Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





Let take a cat, and foster her with milk

And tender flesh, and make her couch of silk;

And let her see a mouse go by the wall,

Anon she waiveth milk and flesh and all,

And every dainty that is in that house:

Such appetite hath she to eat the mouse. Chaucer.

" NATURES never alter," said Nan, addressing Horton; " a rat's a rat, and a rogue's a rogue from first to last; it is knowing this which makes me guard myself against you."

" In this you wrong me, aunt," replied Horton, using the word aunt for the first time, and as he pronounced it he looked at her kindly, but Nan appeared not to have heard the word, nor to have marked his hypocritical look; "for you are my aunt you know, Nanny," he repeated, pronouncing the name still louder, " that's certain enough."

' I am not proud of the relationship," she replied, "nor do I aught to serve you out of love; I am tired and weary of the life I have so long led, and if you keep your faith with me-and I'll take pretty good care you shall do so-the moment I have been paid for the work I have done, you will see no more of me: but now to business. What I could prove, and what I will prove, are widely different affairs: I am the only living being who knows who and what you are; therefore I could ruin your


. hopes did I please to do so. I am the only living being who can prove the death of Eoline, the real child of Horton: there was one other, whom I always did suspect, knew the truth of Eoline's birth; but she too, I can prove is dead."

"Then you are sure not one besides yourself escaped the storm ?"

"Not one ! Oh, it was a dreadful night! How strange it was that after so long a wandering abroad that I should chance to be in the same ship returning to England with those whom alone you had to fear, and that of all on board, I alone should be saved to bring you tidings of their certain death."

" Then you can swear you saw Eoline perish?" said Horton, once again asking the question she had so often before answered.

" Have I not told you a dozen times, that when the vessel went to pieces upon the sands, I and the old abbess alone were carried away in the shattered boat: she was not so strong as I, and soon sank to the bottom of the boat, where I believe she died, just before I was tossed from it, as it struck against a ship that was driving before the wind. I caught hold of a piece of wreck that floated by, and by its aid was borne to the shore just as my strength was failing me. But enough of that; now tell me, and tell me clearly, for my brain seems rusting fast, how the case really stands, and why, if you are regarded as Horton's only son, Eoline, even had she been in truth your sister, should be such a stumbling block in your way."

" Why, thus stands the whole affair," replied Horton; " you see that when my father, I mean old Andrew Horton, died, it was discovered that he had left all his property in trust; this was done, as his will alleged, on account of the irregularities and depravity of his only son Henry, that is, myself: the love he bore for his blind child never left him, nor would he ever believe but that one day she would be discovered, and under this idea, his will was made, and to her was left the bulk of his wealth-to me, barely sufficient to prevent starvation, at least until I should have grown older, and, as he said, wiser. There was a clause that if his daughter should not be found by a certain date, but a very distant one it was, or that the death of the child could be proved, why then, as he had no other relation in the world, the property might come to me. Suspecting something of his intentions, I managed to steal this will, leaving a blank document sealed up in its stead; I knew that if he died without a will, everything must be mine; it was but a boy's trick, and only proved the wish to out-maneuvre without the sense to accomplish the scheme-what was the use of destroying the will, unless we destroyed at the same time the maker of that will? As I ought to have known it would be, the cheat was soon discovered, but the old wretch never hinted to me that he had detected the theft, and I doubt not, used to chuckle within himself to think how he had done the doer. When he died, oh, how I wept! just as a dutiful son must weep for a kind departed sire who has left him immense wealth. I thought that every golden sovereign was worth a tear, so I shed abundance, for I knew how rich he was. But my grief was soon ended, for when I presented myself as the sole heir, up started a new claimant in the shape of a man of law, who, to my confusion, produced the very counterpart of


the will I had stolen, and which, although I had not myself destroyed I knew had been destroyed by others. He took possession of everything as sole trustee, so that my only chance of inheritance lay in patiently waiting until my hair had lost its colour, and my eyes their light, so distant was the date at which I might inherit, for it lay with me to prove the death of Eoline: now here arose another difficulty; the old abbess, as you rightly suspected, did know the truth of Eoline's parentage, and to keep her out of my power, wedded her to the Cripple, thus casting my hopes farther off than ever; I attempted his destruction by an accusation of heresy, but he eluded the snare, and I lost sight of him for years; my strange meeting with you has revealed their fates to me, and I now ride once more upon the sunny flood of hope: from letters I possess, written by the abbess, the identity of Eoline can be shown; your evidence will prove her death, and that of her husband-so you see, Nanny, your old age may be a happy one, if wealth can make it so."

