Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
WHEN Flora returned to the parlour, she found the merchant and Alyce ying with each other in praise of Lerue. Alyce looked upon him as being so remarkably clever, so amiable, and above all so handsome; the merchant was principally taken by his superior bearing, and extraordinary openness of manner; he said-" I do declare so open is he, that were he to put a mask on his face, I should be able to see through it."
Flora, as may be supposed, upon hearing this, gave the Bridge-shooter a sly look, and said--" Most men, I've been told, master, wear a disguise of some sort all through their lives, although they wear no masks; and keep their true feelings hid from the world, by clothing them in a thick veil of false words."
" Heyday !" exclaimed the merchant; "why, Flora, you surely have been studying philosophy of the old woman, your aunt, eh ?"
"There's many an old woman," replied Flora, "a better philosopher
|than you men, and can see much quicker through a millstone, than any of the proud lords of the creation can; common sense and a quick eye, make the best philosopher, whether in man or maid, old or young."|
"Well," replied the merchant, laughing, " as I know you possess both those great requisites, in an eminent degree, and as my eye is only quick in detecting a rogue when he would give me a yard for an ell of broadcloth, and as I have but just sufficient common sense to know that honesty is the best policy, I think the most philosophical thing I can do, will be, instead of continuing a combat in which I know I shall be beaten, to cry you mercy, my petticoat philosopher, and go to sleep; an art in which I am a great proficient."
As the rest of the family retired, Flora and the Bridge-shooter made an excuse, something about wishing to put the place a little in order before they went to rest, and then, being alone, the two drew their seats up close to the bright wood fire, that was sparkling and cracking joyously upon the hearth, and began to discuss matters both private and public, not only as regarded themselves, but, also, such as pertained to those around them. The first subject upon which they both appeared equally anxious to enter, was that in which Lerue held a most conspicuous place.
"Oh, you men, you men !" said Flora, shaking her head at the Bridge- shooter, and then letting her eyes fall sadly upon the hearth, as if in deep reflection; "heigho, heigho, heigho !-you're all alike-you're all alike-I'm afraid, you're all alike!" and down went her eyes a second time.
The Bridge-shooter for a moment looked quite amazed, for he could not guess why she should shake her head at him, or why she should say he was like every other man, when she had so often told him, that in her eyes, no other man in the world was ever like him. So, not knowing exactly what to say, he allowed his arm to creep gently round her waist, which act she seemed to be perfectly unconscious of, and then taking one of her hands in his, let his eyes fall in the same direction as hers, and remained silent. Presently, they both leant slowly forward, their two heads nearly touching, they mutually inspected something lying amongst the burnt embers upon the hearth; then again rising-" It certainly is," said Flora.
"I was thinking so myself," replied the Bridge-shooter, and down went their heads again for a second examination.
Flora, possessing, as she certainly did, a very pretty little foot, naturally employed the said pretty little foot to poke about the ashes, and the Bridge-shooter as naturally caught hold of the pretty little foot with his hand, to prevent her burning herself; having placed this pretty little foot quite out of danger, he caught up the cause of their wonder, but it proving rather hot, he let it go again, observing that " a fool would have burnt his fingers ;" having made this assertion, his pride would not allow him to confess how much his own smarted. Taking an old-fashioned pair of tongs, which, by-the-by, were new fashioned then, he lifted the glittering prize upon the table.
I could have sworn it was," said Flora.
"And so could I," rejoined the Bridge-shooter.
"It sparkled so," continued she.
"That's what made me notice it at first," replied he.
Then both again putting their heads close together, and their noses almost upon the object that lay before them-" Why, it's a costly jewel !" exclaimed Flora, taking up the magnificent bauble; when after examining it for scarcely a moment, her teeth began to chatter in her head, and seizing William's arm with a strong, but trembling grasp, she pushed away the jewel with her other hand, and muttered, in a subdued tone, "she said we should hear more of him anon."
" Who said so ?" enquired the Bridge-shooter, quite alarmed at Flora's strange manner; " and whom mean you by him ?"
"Your mother said it," replied Flora, her eyes riveted upon the jewel; " your mother forewarned you, and by him, she meant-"
" The murdered knight !" chimed in William; "but what has that trinket to do with him ?"
