Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
AFTER sitting for some time, with pen in hand, Lerue started up, as it a sudden determination had seized upon his mind; and pacing backwards and forwards several times, he exclaimed-- Yes, that will be some slight reparation--would to Heaven it could be more complete-but that is impossible ! It is ever useless to sigh for what we know sighs never can obtain; therefore, let me do the little good I am still able to achieve, light as it will weigh against the heavy wrongs my silly vanity has caused me to heap upon that poor child. Will she disclose to Anne her secret ? Heaven forbid ! Yet why should I say that? Would it not be better, were this infatuation of mine at once destroyed by any means ? I know my own weakness ; and while there be a chance of gaining a smile from the sweet eyes of the Beauty of the Heath, I shall never have courage to withstand the tempting lure. I'm a fool- in every way a fool! Why am I still here? What is the end I would attain ?-the hand of Dame Allen's daughter ? The thought were malness-and yet to give up the pursuit I feel to be impossible. It is now certain that I must never see poor Lillia again. I would have unloosed the tie between us with a gentler hand, but since fate has torn it thus ruthlessly asunder, so let it be; for it were less cruel now to allow the wound to heal, unaided but by time, than to add new tortures in probing it afresh, merely for the sake of proving our art in causing that wound at length to be less seen."
Lerue, again taking up his pen, wrote to Dame Allen, an excuse for not returning to the cottage, business of importance having called him to London; this he did, hoping that by the time he should again visit the Heath, that Lillia would have so far recovered as to be away from the cottage.
Having dispatched this letter, he ordered a horse to be brought immediately, and at once hurried away to put his newly-formed scheme into execution. What that scheme was, time will develope. When Lerue reached Southwark, he dismounted at the Tabard-the Inn immortalized by , a portion of which still exists; and here he left the horse, and then hastened on foot towards the Bridge: feeling somewhat athirst just as he was passing the Cardinal's Hat, he entered, and called for a tankard of ale, seating himself near a window that looked on to the Bridge. His mind being full of his own thoughts, he did not for a time notice who were in the place, nor heed the subject they appeared to be in high dispute upon. He was not long however allowed to remain thus indifferent, for the sharp-nosed little arrow- maker, placing himself exactly opposite to him, addressed him thus-. Now, sir, I appeal to you, who being a stranger, as it were, that is, not one of us, you can have no prejudices either for or against whatever I say, or he says, or the other says-or what anybody says. Now, sir, I appeal to you-is it not a just law, a good law, a righteous law, a glorious law ?"
"Before I decide," said Lerue, " I think it would be as well, as you appear determined to constitute me judge of this worshipful court, that you should first tell me what law you are alluding to ?"
" What law !" exclaimed half a dozen at once ; " what law, indeed ! why, what law be, but the new one to put a stop to begging !"
" I wonder," said the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, " I wonder if it will apply to wives; I hope it will, for my wife is always begging of me to do something; for her, and if once I get her under the new law, won't I make a slave of her, and wipe off old scores; she has made a slave of me long enough, and"
" Silence in the court!" roared out Catchemayde; "silence ! or how is the judge to hear the case ?"
" Yes, friend," said Lerue, "be silent, all but one, and let him speak quickly, for ' hours fly, and so must I,' as the song saith: now to the law."
" Well then, you know, that is, you will know when I tell you, that vagabonds, and vagrants, and thieves, and beggars, but they are all one- yes, beggars have so awfully increased of late, that our worthy governors have just passed a righteous law to put 'em down !"
"That will indeed," observed Lerue, "be a righteous law ; for begging speaks of poverty, and to obliterate poverty from any land, would indeed be a righteous act !"
" Oh ! but it does not do away with poverty," observed one of the opposite side; "no, no, it only punishes those, who are already punished enough, I think, by being poor."
"And in what way does it punish them ?" enquired Lerue.
" First, then," replied the little arrow-maker, who appeared to have studied the new law deeply, " first, then, those who are found loitering about for three days, are to be branded on the breast with a hot iron, and made a slave of to the informer, for three years-"
" No, for two years !" exclaimed half a dozen.
"Well, then let it be two years," said the other; "but it ought to have been three: perhaps I'm wrong, too, in saying that we may refuse our slaves meat; and that we may make them work, by beating, chaining, or otherwise. That word otherwise was a glorious thought, for in fact, it leaves us to interpret it how we like, and make otherwise mean anything we please. Secondly, if the slave run away for fourteen days, and is caught, he is to be marked with a hot iron on the forehead, or the ball of the cheek. I say, Catchemayde, mind I don't catch you; such marking would spoil your beauty, eh ? and what would the fishmonger's wife say then ?"