" The wealth of a virtuous memory alone brings happiness to age, and not possessing that," she replied, " gold brings comfort but to the body, not the heart.-And when shall I have to shew myself in the light of day?"

" Immediately," replied Horton; "all has been prepared, and now you have no fear of meeting him," and he involuntarily glanced round the room, as if to be sure no one was there, for at that moment he plainly saw, in his mind's eye, the whole horrid scene he had enacted when stabbing Spikely on the battle field; "no, you have nought to fear, so that now you have money, a more seemly dwelling will better befit your new station, and some attire of a newer cut than these worn and tattered vestments. Come, come, cheer up, old girl-bright days are in store!"

" I begin to feel," said Nan, " that to an active mind, repose is less endurable than fatigue. While I knew not from one hour to another where my home would be, the mind was buoyant from excitement; he who is always seeking, always hopes to find, and in hope, not in possession, lies what we call happiness; my life for years had been that of shifts and stratagems-the one day hoping to find the wherewithal to keep life and soul together-the next, to find a refuge to protect myself against him who would have torn that life and soul asunder; but now, already do I feel the end has come-where shall I for the future look for that excitement, which alone brings an opiate to the memory of the wicked ? Priests tell us there is comfort in confession If I could but think so "

" Why, Nanny! Nanny !" exclaimed Horton, " I verily believe, were nunneries not prohibited, Nanny would become a nun !"

" There are worse than she, have made an end as good," replied Nan.

"I have thought of that ere now. But first let us finish the job in hand, before I enter upon a labour so immense as that of working out my own redemption. When will the trial come on ?"

" Almost immediately," replied Horton, "so Nanny, girl, be ready; put on your best looks and your best gear; for as you are my only witness, we must make the most of you. I must leave you now," he said, rising, " for I have to meet my counsel, the celebrated Thunderdown; had our opponent but obtained his aid, I should have trembled for our chance; there are few witnesses can stand his cross questionings; and


. there are circumstances, Nanny, connected with your life, that are as. well kept in the shade; all will depend upon the credence given to your testimony; so we must make you appear as bright and open as the day to judge and jury; your having been abroad so long will render it very unlikely that you should be recognised under your new name and altered appearance.

" There was but one I feared," said Nan, " and he is dead; so all will go well, depend on't."

Horton now retired to attend his appointment with the celebrated Sergeant Thunderdown, whom he found in high spirits at the anticipated triumph he should achieve in the coming trial. "At last," he said, chuckling, and rubbing his hands, " at last I shall have the long-wished for opportunity of putting an extinguisher upon that detestable Whistlepipe; it is a very extraordinary fact, Master Horton, but ever since the trial of Miles for the weaver's murder, which you doubtless remember happened many years ago, this will be the first time in which Whistlepipe has been opposed to me; I have never forgiven him for that day's work, nor ever will, at least until I have made him look as small as his own contemptible little bit of putty of a nose. I shall conduct the whole affair in a jocular vein, but biting, sir, biting; I can scarcely refrain, even now, from laughing at the figure he'll cut when I compel the judge to smile, and I can do it, yes, yes, sir, I can do it, and make the jury laugh, but that I can always do; and then set the whole court in a roar, yes, sir, in a roar, at his expense. You see our case is so clear, that one may venture to give loose to the reins of our wit, and when I do, even the judge can seldom find a curb sufficiently strong to restrain it. Poor Whistlepipe ! I hope I shall not break his heart; no, no, I'll carry my sarcasms to the very verge of annihilation, and then let the.gentle hand of pity stay my caustic tongue." Horton would rather have heard a little more about his own affairs, than of nothing but the spiteful attack intended for the opposing counsel; but as the serjeant had said their case was so clear, he left him with a confident mind.

