Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





My lady and my love, and wife so dear,

I put me in your wise governance;

Chooseth yourself which may be most pleasance

And most honour to you and me also

I do no force the whether of the two,

For as you liketh it sufficeth me. Chaucer.

WHETHER it was the sun of joy that lighted up their hearts, and thence sent forth its rays to illumine whatever came within their sight, it is not easy to determine; but this is certain, that as young Osborne, with the lovely Anne, stepped lightly on their way towards the ruins of the chapel, all nature, at least to them, seemed to smile around; the sky appeared suddenly to have become much brighter, the air much softer, and


. to breathe with a warmer glow: the early spring flowers were timidly peeping forth, from spots well sheltered from the northern winds, and now were courting the kisses of the genial southern breeze.

" How sweet and soft the air !" said Anne.

" Not half so sweet and soft as thy sweet sighs," replied Osborne.

" And how clear and bright the blue that o'erspreads the skies," said the lovely girl.

" Not half so clear and bright as the blue of thy dear eyes !" observed Edward.

Anne looked up at her lover in astonishment, so unexpected were such expressions from the lips of Osborne; but she thanked him for his flattery, by a kinder pressure of his arm, and then they went on again in silence.

The wings which love had given to their feet, were terribly weighed down by the old man's unusually slow steps, and ever and anon he stopped, and turning, looked back towards the Cottage. He did this so often, that it at last attracted the lovers' notice, and a sudden fear seized upon them.

" Why do you look so anxiously behind, dear grandfather ?" said Anne; -" surely there is no danger of pursuit ?"

" Who should pursue us, Anne ?" observed Osborne. " Who is there who knows of our intent ?"

They were now completely out of sight of the Cottage, and the ruined chapel stood picturesquely out at no great distance. The old man endeavoured to mend his pace; but still there was a heaviness in his every step.

" Light hearts and light heels," observed the old man, " usually run well together; but age and youth are ill-matched competitors in any race. The chapel to you is the haven of your hopes-to me, it only speaks of death. But I promised not to cast a shadow o'er your bliss; so on, children, on, and the old man will not be far behind."

The lovers now insisted upon his walking between them, and resting upon their arms; and in this way they reached the chapel.

When they descended into the old crypt, they found the assistant there, but the pastor was absent. This crypt was very ancient, and had doubtless belonged to a building of much greater magnitude than that of the ruined chapel above. There were several ancient tombs, the inscriptions of which were completely obliterated by the hand of time. A single lamp hung from the roof, which lighted but a very scanty space around; the rest was all in gloom, and indeed many parts were in total darkness. They seated themselves on an old stone seat, and then a long deathlike silence ensued.

After a time, the old man rose, and went to the assistant, who was attentively reading from an iron-bound massive Bible, and whispered something into his ear; the man immediately quitted his seat, and retired, and then another lengthened silence ensued; but still the pastor made not his appearance. Osborne's anxiety was becoming unendurable; he feared, yet knew not what he feared. Anne too seemed sad, and heaved many an involuntary sigh; suddenly they both started at hearing a female voice. It was the voice of Flora. For the time, they had


completely forgotten that she had said she would follow the old man to the chapel. Her presence seemed to reassure them, for she ever looked at the bright side of all things.

Not long after Flora's appearance, the good pastor arrived, and with him several of his flock, principally country labourers, and a few substantial-looking farmers, and then commenced a short service. When this was ended, some of the little congregation left the place, and some few still remained to witness the marriage; but they all stood at a distance, and were completely lost in the gloomy recesses. The pastor commenced, by offering up a very devout prayer for a blessing upon the work he was about to perform, and after this the marriage ceremony commenced. Anne felt her heart beating violently at every succeeding sentence. The only persons that came within the range of the lamp's feeble rays, were the pastor, the assistant, the kneeling lovers, Flora, who stood on one side, and the old man, who rested against a tomb in the rear. Osborne and the lovely Anne never raised their eyes for a moment from the earth; so strange, so unaccountable seemed their positions, that they felt bewildered-lost. The only time when Osborne for a moment regained his confidence, and his voice no longer trembled, was as he uttered the vow to love and cherish her he was then making his own for ever. It had, of course, been settled that the old man was to act as the father to give away the bride; they fancied they heard him weep, as the footsteps unsteadily advanced, when the moment had arrived to place the hand of Anne in that of Edward. It was a moment of real pain to Anne, for the thought flew through her heart, of " why was not her own father there to perform the act." She felt the hand that took hers tremble as violently as her own; but when hers was placed in that of Osborne, the pressure of true affection he bestowed upon it, acted like a spell, to banish from her soul all thoughts but one, and that thought was-he is my husband!