" Mind your own business," replied the other, " and proceed with the question; for see, our worthy judge is nearly tired of your prosing !"
" Well, then," continued the arrow-maker, "and having been thus
|burnt, he is to be adjudged a slave to his master for ever; and should he then attempt to escape, he is to suffer the death of a felon. Now, I again ask, is that not a just law, a good law, a righteous law, a glorious law ?"|
" As far as I can understand it," rejoined Lerue, " it appears to me to be a law, that must have been framed by a set of fiends, rather than a body of Christian men !"
"Huzza ! huzza!" shouted the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker's opponents; "huzza ! the verdict is given ! And now, little sharp-nose," said Silkworm, " order in the sack; you're beaten, out-and-out beaten."
" Well," said the little arrow-maker, " I may be beaten, but I never run, away, as some people did from the Clink: I never turn my back upon any friend !"
" Don't you ?" was the reply of Catchemayde, as he winked to those around; "don't you ? Well, I never had a friend turn his back so completely upon me, as you did when we were hung up to dry by the Bishop's Birds. Why, man, do what I would, I could not make you face me!"
"Master Catchemayde," replied the other, ' there are certain circumstances in all men's lives, that had better be touched upon as lightly as may be; or, may be, the sleeping lion may be aroused; and, may be-"
Here the poor little arrow-maker was interrupted by a general roar of laughter, and Lerue feeling but little interest in their dispute, threw down a piece of money to discharge his reckoning, and was on the point of quitting the place, when he fancied he saw some one in a dark corner of the room, endeavouring to avoid his notice; had the man sat quietly, Lerue would no doubt have passed out without recognising him ; but now he at once walked straight to the spot, and exclaimed--" Nino !" The man appeared to be confused at being found in such a place, rose, and in Italian, uttered a few words to Lerue, who replying in the same language, that what he said might not be understood by those around, left the Cardinal's Hat, followed by him whom he had addressed as Nine.
There was one other who also quitted the place, this was Spikely; he had been for a long time before conversing with Nino, who was an Italian Spikely had known abroad, and it was to meet Spikely, and renew their former friendship, that Nino had then visited the Cardinal's Hat. Spikely followed at some distance, but still near enough to perceive by their gesticulations, that angry words were passing between Lerue and his companion. They soon quitted the Bridge, and turning down Swan Lane, the former gave a packet to Nino, who entering a boat at the stairs, departed towards the west; Lerue passing by the Steel Yard, was soon out of sight. Spikely hurried down the stairs, and eyeing the various boats and their rowers, pitched upon the one that appeared to him the most lightly built, and had the strongest waterman aboard: he jumped in, and was soon in the wake of the boat of Nino. When they arrived opposite the Strand, which, at that time was adorned with the magnificent mansions and castles of the nobility, the gardens of which extended to the water side, Spikely saw by the outstretched arm of Nino, that he was pointing to, and was about to land at, the private stairs of one of these
|mansions; he ordered his waterman to put out his strength, and thus came alongside the other boat, just as it turned towards the landing place.|
Nino, although surprised to see his friend so near, did not appear at all sorry he was there, so the boats coming the one on each side the stairs, the two cronies stepped ashore exactly at the same moment. They entered the beautiful grounds, and after a few words, implying that they would meet again in a few minutes, Spikely made himself comfortable in an alcove that overlooked the river, and Nino hastened towards the castellated mansion.
" So he is to arrive to-day!" said Spikely, speaking to himself; "luck befriends me; I shall have merely to forge my bolts, and already, I perceive, I need not fear finding fools enough to shoot them for me. This Nino, this young Italian, may be turned to good account. I like Italian rogues ; there's no mincing matters with them; they hate a man, and the stiletto tells their hate, and that saves bandying angry words, and ruffling one's passions. I have plenty of irons in the fire, so that it will be hard indeed if Horton escape being burnt by some of them. Ha, ha ! I long to see Horton's look as I point to the wound in my throat, which he intended to have been my passport to another world! It is odd, that dare-devil as I am, I have succeeded so seldom in obtaining my revenge upon those who have wronged me !"