"'Twas his," replied Flora; "I should have remembered it amongst a thousand. It was I who clasped it round the neck of our Mistress Alyce, on the fatal day when I first guessed at the knight's false intentions. But how could it have come here, and in yon fire too?"
" If it be really the same," said the Bridge-shooter, "it would, I suppose, be uncharitable for us to imagine, that from where he may now be, fire was the only agent he had at his command to send it by. But you must be mistaken, Flora-I'm sure you must. Why, it is years since you saw the real one, and then only for a day."
"But there were circumstances," replied Flora, " circumstances which arose from out that sparkling gem, that caused too many a heart to ache, for us soon to forget the cause; theft is the same, I am assured, or it is a false semblance sent by the spirits of good or evil, for purposes, as yet to us unknown."
The instant they allowed the idea of supernatural interference in the business, and remembered that the original owner had met with a bloody death, and then knowing the strange manner in which it had suddenly been revealed to them in the flames, fear took possession of both their hearts; they involuntarily clung together, the Bridge- shooter flattering himself that it was merely to support, and give courage to Flora; but in truth he was entirely subdued for the moment, by the almost universal superstition of the times.
Fear we believe to be the most powerful and universal of all human feelings; no one is exempt from it-no one can withstand its power: the gentle lover, the steel-clad warrior, can be alike subdued by fear. What was it that made our kings crawl grovelling in the dust, to hold the stirrup, or to kiss the dirt from off the feet of some proud angry Pope, but fear ? They feared, poor simple souls, that he would shut the gates of heaven against them, or open the gates of fire and thrust them in: this, will be said, was superstition; but what is superstition but the child of fear, and the most promising child of all his progeny? the strongest sinews of the strongest man, are but as threads of glass, if touched by fear's all powerful hand. Its mode of action is like that of the electric fluid-invisible ; but its effects, too, are like that-resistless.
They stood for a time, neither liking to confess that they feared to
|move, gazing upon the bauble : then both took a stealthy glance around the room, as though they half suspected the murdered knight lay lurking in some dark corner peeping at them, and ready to start up, if they dared to touch the mystic talisman, when the Bridge-shooter's eye fell upon a book, now becoming rather general in dwellings in England-it was the Bible; he pointed to it, and Flora, who was scarcely more advanced in her. state of reformation, than was the poor Bridge-shooter, started towards it, as a sure refuge against all evil spirits. She opened it half-way, and placed it as a sort of roof over the sparkling jewel. So satisfied were they now of their own safety, that Flora almost smiled at her former apprehensions.|
" I think we are now secure from all ghosts or hobgoblins," she said; "but still the mysterious appearance of that brooch, in such a place as the cottage on the Heath, and coming in such a way, surrounded by flames, is very perplexing. I almost begin to suspect, William, that the Witch ot Houndsditch, although she is your mother, and may be mine one of these days, is more of a witch than our unbelieving presumptuous minds have hitherto been willing to acknowledge."
" Oh !" said William, in a most reassured tone of voice, as though the bare mention of his mother as a witch, had at once dispelled from his mind all ideas of witchcraft; "oh! if she has anything to do with it, believe me, we shall not be long in finding out the secret, and finding it out too, to be anything but supernatural." He peeped beneath the book-" It's there safe enough," he said; " and to show you how little I think of mother's witcheries, see here, I'm no longer afraid to touch it."
Saying this, he lifted the book with his left hand, and took up the brooch with his right, exclaiming-" If thou be an imp of Satan come in the form of a diamond, and many an imp of Satan has come in that shape, this book will protect me; but if thou be a real diamond -" Saying this he looked at it very closely, and suddenly changing his tone, said" And upon my life, Flora, it is uncommonly like a real one- isn't it ?"
Flora, finding no harm had come to William, and not hearing any strange noises, such as moans and groans, or sobs or sighs, confessed it was; and further stated her still stronger belief, that that superb diamond was the very same, and no fairy gem, which Horton said he had found, but which really had been placed in his hands by Sir Filbut Fussy. The question now came-what should they do with it ? It might bring up painful recollections to their master, were they to show it to him, and still more painful memories should Alyce see it. So for the present, they determined to let Edward Osborne alone know of the treasure they had found, and then to act according to his advice.