When the merchant heard of all that had happened at the cottage, and of the second loss of his child, his agony was extreme; he at once believed that she had been murdered by the robbers; all hope of again beholding his adored child in life was now for ever past. As Edward and the Bridge-shooter, who were little less affected than Master Hewet, were endeavouring to console the bereaved father, by raising hopes which they themselves believed not in, they were told that a seafaring man was waiting below and wanted to see the merchant. Edward feeling how impossible it would be for their master to receive any stranger, overwhelmed as he was with grief, descended to enquire whether he might not do as well as the merchant. He had been gone but a very few minutes, when he returned, but without entering the room further than the door, he beckoned to the Bridge-shooter, who quietly left the room.

" You must go immediately with this man," said Edward, " whereever he may take you; he is a Dutch sailor, and jumbles his own language with the few words he knows of ours in such a manner, that it is hopeless to discover what he really means, further than that somebody


belonging to Merchant Hewet, is wanted immediately upon affairs of moment. It appears he had a letter for the merchant, but has let it fall over the Bridge and lost it."

The Bridge-shooter, who, as we have before seen, never stayed to dispute any order given him by Edward, made a very few minutes suffice for his preparation, and immediately started off with the Dutch sailor.

When Osborne returned to the merchant's room, he found him much more composed; the first flood of grief was past away, and he now determined at once to leave the Bridge and hasten to the Heath, that he might give whatever little comfort lay in his power to his beloved Alyce.

" And, besides," he said, "I must not forget, in giving way to the grief of a father, the duties of a man. I have much to say to Willy concerning Eoline, which if delayed may be their ruin. I had but just before my return learnt strange things regarding their affairs, and I came overjoyed at the discovery I had made, when your fatal news sunk my heart deep into despair."

When the merchant had gone, Edward gave way to his own wretched feelings. If he had formerly been unconscious of his love for Anne, he was so no longer; her loss, although he felt convinced she never could have been his, drove him almost to madness. Willingly would he have laid down his own life, could he have restored her to her once happy home.-" I fear me much," he said, as he sat musing upon all that had lately occurred, " yes, I fear me much, that the horrid idea of her murder, which has taken possession of the merchant's mind, is but too well founded. Why did I permit her to leave the cottage ? Better that we had all died together, than that she should have been thus sacrificed, and by me too. How dreadful is that thought-I, who would have died for her, have been her murderer! Yes, 'tis I, 'tis I who have destroyed her !" He clasped his hands in agony; he paced the room with uneven, but hurried steps " If the robbers killed her, why have they hidden their bloody work ?" This thought, for a moment seemed to him as a flash of inspiration-" No, no," he exclaimed, "she may yet live; had we found her mangled corse," and he shuddered from head to foot-the bare idea of looking upon that sweet form, weltering in blood, seemed too appalling for the mind to conceive-" then indeed," he continued, " we might have given way to despair, for certainty then had dug the grave of hope; but hope still lives, and I will hope yet. Why has net Willy sent me some message ? only one word, even though that word had announced hope's certain death, had been better than this suspense. Hark !" he exclaimed, and then listened; " more than once I have fancied that a frenzied cry, as of some demented woman, has passed through these walls fRom the next dwelling. A strange place for a female to abide in--that sink of drunkenness and vice! I fear me there are strange scenes enacted there. I am almost certain I saw the very man who left us the dagger so mysteriously, come from that house; but the day had scarcely broken, and my mind was too troubled to see aught clearly; besides, at that instant I could have believed each fleeting fancy of the brain was fixed reality."

He remained for a time lost in thought, picturing to himself all the


. early scenes in which he had been so happy as a boy, when first he had watched the tottering steps of the baby Anne. He had loved her from the first, but little dreamt he then that that child would one day be his heart's sole hope, and yet that heart's despair. All at once he was startled from his reverie, by hearing a strange voice close to his ear exclaim--" Be'st asleep, maister Ed'ard ? so they tells I you be called."

Osborne looked towards the speaker, and there saw the country boy he had often observed about the Ferry-house at Putney.

"And what want you, my good lad ?" enquired Edward.

"Oh, nothing, only you," replied the other. " Hoiy comed from the odd-looking chap that's now at the Cottage on the Heath."