The moment the ceremony was finished, the few of the congregation who had remained, hurried away to their various avocations; but the pastor kept the young pair some time longer, listening to an exhortation and holy lecture for their governance in their future altered state of being.

When they arose from their kneeling position, Flora went up to Edward, and whispered rather loudly-" You ought to kiss her."

Osborne started, and was rather confused at hearing such a speech; but, supposing Flora knew much better than he did, he saluted his beloved Anne, and ever after declared, that " that kiss was the sweetest he had ever had, always excepting the last."

As they returned to the cottage, Flora would not allow them to be sad, at least she endeavoured to prevent them, by continually addressing Anne as " Dame Osborne," and said, " she was perfectly astonished to see how much older she looked since she had become a married woman."

She would have succeeded to a degree in cheering them; but the old man, at once reminding them of their sacred pledge to part as soon as wedded, now seemed like a dagger thrust into their very hearts. "It is for her sake more than your own," said the old man; " do not, by breaking your word with me, cast her from splendid affluence to abject


. poverty: until the sun has fairly set you may remain, but then your promise must be fulfilled."

" It shall," exclaimed Osborne, " though its fulfilment should break my heart; but my heart will not break, for in my exile the thought that she is mine, will render that heart still firmer to endure, still prouder to achieve. I have something now to live for, something to labour for, something to die for, if needs must be. Oh, my own sweet, dear, dear, Anne! the world cannot now exile me from you as long as this heart shall beat, for in it you are so firmly set, that nought but death can ever again tear you from it. All I ask, is, do not weep when I shall say farewell; but cheer our parting with a smile, dear girl; 'tis easier to fly from smiles than tears."

Anne did attempt a smile; but a tear would steal forth to dim its brightness.-" There are many hours yet, before the sun shall set, that we shall be together; and in those hours we must arrange our plans; and-"

Just as he had proceeded thus far, they arrived at the cottage-gate. When they entered the sitting-room, Osborne and Anne had nearly fallen to the ground, so completely taken off their guard were they at finding the merchant, Alyce, and the whole party there. This seemed the deadliest blow that could have fallen upon Edward's heart. And should he be compelled to separate from his beloved Anne-his now true wife-and without a word, scarcely a look ?

" Why, boy and girl," said the merchant, " what ails you ?"

Anne ran to her mother, and throwing her arms around her neck, began to weep.

" Why, Edward," continued the merchant, " you look as deadly pale as though you had just committed murder, or matrimony ; and the one, in certain cases, is little less a crime than the other. I bring you good news, boy-take that," saying which, he placed a sealed packet in Edward's hand; " there are your credentials; I have settled everything, I am sure, to your satisfaction. But you must start this very night; the best of all my ships will sail with you early in the morning, and then I have done all a master can be expected to do for his apprentice; after that, you must look to yourself for happiness and fortune. There now, no thanks; and whilst the repast is being prepared-and, egad, I hope it will not take long, for our ride has made me as hungry as a wolf-do you and Anne go take a stroll, and bid each other good bye, for your stay abroad will perhaps be a lengthy one."

These but few words seemed to remove a mountain off Edward's breast: he would still have a few moments alone with Anne, when they could arrange how they might hear from each other. When they were alone together, they could no longer blind themselves to the misery of their position. At one moment Anne would have braved all, rather than endure the pain of parting; but the next she shuddered at the thought of the storm, that would surely follow such a revelation.