Here he ceased speaking for a few minutes, and appeared to be making some calculation, for with the forefinger of his right hand, he kept counting on the fingers of his left; and as he did this, he again spoke half aloud. " Yes, Horton, one; Osborne, two; the merchant, three; the Bridge-shooter, four; Brassinjaw, five; the Cripple-no, I have wiped him out of the list; but d---m her, there's my wife-that makes the six. The first and the last shall feel my vengeance deepest; Horton and Nan are my debtors; the rest must pay off old scores on my brother's account. The shot I received in the head from Osborne, I could forgive---"
The shot he here alluded to, was that which had caused the deep indenture near the right side of the forehead, we before mentioned, as being found on the head of the stranger, who had visited Edward so mysteriously on the night of the great storm; that stranger was Spikely. How he had been wounded, and had obtained the blood-stained knife, may be thus explained.
On the night Horton had endeavoured to regain the papers he had sewn in the old mattress of his bed, it may be remembered he had drawn out his knife to unrip the sacking, but his horror at looking upon it, so freshly stained by the gore of his victim, had caused him to throw it, as he believed he had done, into the river. In casting it from the window, it had struck against a projection, and had thus been precipitated perpendicularly into the boat where Spikely was waiting, and who perceiving what it was, it struck him at once, that at some future day such a thing might be turned to good account, so carefully concealed the dagger; and it was again to seek it, where he had deposited it for security, that he had met the apprentices under the Black Arch, and had recognised Osborne as their leader. After his first great quarrel with
|Horton, he began to think, that could he himself obtain the coveted papers, he might make them not only aid his own fortunes, but act as a powerful engine of revenge; he knew they were still in their old hiding- place; and it was in his attempt to gain admittance by the same window, that had so frequently been used by Horton, that young Osborne had fired upon him; he fell into the boat; fortunately for him at that moment, the rope by which he had fastened the boat, gave way; and the tide being now strong, the bark had darted through the bridge, in the opposite direction, thus preventing Edward from discovering any one beneath.|
" Yes," he continued, " that shot I could forgive, but not my brother's death. No, no; that must be paid for early or late; when he has done my work against Horton, then young Master Osborne's own turn may come, but not till then ; the same with Hewet, and the like with the Bridge-shooter; they must wait their turns. It is odd, that do what I will, I can gain no information concerning that hell-cat, Nan. She may be dead. Well, if so, 'tis better perhaps. But this new law they talk of, might have worked for me gloriously. If her father had been still alive, and I could have caught him by it, that would have been the way; for, strange to say, though Nan at times would beat the old devil herself, and act towards him as if in hate, the only way to touch her to the quick, was for others to ill use him. I have often worked her up to madness by the kicks and cuffs I gave to him."
Hearing footsteps near, he rose, thinking it was Nino approaching, but immediately shrunk back again, and stood motionless. Close to his retreat was a thick hedge, dividing that part of the grounds from the principal walk. So near to the hedge did the persons in the walk pass by, that he could plainly distinguish two voices; the one uttering words that seemed to have been formed in fashion's choicest mould; the other was of a cringing fawning tone, and fell upon Spikely's ear as one to which it had long been familiar.
As the speakers receded, Spikely crept from his concealment, and with stealthy steps followed the sound, endeavouring, through every little opening he found in the thick-set hedge, to discover who the speakers were; he was long disappointed, but at last he came to a part of the verdent barrier, through which he succeeded in obtaining a view of the speakers; the first he recognised as Baron Seymour, the Lord High Admiral of England; the other-could he believe his eyes ! he actually rubbed them again and again, as if doubting their truthfulness of vision; so surprised was he, that an involuntary exclamation burst from his lips, and he uttered the name of " Horton !" The two speakers turned instantly at the sound, and might have made search for the intruder, had not Nino at the moment appeared.
It seemed to Spikely, who crouched to the earth, fearing he had betrayed himself, that the baron imagined it had been Nino who had spoken, for no further notice was taken.
The paper Lerue had given to Nino, was now placed in Seymour's hand, who dismissing Horton, for it was really he, broke the seal, and having perused the contents very rapidly, said, as if to himself--" It is
|. but a poor favour to ask so humbly; but the Romanists know how to lower their tone, when aught is to be gotten by it; and times, too, are changed since Kate Howard was on the throne !" Then turning to Nino, he continued, aloud--' The answer is-'tis granted ! An hour hence let him be at Whitehall, where he will find the necessary document !" Saying this, the Lord High Admiral moved on towards the mansion, and Spikely being joined by his friend, the two entered one of the boats, and rowed towards the Palace of Whitehall.|
As they went along, Spikely observed to his companion, that Horton's sudden appearance had not surprised him half so much as his being found where he had just seen him.
