London Bridge — Why not? — Every heart has its bitters — Wicked boys — Give me my book — Such a fright — Honour bright.
So I went to London Bridge, and again took my station on the spot by the booth where I had stood on the former occasion. The booth, however, was empty; neither the apple-woman nor her stall was to be seen. I looked over the balustrade upon the river; the tide was now, as before, rolling beneath the arch with frightful impetuosity. As I gazed upon the eddies of the whirlpool, I thought within myself how soon human life would become extinct there; a plunge, a convulsive flounder, and all would be over. When I last stood over that abyss I had felt a kind of impulse — a fascination; I had resisted it — I did not plunge into it. At present I felt a kind of impulse to plunge; but the impulse was of a different kind; it proceeded from a loathing of life, I looked wistfully at the eddies — what had I to live for? — what, indeed! I thought of Brandt and Struensee, and Yeoman Patch — should I yield to the impulse — why not? My eyes were fixed on the eddies. All of a sudden I shuddered; I thought I saw heads in the pool; human bodies wallowing confusedly; eyes turned up to heaven with hopeless horror; was that water or —? Where was the impulse now? I raised my eyes from the pool, I looked no more upon it — I looked forward, far down the stream in the far distance. ‘Ha! what is that? I thought I saw a kind of Fata Morgana, green meadows, waving groves, a rustic home; but in the far distance — I stared — I stared — a Fata Morgana — it was gone. . . . ’
I left the balustrade and walked to the farther end of the bridge, where I stood for some time contemplating the crowd; I then passed over to the other side with an intention of returning home; just half-way over the bridge, in a booth immediately opposite to the one in which I had formerly beheld her, sat my friend, the old apple-woman, huddled up behind her stall.
‘Well, mother,’ said I, ‘how are you?’ The old woman lifted her head with a startled look.
‘Don’t you know me?’ said I.
‘Yes, I think I do. Ah, yes,’ said she, as her features beamed with recollection, ‘I know you, dear; you are the young lad that gave me the tanner. Well, child, got anything to sell?’
‘Nothing at all,’ said I.
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘bad enough, and ill usage.’
‘Ah, I suppose they caught ye; well, child, never mind, better luck next time; I am glad to see you.’
‘Thank you,’ said I, sitting down on the stone bench; ‘I thought you had left the bridge — why have you changed your side?’
The old woman shook.
‘What is the matter with you,’ said I; ‘are you ill?’
‘No, child, no; only — ’
‘Only what? Any bad news of your son?’
‘No, child, no; nothing about my son. Only low, child — every heart has its bitters.’
‘That’s true,’ said I; ‘well, I don’t want to know your sorrows; come, where’s the book?’
The apple-woman shook more violently than before, bent herself down, and drew her cloak more closely about her than before. ‘Book, child, what book?’
‘Why, blessed Mary, to be sure.’
‘Oh, that; I ha’n’t got it, child — I have lost it, have left it at home.’
‘Lost it,’ said I; ‘left it at home — what do you mean? Come, let me have it.’
‘I ha’n’t got it, child.’
‘I believe you have got it under your cloak.’
‘Don’t tell any one, dear; don’t — don’t,’ and the apple-woman burst into tears.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ said I, staring at her.
‘You want to take my book from me?’
‘Not I, I care nothing about it; keep it, if you like, only tell me what’s the matter?’
‘Why, all about that book.’
‘Yes, they wanted to take it from me.’
‘Why, some wicked boys. I’ll tell you all about it. Eight or ten days ago, I sat behind my stall, reading my book; all of a sudden I felt it snatched from my hand, up I started, and see three rascals of boys grinning at me; one of them held the book in his hand. “What book is this?” said he, grinning at it. “What do you want with my book?” said I, clutching at it over my stall; “give me my book.” “What do you want a book for?” said he, holding it back; “I have a good mind to fling it into the Thames.” “Give me my book,” I shrieked; and, snatching at it, I fell over my stall, and all my fruit was scattered about. Off ran the boys — off ran the rascal with my book. Oh dear, I thought I should have died; up I got, however, and ran after them as well as I could; I thought of my fruit, but I thought more of my book. I left my fruit and ran after my book. “My book! my book!” I shrieked, “murder! theft! robbery!” I was near being crushed under the wheels of a cart; but I didn’t care — I followed the rascals. “Stop them! stop them!” I ran nearly as fast as they — they couldn’t run very fast on account of the crowd. At last some one stopped the rascal, whereupon he turned round, and flinging the book at me, it fell into the mud; well, I picked it up and kissed it, all muddy as it was. “Has he robbed you?” said the man. “Robbed me, indeed; why he had got my book.” “Oh, your book,” said the man, and laughed, and let the rascal go. Ah, he might laugh, but — ’
‘Well, go on.’
‘My heart beats so. Well, I went back to my booth and picked up my stall and my fruits, what I could find of them. I couldn’t keep my stall for two days I got such a fright, and when I got round I couldn’t bide the booth where the thing had happened, so I came over to the other side. Oh, the rascals, if I could but see them hanged.’
‘Why, for stealing my book.’
‘I thought you didn’t dislike stealing, — that you were ready to buy things — there was your son, you know — ’
‘Yes, to be sure.’
‘He took things.’
‘To be sure he did.’
‘But you don’t like a thing of yours to be taken.’
‘No, that’s quite a different thing; what’s stealing handkerchiefs, and that kind of thing, to do with taking my book? there’s a wide difference — don’t you see?’
‘Yes, I see.’
‘Do you, dear? well, bless your heart, I’m glad you do. Would you like to look at the book?’
‘Well, I think I should.’
‘Honour bright?’ said the apple-woman, looking me in the eyes.
‘Honour bright,’ said I, looking the apple-woman in the eyes.
‘Well then, dear, here it is,’ said she, taking it from under her cloak; ‘read it as long as you like, only get a little farther into the booth — Don’t sit so near the edge — you might — ’
I went deep into the booth, and the apple-woman, bringing her chair round, almost confronted me. I commenced reading the book, and was soon engrossed by it; hours passed away, once or twice I lifted up my eyes, the apple-woman was still confronting me: at last my eyes began to ache, whereupon I returned the book to the apple-woman, and, giving her another tanner, walked away.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51