The mention of Edward's name, at once turned their thoughts into a different channel, so not feeling sleepy, and both having a great deal to say about him, and others in connexion with him, they once more drew their seats to the fire, and placing two or three extra logs of wood upon it, began a very cosy little chat. There was one curious circumstance, scarcely perhaps worth the mentioning, but yet we will name it, and that was, that whenever the Bridge-shooter found himself alone near
|. Flora, his arm always got round her waist; perhaps this is natural to lovers; if so, we have no wish that either of them should be deemed unnatural-unkind we know they were not; so we will let them sit just as they list, and merely relate what they said, without impertinently noticing what they did.|
" By-the-by," observed the Bridge-shooter, " what were you thinking of, Flora, when you just now said-' Oh, these men, these men !' and shook your head at me ?"
"Thinking of," replied his fair-companion; "thinking of? why, of you, and all the rest of your deceitful sex ; particularly of that masquerader, that pretended young painter, Master Lerue, or rather Lord Talbot: how we are to act for the best in this affair, puzzles me vastly. It is quite evident that Master Edward had no suspicion that the humble artist was one of the first nobles of our land; and it's my present opinion that we had better still leave him in ignorance; what think you ?"
Now as William always thought exactly as Flora did, the question was quite superfluous on her part, for she already knew his answer before he gave it; and as she had anticipated, he replied-- Why, Flora, upon this subject I think exactly as you do: were we to tell all we know to the merchant, he would be mighty wrath at the trick played off upon him and his; the more so, because he would be without the power to resent the insult; if we divulge the secret to Dame Alyce, it will drive ner half frantic, from alarm for the safety of her child; and for more reasons than one, our young mistress had better know nothing about it; and as to Edward-whe--w !" and the Bridge-shooter gave a long whistle; "heavens! that would end his business in a twinkling. Already has this Lerue put the match pretty near to a hidden train, reaching to a magazine stuffed with combustibles, that has long been lying in Edward's heart; a step more, and the explosion would be awful. No, no, let us wait, and, as mother beautifully expresses it, 'let us see how the cat jumps,' before we move in this business."
" But are you sure ?" said Flora, as if still half doubting, " are you quite sure, that sweet Mistress Anne has at last found a way to the tender part of his stony heart ?"
"Sure," replied the other, "more than sure. Where's that scrap of paper I gave you? look at that; what further proof could any reasonable being want ?"
'While he was speaking, Flora drew from her bosom the piece of paper the Bridge-shooter had given her in their ramble home, and which she intended to place under her pillow that night, in hope of calling up a " Dream of Love."
" Look at it," said William; "don't you see it's poetry-poetry When a child begins to write poetry, it may be because he has been born a poet, but when a man begins to scribble rhymes, depend upon it he has suddenly found a pen made out of one of Cupid's feathers. Read it Flora-read it; and then judge for yourself whether or not Master Edward is not uncommonly far gone."
Flora, after smoothing the paper with her hand upon her knee, began to read--
" Well, what think you now ?" enquired the Bridge-shooter; " I say, what think you now ?"
"Think," replied Flora, still looking at the lines, " why, I think if that he wrote this, his case is perfectly desperate-i'faith I do, perfectly des perate; and you imagine the cause of his sudden affliction, is our sweet young mistress ?"
" Can there be a doubt," replied the other, " after what we saw tonight ? Did you ever see a dog chained up, watching another at liberty and enjoying a delicate banquet, that looked more savagely envious than did poor Edward, as he eyed the gay Lerue devouring the sweet smiles of Anne ? I don't believe he has yet quite made a confident of even himself; but love is a disease that will burst out somewhere or other, in spite of all our care: he'll be obliged to tell her yet: I wonder what she'll say when he does."
" Just what I said to you," said Flora, ' don't be a fool!' She'll perhaps put it in different words, but that's what she'll mean; for, alas! I fear me that on her part, she has thought as little of Edward, as Edward has hitherto appeared to do of her. If ever they should fall really in love with one another, I wonder what the merchant would say; he's rather high it his notions; and should the intentions of this Lord Talbot prove more honest than I suspect them to be, would he, or would she, have courage to say him nay ?"
