lerue could not resist a smile at poor Lillia's innocent show of her own family pride. At last he induced her to retire, her whole heart


. beating with happiness, for Lerue promised, the moment he could do so with propriety, to write to the father; he told her not upon what subject, but her eyes then looking into her own heart, she saw but one subject, and she doubted not but that in his own he there beheld the same. Thus then they parted; Lillia to dreams, filled with all those fairy visions which young love so much delights in raising before the imagination of his votaries; and Lerue, to think upon another ; but as he pictured the Beauty of the Heath to his enraptured fancy, the little Lilly of the Inn seemed to drop dewy pearls upon the picture, that damped its native brightness.

Edward Osborne, although he had not heard for some days from the cottage, was plodding on in his usual quiet, unexcited manner, for he augured from Anne's silence, that all was going on as monotonously and as well as usual at the Heath; in short, he was almost congratulating himself upon the happy peaceful tenure of his life, when at last the loitering epistle from his young mistress arrived. He was very busy upon some important affairs, which he could not leave at that instant, his master having sailed for the Continent, by which the whole weight of their vast concerns fell upon his shoulders; and expecting the letter to contain merely the usual " All's well," he placed it in the pocket of his vest, and for the present thought no more about it; nor indeed did he remember its receipt until he had retired to his own chamber for the night. In taking off his vest, he felt the letter.

" How forgetful of me, to be sure !" said Osborne, breaking the seal; " for although it doubtless requires no immediate notice, I ought to have read it ere this." It ran thus-


'It is seldom I have to write to you upon subjects more exciting than perhaps an account of our increasing stock in the poultry-yard, or of Roger having slipped his foot into the milk-pail, which, you know, 'he did, not a week ago, and then, to amend his fault, endeavoured to scoop up the milky stream with his cap, declaring " What was saved "would do very well for puddings :" but now, dear Edward, open thine eyes, and devour a tale of real romance. I have began this letter thus ridiculously to prove before hand, that although there was much to 'alarm, and indeed some positive danger, yet no real harm has happened to us.

" Danger! alarm !" said Edward; and then, as people often do, he asked himself the question of " What can it mean ?" instead of at once looking for the solution where it was sure to be found, namely, in the letter, which was written purposely to explain. Having looked very wise, for a moment, but not being able to give himself a satisfactory answer, he recommenced reading.

She detailed to him the whole circumstances of which the reader is 'already aware-of how they had peeped at the ghost whilst sketching '-of the attack of the two ruffians, whom she described so accurately, 'that Osborne knew at once that they must have been the same who 'stopped him and the merchant.'

He became intensely excited at that part of the letter relating their


flight from, and their being pursued by the robbers-he almost fancied he could hear the gun, and see the ruffian fall.

' And now, who do you think,' wrote Ann, 'was our preserver No other but the ghost! and a nicer young man I have never beheld -I would have said, handsomer; but my mother will have it he is like me-and she says that people who are alike very often marry each other. Is not that delightful, Edward ? Only think of my being married !

Osborne rested the letter upon his lap, and having looked very thoughtful for some seconds, he said--" How extraordinary-nay, wonderful, that up to this very moment that she tells me to do so, I should never once have thought of her being married !-Married !" he repeated, as if by repetition of the word he should better understand its meaning; "Anne married ! and why should she not be ? Although I have scarcely noticed her altered form, she is now not the little child so deeply fixed in my memory, but a woman, and one that all mankind might covet. Heigho !" He had no idea why he sighed, but sigh he certainly did, and then again took up the letter.

' You know I am in jest, Edward, when I say this: marriage is rather too serious an undertaking to determine upon at a moment's notice; ' nor do I think I ever shall marry. Can you believe it to be little 'Anne writing all this nonsense ? But I will try to be as serious as you 'always are. Well, then-this our preserver is called Walter Lerue: ' he is an artist, and a very clever one indeed: before we knew him, he ' had taken twenty likenesses of me, only from seeing me at a distance ' -was not that clever ?

"Clever !" he exclaimed, with a sneer; " I think it unpardonably impertinent. I am certain I shall dislike that man, notwithstanding the services he has done-but I'll go on." ' Was not that clever ? But ours are not the only likenesses he has ' succeeded in-he has made an equal number of my sweet schoolfellow, ' Lillia; you know whom I mean, although you have never seen her. By-the-by, Edward, what a darling little wife Lillia would make ' for you!

' Hang her little wives !" he exclaimed, quite pettishly; " she had much better recommend her sweet schoolfellow to her handsome artist. I never thought Anne's letters long before, but this one seems endless;" and he once more began to read.

