Chapter 40

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.

‘Bad luck?’

‘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?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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