Over all the vows, the sighs, the prayers, the promises, the oaths they mutually breathed from their inmost hearts, we must draw a veil; such secrets are too sacred to be lightly dealt with. When their allotted time


had elapsed, they had so far subdued their feelings, as at least to appear composed.

During the whole of the repast, the merchant would keep joking, and was more than usually merry. He certainly did not mention Lord Talbot by name; but it was easy for Edward to guess the party meant, when Hewet, laughing, told the company, that before Osborne should return from abroad, he hoped to have a right worthy son-in-law-one that lie might be proud of--" So, Edward, boy, look at your sister well, for you will never again see her unmarried."

Both Osborne and Anne could not help feeling how true was that speech, but that how little did the speaker know wherein its truthfulness might lie.

The Cripple too was wondrous jocular; but he could now afford to be right merry, for he was rich in all that could bring happiness to man; and the Bridge-shooter with Flora were as wild and foolish as playful kittens.

All this mirth made poor Osborne and his sweet Anne more and more sad; but this was natural, for Edward was that day to leave all that he had hitherto regarded as his kindred and his home. When the moment had really arrived, Anne could no longer restrain her tears; but the merchant only laughed at her for her weakness, and told her that she ought to be delighted, for her brother was entering upon the road to fortune and to happiness. Edward could not trust himself to say " farewell!" to any one; but biting his lips, as if he thought that would keep down his swelling heart, he seized his cap- his hand was on the fastening of the door-he cast one look back upon Anne, and was about to rush forth, when he was called back by the merchant.

" Why, boy," exclaimed the merchant, " you have forgotten the most important thing of all !"

Osborne turned, and there he saw the sealed packet-" I had indeed," he said; and then once more approached the door.

" Well," again exclaimed the merchant, " you will forget your head next, I imagine: now, is there nothing else you have to take ?"

" Nothing that I can remember," replied Osborne, now scarcely able to support himself.

"Is money nothing ?" said the merchant; "or do you think you can travel half round the world without it ? There is a well--stocked purse- take it, and what more you require, when in a foreign land, my agents will supply."

Edward felt almost as much pain at finding how willingly all but one could see him depart, as he did at parting with all he now wished to live for; but he was determined to suppress his feelings until lie might give vent to them in secret. Once more his hand was on the door, and once more, as if to torture him still further, the merchant exclaimed -" Why, the boy will drive one mad with his forgetfulness; the most particular thing of all he has again forgotten."

" What have I now forgotten, master ?" said Edward, in an imploring tone; "what have I still forgotten ?"

" What have you still forgotten ?" replied the merchant, imitating


Edward's tone of voice, " why, that which few men are ever allowed to forget, if once they have possessed it; you have forgotten - your wife !"

" In Heaven's name what mean you ?" exclaimed Edward Osborne, his eyes staring with astonishment.

Anne clung trembling to her mother, and became ashy pale.

" What mean I ?" replied the merchant. " Master Hewet is one of those who generally means exactly what he says. Come hither, and if you can do so, deny what I have said. Have you, or have you not, a wife ?"

" I have," replied Edward.

"And that wife was my child," said Hewet. "Now, mark me, Edward; what you have done, you have done not blindly; you knew my thoughts upon the subject of that child's future destiny, as clearly as I did myself; I have often, and often told you, that were she ever to wed without my full knowledge and consent, that from that hour she was no longer a child of mine." Again Anne clung more closely to her mother. " Do you remember hearing me utter that determination ?"

"I do," replied Osborne, who, now all hope seemed past, felt a powerful return of his self-possession; " I do remember it, for you feared, you said, that your fortune, not your daughter's love, would be the aim of him who wedded her. It was that very knowledge which first inspired me with hope, for I felt- "

" How little I care for what you felt," observed the merchant, "you will discover when you read the contents of the packet you now hold. Break the seals at once, for it were better that you know the worst at once, for my determination is irrevocable."

All the time Osborne with trembling hands was opening the packet, poor Anne fixed her eyes kindly upon him; he caught her glance, and his breast heaved with joy, for in that glance he read, that come what evil fate there might, there was still one kind heart left that would ever beat with love for him. He tore open the packet, and upon reading but a single line, became more bewildered than ever.