" There is not much to surprise any one," replied Nino, "is there, in finding a soldier of fortune, in such times as these, in such a place as the abode of the Lord High Admiral ? and still less to be surprised at, in his arriving a few hours before the time supposed ?"
" But what could he want with the Baron Seymour? You know, as well as I, Signior Nino, that no man ever does anything without a motive; and if fools would remember that truism a little more, there would be a vast deal less roguery consummated in this world."
'The answer, I think," replied Nino, " is simple enough; Horton having distinguished himself abroad in the Protestant cause, now the Protestant cause is again floating upon the sunny tide of prosperity, returns, as hundreds of the Cromwellites will do, to seek employment, or rather rewards, for what they will call their monstrous sacrifices in the cause of truth: he wants employment, and he'll get it: and why should he not ? Can you tell me of one governmentthroughout the world that does, or ever did, or ever will exist, without the aid of scoundrels ? No, Master Spikely, no ! I'm an Italian, and our government, though wonderous holy in outward show, we all know to be most rotten at the core. But what is yours ? Not a tithe the better! Look at your glorious Cranmer, who swears to be a Papist, whilst a Protestant at heart, who swears a life of celibacy, whilst all the while he has a wife, and children too! Ha, ha! 'tis marvellous to see how men can be deceived; and men, too, who are believed to have their skulls filled with something more than pap. No, no, amico, while the wind blows in the quarter it now does, Horton, the unscrupulous tool of Cromwell, may ask and have!"
"A tool," said Spikely, " is an uncourteous term; and unscrupulous, perhaps, as much so. I feel it, because I, too, you know, was Horton's partner in those glorious times; and if he be worthy of reward, so am I; and what he gets I'll share, or he get. nothing-that I swear !"
At this moment Spikely, who had worked himself up to a pitch of something that approached enthusiasm, was dreadfully lowered in his dignity, by observing Nino, instead of reciprocating in his feelings of hatred to Horton, very coolly take from under his cloak a small mandolin, and as though he had gone upon the waters for no other purpose than to serenade some fair enchantress, begin to sing a sweet Italian air. They had stopped suddenly, just beneath a projecting window that stood out from one of the buildings, or rather castles, that then adorned the
|Thames; the words he chanted were in the Italian language, but may be thus rendered into our mother tongue:-|
They remained listening for a few minutes, when Nino again repeated the last line in a louder tone-" Unless indeed I am forgot." " Diavolo !" he exclaimed; " but it seems I really am forgot !" "By whom ?" enquired Spikely.
"Oh ! a pretty little country-woman of my own," replied the other, "whose wits are as sharp as her eyes, and whose fingers are as quick as her tongue, and quite as snappish. One more trial, and then we'll away."
He again trolled a verse of his serenade, and had just come to the concluding line, when a fair hand was seen thrust from the casement above and from it fell-what ? a tender billet-doux ? No, but a silver cup! Nino immediately struck up a lively air, and sang something about a lover's thanks to his mistress, for the favours she had bestowed, and the boat passed on.
Spikely, who had picked up the cup from the bottom of the boat, examined it with the eye of a connoisseur, and exclaimed,-" Why, man, this is the work of Cellini, or I am no judge of Italian art !" " It may be so, or the handywork of a tinker, for what I care," said Nino, "so that it be silver. What ever its form now, 'twill soon change it, by the magic power of the furnace and the crucible; those arms upon it would tell a tale too plainly for me to feel quite safe while it was in my possession."
" They are those of the Earl of Shrewsbury," said Spikely.
"They are," replied the other; " and that was his mansion we have just left. Every week, mia bella there, drops love's offerings from yon casement, into the bark of her faithful gondolier. I give her love, and she gives me whatever she can lay her hands on; she's worth her weight in gold to me, and may be of wonderous use to us in working out the plan we have formed. It often puzzles me to account for the many failures we clever fellows meet with; is it not strange, how few of those 35
|. who live by their wits, and have talents to deceive the whole world, should so seldom make a fortune by their labours? I'll swear that a thousand times in my life, I have made my dupes bear me triumphantly to the very threshold of Fortune's Temple, when all at once, bang comes the door right in my face, and throws me back again, as far away as ever. There's one thing I am determined upon, and that is, if this our glorious scheme should fail, I'll no longer make my votive offerings at the shrine of Mercury, that God of thieves, but will forswear the world, and at once turn monk: it's the better trade of the two, I begin to think."|
In a like strain they continued to converse until they reached the Whitehall Stairs, where they landed, and at once bent their course towards that portion of the Palace appropriated to the offices, over which the Lord High Admiral had controul.