" If I were Master Edward," said the Bridge-shooter, " I'd be before hand with him, I know; for he ought to remember that at that little shop called a young lady's heart, it's generally, ' first come first served ;' and if he could only take all her stock of love off her hands, the next comer might go elsewhere for what he wanted. Is there no way we could bring it about ? Couldn't you abuse him dreadfully to her; find
|out all sorts of pretended faults; it's a seldom-failing method of making young people discover all kinds of virtues"|
"I think the best thing we can do," observed Flora, giving herself a slight shake, " is to find out our way to rest; for if we continue to talk in this way, it will be morning before we say good night. I'm very tired, but I have a thousand things to say, about the Cripple and Eoline, and I know not what; but for to-night, William, fare thee well !"
What else they said, or did, we do not feel bound to record, further than to say that the Bridge-shooter as he ascended to his room, muttered something to himself about-" He'd not stand it much longer; and if she liked him she ought to marry him; and that in the morning he would come to some fixed determination upon the subject-that he would !"
Flora having carefully placed the song beneath her pillow, fell into a delightful dream of Love, and in it she fancied she saw Master Hewet in his barge on the Thames, dressed as Lord Mayor; and what appeared still grander in her eyes, there stood William magnificently attired in coat-and--badge, as Master of the Lord Mayor's barge. She always regarded herself as a most fatal dreamer; time will shew whether or not her dream of this night became verified.
We must now fora moment glance into another apartment of the cottage, that belonging to Edward Osborne; he had been sitting before the fire, exactly over the very spot where Flora and the Bridge-shooter had been conversing so long in the room below; and as they were thinking how they could bring about a love affair between Osborne and the lovely Anne, he was racking his mind to find out an escape from the snare he believed he had constructed to catch himself--" Why have I now," he said, "opened my eyes to all those matchless charms, against which I have for years, nay, from her infancy, kept my heart from the knowledge of their excellence, by closing my soul's eyes. Is it love ? is it envy ? What is it that I feel now eating away my very mind ? Do what I will; say what I will; think what I will; still there is the one impulse to action-the one prompter of my words-the one engrossing spirit of my every thought-and that one is Anne. Why have I never allowed such thoughts to invade my mind before? Was she less fair before that upstart Lerue discovered her angelic grace ? was she less kind before he--no-I cannot bear the thought that she has been kind to him. She was always so to me; but then I valued not that kindness, because I was fool enough to wait until a stranger should school me in the knowledge of its inestimable worth; and now, like the spendthrift who has squandered away all that might have brought him happiness for a whole life, I feel, when perhaps it is too late, the bitter wretchedness of my self-wrought poverty. Am I deformed, unsightly, a fool, an idiot ? It is no great stretch of vanity to say I'm none of these: then why should not I have entered the lists, with at least as much courage to combat for the prize as others will do, and, alas! I fear, that one has already done. I watched them both; his were the looks of a well- practised, seldom-resisted profligate; he is one who has the courage to ask; and to such, I fear me much, few are found who have the courage to deny. If then to ask is to have, why have my eyes never yet learned the beggar's trade ?"
Saying this, he turned his glance upon a mirror, but more quickly turned away again, such a woful failure had he made, in an attempt to look as languishingly as he fancied he had seen Lerue do, when gazing at the lovely Anne.
"No," he said, "practice may male deceit still more deceitful, but pever can make truth more true; and yet I feel, dead as these orbs are within their hollow graves, one glance from hers would kindle them to life ; and were but her heart to shine from out her eyes, oh, with what rapture would this poor heart fly through my own to meet it !"
Had Osborne gazed upon himself at that moment, he would have had no cause to have doubted his power of throwing his soul into his face. He had so wrought upon his own feelings, that he fancied for a moment that Anne was really near him, and heard the empassioned words he uttered. For her own peace of mind, unless she could willingly reciprocate his feelings, perhaps it was as well she was not there, for few tender hearts can resist true enthusiasm, at least, until reflection, with its icy hand withdraws the dazzling medium, through which such hearts have viewed the magic scene.