'We want you, Edward, to copy what I have written about our new-found friend, and forward it to my dear father, and then we ' wish you to make all the enquiries you can about Master Lerue-his other name is Walter-it will not give you much trouble, for being 'so clever, he must be known very well in London.

" Walter Lerue," said Edward, " there is an old artist of that name, can it be he ? But I had forgotten, Anne's Walter-" these words he uttered quite spitefully-" Anne's Walter is a nice young man; it may b his son though; I'll enquire about that; I think the old one bears a very bad character; indeed, I know he does: if he be the son of such a man, the sooner the connexion be broken off the better." The more he read of the letter, the more he became annoyed by the


. frequency of the name of Walter Lerue, meeting his eye in almost 'every other line.'

" It is very remarkable," he observed, " that Anne has said dear Edward but once, throughout this interminable epistle; I hope she will not, like the generality of the world, forget her old friends in her admiration of her new. Heigho ! I think it would drive me mad were she ever to marry any one unworthy of her-unworthy of her ? where shall we look for one that can be worthy of her ?"

Poor Edward was quite astonished, that, highly as he had always appreciated Anne's goodness, and even her beauty, it seemed to him that it was only at that very moment he had for the first time discovered even one half of her excellencies. Did we not fear to lower our hero in the estimation of our readers, we should be tempted to confess, that at one moment, during the darkness of the night-a time when the mind of man will lose somewhat of its strength, and when he was picturing to himself her blessing some happy being with her hand, he actually wept-it was but for an instant-he felt ashamed at his weak, ness, so offered up a prayer for her happiness, wed with whom she might, fell fast asleep, and dreamt that he was marrying her himself.

It was odd enough, but the letter he returned to Anne, caused to her almost as much uneasiness as hers had to him. In spite of all his efforts to the contrary, there was a sadness in the turn of thought he could not help giving to the most trivial circumstance, and more than once, in speaking of marriage, he concluded that sentence with-" but I will never marry."

Anne was fearful that in some way, although innocently on her part, she had given her childhood's playmate pain; but how ? She endeavoured to retrace in her memory every line she had written, but could find nothing that to her mind could be construed into unkindness; indeed she had intended it to be a very kind letter; but, should she have been betrayed into some unthinking expression that might have wounded him, she determined when they next met, she would amply atone by redoubled kindness.

Lerue having, as he had told Lillia he should do, gone to London for a supply of money, was detained there longer than he had expected to be, or, indeed, than he wished to be, for his Beauty of the Heath had so completely fascinated his every thought, that to return was now his only wish. When he did return, alas, for poor Lillia! it was not to her abode, but to a farm house on the other side of the heath.

The morning after his arrival, he was up by times, took particular pains with his toilet, and, long before the hour that politeness could sanction, he found himself on the road towards the cottage. The nearer he approached that new haven of his hopes, the more he felt that a visit at such an unusual hour would seem strange, particularly for one who was as yet but little more than a stranger; so, turning up towards the higher part of the heath, he strolled about listlessly, with no other point in view than that of killing time.

The morning was superb, and all nature appeared in such bright attire, that Lerue became, by degrees, enchanted with his ramble; here


he stopped to sketch an old oak tree-there a romantic gate, that had but lately led to some sacred edifice. On he strolled-and on ran time, so fast, indeed, that it was now near mid-day when he found himself still far from the Cottage of the Heath, but very near the ruined chapel. There was an attractive something about this spot, for here the lovely Anne had first seen him; so he thought, that, as it was not far from his straight road, he would visit it again, and endeavour to bring back to memory all he had thought of when last there, and then compare such thoughts with those he now experienced.

As he approached the ruin, he was astonished at hearing, sung by a low and sweet voice, the very air which he was accustomed to play, and with which he had alarmed the merchant's family. He stole gently towards the opening in the ruin, when, oh, rapture ! he there beheld his soul's idol, the lovely Anne, singing, and sketching the ruined cross.

This was an opportunity that, to his romantic imagination, seemed brought about by fate, and one he could not muster forbearance to neglect.-" I will," he said, " this day know my fate ! what is all the world to him who loses his heart's life-the only being in all the world who could render that world a paradise to him ?"

With feelings such as these words indicate, he approached the astonished fair one; who, on hearing her name pronounced, started in affright.

" Be not alarmed !" he exclaimed, scarcely knowing what he said, " 'tis I-Walter Lerue !"