Edward starting up, asked anxiously, " Had they found her ?"

" No, not exactly her," said the boy; "but they a' found a summut which hoiy'm to give to you, for you to give to Master Allen, who they now says is'nt Master Allen; it all seems plaguy rum to hoiy; there was my poor old maister that's dead and gone, father to pretty Lillia, who's dead and gone too, bless her! he turned out to be some one else I shouldn't wonder, dang me if I should, to find that hoiy'm not Bill Bolterhead, but some great noble, or mayhap a prince-ha, ha, ha! for nobody seems to be anybody now o' days."

But what is it you have to give me ? be quick, and close that monstrous mouth," said Edward, rather sharply.

" Oh ! here it be's," said the boy, producing a badge, such as were then worn on the arm by serving men; as he gave it, he also delivered a note hurriedly written by the Cripple, which was to the effect-"that in again searching the line of road by which it was imagined that Anne would have endeavoured to reach the farm-house unperceived by the robbers in the rear of the cottage, they had found the ground much disturbed, as if a violent struggle had taken place there; more than one piece of torn female attire also was found lying about, and in a hedge through which a way had apparently been forced, the badge was discovered; it had evidently been torn violently from the arm, for attached to it were portions of the sleeve upon which it had originally been fastened."

When Osborne had dismissed the lad, he began to examine the badge more attentively. "It is certainly strange," he said, "that such a thing should be found in such a place; but I fear it will lead to no results favourable to our hopes: this is evidently the badge of the house of Shrewsbury, and it is not likely that any servitors of that great family would be linked with thieves; more likely one of their serving-men has offended a coy, but saucy country wench, who for having her own dress torn by his rough gallantries, has thus revenged herself on his. But, good heavens!" he exclaimed, as his mind took a frightful turn, "if Anne should have met with such a man, in such a place, and at that dead hour of the night too." He ceased to speak, for his thoughts became too horrid to give utterance to. As he stood gazing upon the badge as he held it before him by both his hands, his eye fell upon the ring young Lord George Talbot had given him some years before. "When he gave me that, he pledged to me his word, that throughout my life, if ever I should need his or his father's aid, I should not find them wanting.


I remember well his parting words-' Farewell,' he said, ' and believe me, the promises a Talbot makes he keeps.' How little did I then think that I should ever wish to put such promise to the test, nor would I now were it to serve myself; but for her, oh ! what would I not do ? It will after all be no great favour to demand; but then it will clear away the doubt that haunts me. Not a moment shall be lost; I will to the Earl's and boldly crave an audience; in any case his power rust greatly aid our cause." With his mind filled from this new-found spring of hope, he hurried away towards the Earl of Shrewsbury's mansion, on the banks of the Thames.

How Anne had fallen into the hands of those who now held her close prisoner may be thus explained. Nino, who was an Italian of the worst description, had, by the aid of false keys, hiding in cupboards, and thus over-hearing things that were intended for very different ears, and sundry other rascally manoeuvres, wound out nearly all his young master's secrets; amongst the rest, the place of Talbot's retreat, when he had absented himself from his father's abode, in consequence of a dispute that had arisen between the son and sire concerning a matrimonial scheme. He was not long in discovering the attachment Lord George, while disguised as Walter Lerue, had formed for the trader's daughter of the Heath and immediately began to speculate upon the probability of turning the affair to his own benefit. With such contempt did he look upon all traders, that they appeared to him as so many animals, created but to minister to the pleasures of the great. Had he really known that simple Master Allen, was, in truth, no other but William Hewet, the King's own merchant, he might have been more cautious than to have ventured upon the last bold step he did. Once having made up his mind that something must be done to reinstate himself in the good graces of his young lord, whose estimation of him, lately, he felt had been greatly lowered, he determined to sacrifice the trader's daughter at the altar of his own advancement.--"You see," he said to Spikely, whom lie had made a participator in the vile plot; "you see that although Lord George would not condescend to ask my aid in such an affair, and would fain be thought too honourable to sanction such a proceeding, he will, believe me, be mad with joy, like a child with a doll, when he finds her snug beneath his own roof; nor will he, any more than would a child, ask how the doll had been obtained. This was a glorious thought of mine, and will bring us a greater reward than we shall ever receive for anything-excepting, perhaps, for our ridding him of her again when he's tired of her; there are no two things a man will pay higher for, than the getting and getting rid of a woman. I'll marry her myself, if he'll pay enough, and I can dispose of Mona; but all that is an after matter-first we must get the girl and the reward."