Poor Edward looked around the room; every object he there saw lowered him one more step from the exalted pinnacle on which, for an instant, he had set his thoughts. There stood his little bed half uncovered, inviting him to repose; there an icy ledger, bidding him turn over a new leaf, and think of business; the fire, too, began to wane and flicker. But dare we tell his last act of weakness, ere he sought repose ?-we will, for it was frought with kindness, if not with wisdom. The reader is aware, from a former visit to Osborne's sleeping-room, that there was but a slight partition between his own and Anne's dormitory. He knew her bed stood close against it-we almost blush to tell the simple fancy of his heart-but after a fervent prayer for her he no longer to himself attempted to deny he loved, he kissed the panel near which he knew her head was lying. Whether it were truth, or mere imagination, we know not, but he himself arose enraptured, for in his fancy that kiss had been answered by a sigh. Trifle as this was, it caused him to fall into a happier, far happier state of repose than he had enjoyed for nights and nights before.
Had the charm which Flora placed under her own pillow an effect universal? It seemed so; for not an inmate of that dwelling but upon this particular night enjoyed a Dream of Love! Alyce, the gentle Alyce, in sleep's resistless spell, was once again in youth, the loved, adored young bride of the handsome merchant of the Bridge. She fancied herself, as we have described her to have been in the earliest chapter of our romance, standing at the casement, viewing the passing maypole; and once more felt the blushes suffuse her face, as when the morris dancers had singled her out as beauty's queen: again she saw the admiring crowds gazing upon the infant beauty of her child; but what seemed more than all to her, was the gentle pressure of a loving husband's arm, as it supported her, and the kind, but proud smile with which that husband gazed upon his soul's idol, herself, his own sweet Alyce; hers was indeed a Dream of Love.
Eoline's visions were but the continuation of her daily dream; for all
|. who live in blindness, must ever live in dreams, at least regarding things material. Imagination had built an idol in her heart unalterable: age had no power to wither the roses she had pictured in his cheek; care could not blanch it with his ashy hand. What first she pictured, still to the last she saw; if seeing with the mind can be called sight.|
At the same hour of night, the Cripple and herself had dreamt of that night's same hour, which made them one; and theirs was a Dream of Love.
Poor Flora never dreamt of anything but love; nor did her swain, her own sweet William; therefore theirs, forsooth, must have been Dreams of Love.
But what did lovely Anne dream of that night? First, she dreamt of her mother, and her, we know, she loved ; next of her sire, and no love was lacking there; her vision now seemed wandering far and wide, o'er heath and dale, o'er copse and glade; but see, 'tis resting now upon a poor old man, seated by a little child ; he kisses it, and seems to love it for its helplessness : its face is like a mirror in which she sees her own- the child has vanished-and now the old man's head she feels is resting upon her breast; her arms are round his neck; she loves him for the love he gave to her, when none were near to love her but himself. In truth, youth turns to age, but in her dream, age turned to youth. She saw a kind of lists, arrayed as if for a jousting; and many a gallant youth was there, smiling, and full of hope. Lords were there, and decked in gaudy pride; the game to play was running at the ring. Around and round they pranced, but none could yet carry away the ring upon his lance; one had an unlucky fall, and when his helmet was removed, she saw the features of Lerue. On went the game, the worsted knight forgotten; but still none ever caught the ring; when presently a youth, but humble in attire, seemed as if risen from the earth; for no announcement had there been of his approach; he came modestly to try his power of eye, and steadiness of aim. Gently, at first he took the space around, but suddenly, as if he had seen the prize he was to strive for, he put spurs to his steed, and soon was passing all competitors. Observing, with a smile, the awkward failures his opponents made, he thrust his hand into his breast, and drawing forth his heart, placed it on his lance, and thus oddly armed, at the next round, bore off the ring in triumph. But what seemed strangest to Anne, of all this strange dream, was that the prize so many aimed at was nothing but her own fair hand, which now she saw start up where late the ring had been. She trembled in her sleep: who could the victor be? The helmet was removed-the winner of her hand was-Edward Osborne. She heaved a deep-drawn sigh, and then awoke; was that the sigh he really heard? And was not hers a dream of love?