Upon seeing who it was, Anne's surprise at his sudden appearance instantly vanished, and she welcomed him again to the heath.

So different to his own was her manner, and so at variance with that which he had expected and hoped his unlooked-for presence would have caused, that he stood for a time perfectly bewildered. The feeling which Lerue experienced at this moment was one not at all uncommon to those of excitable temperament; they work upon their own imaginations, until they cannot comprehend how it is that others can look upon the same objects as they do, with eyes less magnifying than their own.

Lerue had been for whole days thinking of nothing else-for whole nights dreaming of nothing else, but the lovely Anne; and, it seemed to him, that it was not at all unnatural, that she, in like manner, might have been employing her whole thoughts upon him. Observing the little excitement his presence had caused, he felt, that to declare his passion then, would be absurd, for few things make a man more ridiculous than evincing violent passion to one who is passionless; so, swallowing his disappointment, he entered into the usual style of inquiries, concerning her health, then of her recovery from the sudden illness she had had when last he had seen her, and such like topics: but still, the opportunity appeared so glorious, the spot so romantic, for such a disclosure-their being alone, too, was a chance that might never occur again-all these thoughts so perplexed him, that when Anne asked him his opinion of her artistic effort, he looked at her lovely face instead of the picture, and exclaimed-" Perfect!"

" But," said Anne, " you have not yet seen it."

This observation at once brought Lerue down from the clouds to earth. Although very confused he did manage to cast an eye, first at the cross, then at the sketch, and again he exclaimed-" Perfect !"



This time Anne felt far more flattered at the word perfect, than she had before; and, hearing her work praised by one whom she regarded as a consummate judge, she began to think it did possess some little merit. As she was turning it, first one way, then another, then touching it here, and then there, she was made to start up in real affright, by having her hand seized suddenly, and, at the same instant, finding Walter Lerue on his knee before her. But her alarm did not end here, for, ere Lerue could utter a word, or Anne demand the meaning of such strange conduct, they were, for a moment, both paralyzed at hearing a most piercing shriek. Lerue drawing his dagger, rushed from the spot, and Anne would have followed, but her limbs sank beneath her, and she was fain to support herself against one of the ruined columns.

In a few minutes Lerue returned from his fruitless search: no one could he discover, although they felt convinced it was a human voice they had heard. It was now hopeless for Lerue to renew his attempt to disclose his passion; all Anne's anxiety was to return home.

As they left the ruins, and were winding their way round a portion of them, a sound struck upon their ears, resembling a deep-drawn sigh; they hastened to the spot whence it come, and there, behind some shrubs and fragments of the chapel lay the fainting form of the poor Lilly of the Inn.

" Heavens !" exclaimed Anne, flying to succour her she had always so much loved.

Lerue stood astounded, and felt as though he would have wished the earth to open and swallow him. In a moment, the whole truth had flashed upon his mind. The ruined chapel was a favourite spot with him--Lillia knew it was so-and the poor child had gone there, day after day, since his departure, to deepen her affection for him, by pondering over every word and look he had ever bestowed upon her. She had always remained there until the hour when the letter-carrier should have arrived at the ferry-then she would hasten home, hoping the expected letter had arrived; but, although disappointed in those hopes, she still hoped on, and was happily building up all sorts of fairy castles in the air, as she approached the loved ruins, and was just picturing the bliss her future life would know-when she beheld her soul's idol kneeling at another's feet: she uttered one shriek, and fell senseless.

Never had Lerue felt such a bitter pang, as he did upon beholding Lillia lying as it were in death. The cottage being nearer than her home, Anne implored Lerue to bear her thither. This had been an easy task in any other case, for her slight fairy-like form was in his arms but as a feather, but there was a load upon his heart far heavier than the form he pressed against it, which weighed him to the earth.

They were but a very short time reaching the cottage, and Lerue having given his still unconscious burden into the care of Alyce, hastened away to the Ferry, to remove any alarm Lillia's absence might create.

He felt greatly relieved to find that her father was in London, and would not return for some time; so going to the room he had recently occupied, for the purpose of writing the letter he had before intended to have written, his heart quite ached at observing, that not one single thing there belonging to him, but had some mark about it of Lillia's childish care-- of her devoted love. A rough sketch he had done, to please her,


of himself, she had adorned with flowers, and had placed it on the chair he had mostly occupied; before it stood another seat, and upon this he found her lute.

He now determined upon the course he would pursue, and taking another seat-for he felt that it would be like sacrilege to remove those slight, but, as his mind was now wrought upon, touching evidences of pure affection-he commenced his painful task.