So trifling an affair did the abduction of a trader's daughter appear to these worthies, feeling, as they did, quite satisfied that no one would dare to make much stir in the matter, when it was known they were protected by so powerful a name as that of Shrewsbury, that they scarcely gave the subject a second thought until the time had arrived to put the scheme into execution. There happened just at this juncture, a circumstance which at first caused Nino great annoyance, for in it


he saw much inconvenience to himself, and loss to his purse-this was the unexpected dismissal of Mona from her employ, and that dismissal had been attended with such disgrace, that it was hopeless for her to attempt to obtain a like position, at least where she was at all known. In this extremity she had flown to her lover, Nino; and he, not knowing what better to do with her, had persuaded Brassinjaw to allow her to remain, for a time, at the " Cardinal's Hat." Now, as in almost every unpleasant affair, when we know there is no help for it, we generally manage to discover some little palliative-something that might have been worse, and therefore, bad as it may be, it is still endurable, so did Nino draw from out his annoyance a cause for satisfaction; for it having struck him, as neither he, nor Spikely, nor, indeed, Brassinjaw, were exactly calculated to act as lady's-maid to their intended victim, that Mona would be the very thing, and would aid them greatly in the whole affair, as she, being a woman, would understand how to attack all the weaker points of her own sex; and thus, either by flattery, or fear, or by any means she might find most applicable at the moment, render Anne subservient to their wills. When first Nino broached the business to Mona, her Italian blood flew to her heart, and filled it with jealousy, for nothing could persuade her but that the girl he was about to bring there, was one of his own victims; nor did she, to the last, give implicit credit to the tale they told her.

Fortunately for Anne, this very jealousy was a sort of safeguard to herself; for at least it protected her from the insulting approaches of the Italian ruffian.

Upon reflection Mona saw, that if, as she feared, her own charms had lost their influence over her lover, and this new fancy of his were placed within her reach, she should at least have the power of vengeance, if her worst fears proved true. It was this thought, and this only, which at last caused her to consent to the girl being brought there.

Fate seemed to be working in aid of their infamous plan, for it happened that the very night they had fixed upon for visiting the Heath, and watching their opportunity of seizing the girl and carrying her away, was the same, which another party of wretches had chosen as a fitting one, for committing the robbery of the Cottage.

By Anne having gone a very circuitous road to reach the Farm, she had, by the very precaution she was taking to avoid danger, fallen into one, that could she have known the truth, she would have regarded with a thousand times more horror than the certainty of death by the hands of the robbers.

Nino and Spikely were merely on a reconnoitering ramble, never dreaming that at such an hour of the night, the very bird they came to entrap, could by possibility have flown, as it were of her own accord, into their very arms.

Anne having left the Cottage some distance behind, now flew forward as swiftly as her limbs would carry her, and was just turning the corner of a narrow lane, when she came suddenly upon the two wretches.

Nino caught her in his arms, exclaiming-" Holloa, my pretty wench, whither so fast ? 'tis late at night for petticoats to be flying about the fields-is it not ?"



"For mercy's sake!" exclaimed Anne, endeavouring with all her might to free herself from his resistless grasp, " oh ! for mercy's sake do not, do not detain me ! I am flying for help-robbers are at theCottage !"

" Diavolo !" ejaculated Nino, "it is the girl herself; quick, quick, away with her! Fool! why do you scream and struggle so? 'Tis useless to resist."

But Anne struggled on, and louder screamed than ever; for one moment she freed herself, but her strength was gone, and falling in a swoon upon the earth, became their unresisting prey.

When they had conveyed her to the boat, they watched for returning animation; the moment life again appeared beginning to assert its sway, they placed a draught to her lips; unconscious of what she did, she swallowed it. It was a powerful narcotic. Soon did its mysterious power lay to rest every feeling; and thus in a profound sleep was the wretched Anne conveyed to Old London Bridge.