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THE MERCHANT'S CLERK; A LEGEND OP THE OLD TIME IN LONDON.
Towards the middle of the second half of the seventeenth century, or in plainer English, about the year of grace, 1672, there lived in London a very rich, and therefore very respectable merchant, who, having come to the rare resolution that he had made money enough, and having, as he said, no kith or kin, tacked to this said resolution one of more frequent occurrence, namely that he would take a wife, to be the superintendent of his household affairs, the sharer of his fortune, the soother of his sorrows, if ever he should have any, and so forth. And to a man of so much importance as was Master Edward Edwards, there were very few obstacles in the way of his accomplishing such a purpose, as he might easily pick and choose among the maidens or widows of his ward, who would all be but too proud of an alliance with so honourable and substantial a citizen. He did not, however, deliberate so long on the matter as might perhaps have been expected, seeing how wide a field he had wherein to exercise his speculations; for at the same time that he informed those friends whom he chose to consult on the occasion, of his before-named intention, he gave them to understand that his choice had already fallen on Dorothy Langton, the daughter of a poor goldsmith, and reputed papist, but, nevertheless, a maiden of good fame, seemly bearing, and twenty-six years of age. She was tall, fair, and well-made, but with nothing striking about her face that would call for particular description, unless one may advert to —what was indeed no part of her face—an unusual breadth at the back part of her head, behind her ears, which seemed to give her features an appearance of being too small. The lady was, truth to confess, not very much admired in the neighbourhood; and, to continue the confession, she was as little liked. She was said by those who knew her best, or rather as it might seem worst, to be of a sullen temper, and yet, withal, violent; and the death of one young man was laid at her door, all the way from the East Indies, whither he had gone in despair, after having been for eleven months her accepted suitor, and then discharged in a fit of peevishness. How far this incident which happened before she was twenty, might have formed her after character; or how far even her earlier character might have been moulded from the fact of her having been left motherless while yet an infant, and bred up afterwards under the sole care of her father, a harsh and severe man, it is not for me to determine; and much less so, how or why Master Edward Edwards came to fix on her as his partner. Master Edwards himself, at the time we are speaking of, was in the very prime and vigour of life—that is, in his own opinion; it may be stated, however, that he was in his five-and-fiftieth year; rather corpulent and very grey: but the former fact he asserted, and not without truth, was a proof of his stoutness; some men he observed, quite young men too, (that is, younger than himself,) had contracted a bad habit of stooping, which showed their walk through life had not been upright; then as to his grey hairs, he boasted that they were once the veriest black, but that thought and honourable labour had blanched them; besides his worst foes could not say he was bald. For the rest, Master Edwards was a man of tolerable parts, as times went, of an easy and good temper, and one who loved to crack his bottle and his joke as well as any man living, either now or then.
For some time, say thirteen months, after the marriage, they lived together in all seeming harmony. I say seeming, of course speaking only of what met the eyes of others; for far be it from me to intrude any unnecessary inquiry into the discomforts or discrepancies (if any such existed) of the domestic circle—a rather small one, to be sure, seeing it consisted of only two individuals, unless, as a third segment thereof may be reckoned Master Edwards' clerk, a young man, an orphan, of the name of Simon, who had lived with him from his childhood. He was a youth of good favour, but did not seem to find it in his mistress's eyes; or rather, latterly, he did not: for at her first coming she had behaved with great kindness to him, while he on the other hand, always treated her with that distant respect, so becoming in an inferior, but so mortifying to a superior, who may happen for some purpose or other, to wish to be on more familiar terms. After a little time, Mistress Edwards evidently took a great dislike to poor Simon, and by the exercise of a little domestic despotism, she made his home sufficiently uncomfortable. Master Edwards seldom interfered in the matter; and to do his wife justice, she concealed the alteration she had caused in the lad's comforts, as much as she could from his master; and if ever he did happen to make any reference to the subject she was pat with a complaint against Simon for being so often away from the house; which was no more than truth, as she frequently made it too hot to hold him; and also that during his absence, he was continually seen to be in very bad company—at which his master would sigh: and which I am sorry to say was also no less than the truth, and probably the consequence of her harsh treatment. Various little trinkets and other nic-nacs were also said by Mistress Edwards to be from time to time missing—and her lamentations and anger on such subjects were always uttered in Simon's hearing, plentifully interlarded with expressions of wonder "who the thief could be,"—and assertions, "that such things could not walk off without hands:" whereat her facetious husband never failed to remark, " Yes, deary, they might if they had feet." And this as regularly put her in a passion, and made her vow that, "for her part, she could not see what use there was in keeping about the house such lazy loitering, good-for-nothing vagabonds," with various other such ungentle epithets, all of which were quite plainly launched at the unfortunate Simon.