" Good Heavens !" he exclaimed, turning his imploring gaze upon his master, " speak to me, and tell me, am I in a dream, or is all that I see and hear, and feel, reality ?"

" If the boy is too great a dunce," observed Hewet, " to read such a plain document as that, do you, Willy-of-the-Bridge, read it for him."

The Cripple took the parchment, when the whole mystery was soon made clear; it was a deed of partnership between William Hewet and Edward Osborne, in every way completed but the signatures.

"And have I forfeited all this goodness," exclaimed Osborne, "by my mistaken hope of proving my disinterested love for her ?"

"You would have done so," replied the merchant, " had you married her without my knowledge and consent; but know, to your astonishment, that the hand which placed her hand in yours, was that of her father. You were both too deeply absorbed to perceive, that instead of our old friend there approaching the altar, that it was her father who took his place. It was I, her father, who willingly gave her to you; it is I, her father, who now open my arms to receive a son !"

As Osborne flew into the extended arm of the merchant, Flora


blubbered aloud; the Bridge-shooter made a monstrous wry face; and, indeed, there was no lack of tears, to moisten the eyes of any present; but they were soon changed into smiles, when the merchant explained that the whole had been a plan of his own to unite his daughter to Edward.

"From the moment," said Hewet, " that you, Edward, dashed fearlessly into the flood to save that child's life, I prayed to Heaven that that life you had so bravely saved, might one day prove a blessing to you. All that I have ever toll you, about my fear of her wedding with one who saw her virtues in her wealth, was true; and it was to put the purity of your love to the proof, that all has happened as it really has."

" Now," said the old man, "perhaps you can guess why I loitered so upon the road, and why so much delay occurred in the chapel; the fact is, the merchant was behind his time, or rather you before yours."

" Yes," said Flora, " and but for my haste in flying back, to apprize the merchant at the Ferry, and bring him on at once, perhaps you would not have been married at all; but as it is, why, you may now enjoy

" The Dream of Love, the sweetest dream,

That ever haunts the midnight hour."

But I must say no more, for I see the bashful poet is blushing already."

Never were such happy faces seen, as those that now smiled upon one another. In the evening the ceemony of signing the deed of partnership took place, and every one present witnessed it; when it came to the Bridge-shooter, he gave a prodigious flourish.-" Ah," said he, " I did that, just to show Flora what a flourishing young man I am." Even the sweet and gentle Eoline made a mark upon the deed, and then kissing the newly-made bride, placed upon. her neck a golden chain, to which was attached the diamond ornament so frequently mentioned before. It originally belonged to a youth, the first, and only love of the Abbess, who had given it to her: it had been stolen by Nan's sister, and had passed from her through a Jew, to old Sir Filbut Fussy; from him it descended to the young knight; the Abbess had recovered it through Spikely's confession when he thought he was dying. In the wreck it was believed to have been lost; but by a most strange chance, Eoline remained, though unknowingly, the bearer of it to the Heath; it had become entangled in the folds of her dress, and had remained there until the night when it was discovered by Flora and William, amongst the wood ashes on the hearth. As Eoline had passed the fire on her retiring that evening, it had slipped into the smouldering embers.

The sight of it had a strange effect upon Alyce, for it brought back to her remembrance all the horrors she had endured in her madness. The merchant gazed at her with intense anxiety as she looked upon the bauble; observing this, she turned upon him one of her sweetest smiles, and said -- " Be not alarmed for me, my dear, it has no power over me now."

In a few days, and Osborne was on his way to a foreign shore, but not as he so lately dreaded he should be, for now he was sailing as a princely merchant, in one of their own ships, and with him his adored wife and Flora. They were to be away for a long time; and while they are on their tour, we will pause awhile, ere we say farewell to our gentle readers.

It is perhaps in life, as it generally is in books, that when once marriage takes place, the romance is at an end; but with regard to Osborne and Anne, in losing the romance of love, they found its reality.