At the end of these thirteen months, Simon, together with several articles of plate, was found missing in real earnest—all mere suspicion on the subject being removed by the following note, which Master Edwards found on his breakfast table :—
"Even in the very commission of a deed of wrong and villany, can I not refrain from bidding you farewell—my kind, mine honoured, my loved master!—even while I am doing wrong to you. But I am driven to it, and away from your house, by the cruel and unjust treatment of your wife: beware of her, master of mine, for she is evil. Whither I go, God knows—I care not—nor will He; for I have abandoned his ways, and broken his commands— but I am forced to it—forced to rob, that I may not starve of hunger—to rob you to whom I owe every thing—but indeed, indeed, I would not so do, knew I not that what I take from you can be little missed, and that if I spoke to you, you would not let me quit your house: and sure I am, that if I did so without means of living, you would sorrow that the child of your fostering—the boy of your rearing—whom you have ever treated more as a son than a servant, should be * * *"
The words that immediately followed were quite illegible, being so blotted, as though the writer had written over drops of water: then followed a short thick dash of the pen—and then in a large and hurried hand the following:
"But this is foolish—and fallacy—farewell, Sir,—dear master, farewell:—forgive me—I cannot pray for you—I ask you not to pray for me—but do, if you think it will avail me aught—if not, forget me—and oh! forgive me. I am going wrong—good bye."
The signature was also much blotted, but it could be traced to be "the thankful orphan, Simon."
The effect produced by this event was very different, both on Master Edwards and his wife—as well as from what might have been expected : the former, to use a homely word, took on greatly about the matter, was evidently much hurt, became silent and abstracted, and even went so far as to shed tears; a thing which his oldest friends —those who had been his school-fellows—declared they had never known him do in all his life—not even when under the infliction of Doctor Everard's cane—the right-reverend high master of Saint Paul's School, where Master Edwards had learned Latin and peg top. Mistress Edwards, on the other hand, showed a great share of rejoicing on the occasion, declaring she thought his room cheaply purchased at the loss of the trumpery he had taken with him. That same afternoon, during dinner, she hinted that she had already a young man in her eye, as the successor of Simon; at which observation, her husband merely sighed and made no inquiries—and yet he probably had no conception whom his wife had in her eye, though if some of their neighbours had been present, they might, if they had liked it, have helped him to an innuendo concerning a handsome young man, of whom no one knew any thing except that he was frequently seen with Mistress Edwards of evenings under the tall elms in Goodman's Fields. There were some hints of a yet more scandalous nature—but these shall be omitted.
The stranger however came after the situation, and a handsome young man he was—his name was Lambert Smithe—but as for his qualifications for the new place, which Mistress Edwards really seemed uncommonly anxious he should obtain, as little had best be said as may be; and the less need be said, as Master Edwards was decidedly of opinion that he was utterly unfitted for the office; for the expression of which opinion he was downright scolded by his wife, and indeed fairly warned that she would have her own way after all.
A few nights after Simon's departure—a dark and stormy November night it was—Mistress Edwards was seen—no matter yet by whom—to cross the cloistered court-yard, at the back of her husband's house, bearing a lantern in her hand, which she partially covered over with the large cloak wherein she was muffled, probably with the intention of concealing its light—perhaps only to prevent its being extinguished by the gustful wind and rain. She approached a low postern-gate which gave into a passage leading to Cripplegate Church—she unlocked it—opened it hesitatingly looked out, as though for some one—came back again—re-locked the door—placed the lantern in one of the angles of the cloister, and began slowly pacing up and down under its shelter. In a few moments, she stopped, and listened—her body and head slightly bent rightward, towards the postern: a low whistle was heard withoutshe flew to the gate—opened it, and let in a man also muffled in a cloak: she addressed him by exclaiming, " Late, Sir!"'
The stranger began some excuse probably, but was at once stopped by a sharp "hush!" and they conversed in whispers. At length they shifted their position, and advanced towards the house, Mistress Edwards having taken up her light, and leading her companion forward with the other hand. Of a sudden the man stopped, and she also. He sighed, and said, though still in a whisper—" I cannot do it." "God gi' me patience!" she cried, impatiently, and in a much louder tone; then in a lower, added—" Come, Lambert, dearest Lambert, take heart." "I cannot, indeed I cannot—any thing but that!" "Any thing but that! Why, what else is there to be done? Will you not be master of all?—ofme9 Nay, come, dear Lambert." The man passed on. As he turned a second angle, close to the house door, a sharp-pointed weapon was driven into his breast, by one standing behind one of the thick stone pillars, and with such force, that the point pierced one of the ribs, which prevented the wound from being mortal. The young man shrieked with agony; and grasping towards the spot whence the blow came, seized hold of part of the assassin's dress, who struggled, and extricated himself from his grasp, but left behind him part of a chain, with a watch hung to it; at the same time he wrenched the dagger from the lacerated bone, and with a surer blow drove it into his victim's heart.
All this was the work of little more than a moment; during which Mistress Edwards, who at first had been slruck with a stupor of surprise and horror, rushed forward, screaming, "Murder! murder!" and fell, swooning, within a few paces of the body. When she recovered, she found several of her neighbours and of the watch standing round, and among them her alarmed husband. She looked round wildly for a moment, fixed her eyes on him for another, then shrieked wildly—"Ah! I see—I see—him—him l Seize him—the murderer," and again fell senseless.
Edwards was accordingly seized, though few could understand why or wherefore; but when he protested he knew nothing about the matter, people began to think him guilty, especially as some declared the murdered man was the same youth with whom his wife had been often seen walking under the tall elms in Goodman's Fields; and, upon her second recovery, Mistress Edwards confirmed this declaration by clinging round the young man's body, and calling for vengeance on the murderer of her Love. Edwards was carried before a justice of the peace, and after a short examination, committed to Newgate to take his trial in the Court-house there at the next sessions, which were to take place within a week.