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HANG OUT YOUR LIGHTS.
It was on the vigil of St. John the Baptist, in the year 1510, that two young men wearing the dress of the King's Guard—the rich and picturesque
uniform which has survived the changes of three centuries, to linger about the court of England, and preserve its gorgeous dignity, however vulgarised into associations with beef-eaters and showmen that two handsome and soldierly-looking young men came to the water-gate at Westminster, and, in answer to the “Eastward-ho” of the watermen, jumped into a common wherry. There were not many boats at the stairs, and those which were still unhired were very different in their appearance and their comforts from the royal barges which were moored at some little distance. The companions looked at each other with a peculiar expression before they sat down on the uncushioned and dirty bench of the wherry; but the boisterous laugh which burst forth from one of them appeared to remove all scruples, and the boat was soon adrift in the ebbing tide.
The evening was very lovely. The last sunbeam was dancing on the waters, and the golden light upon the spires of the city was fast fading away. Suddenly, however, a redder light came up out of the depths of the street, and wreaths of grey smoke mingled with the glare. The Thames was crowded with boats, and voices of merriment were heard amidst the distant sounds of drum and trumpet. The common stairs or bridges were thronged with people landing. The wherry in which sate the two guardsmen ran in to a private stair at Bridewell ; and, with the same hearty laugh, they stepped into a spacious garden. “Charles," said the more boisterous of the companions, “this will be a snug nest for the right witty Almoner when Empson's head is off.” In a few minutes a noble-looking person, dressed in a sober but costly suit, like a wealthy citizen, joined them, making a profound reverence. “No ceremony,” exclaimed he of the loud voice; and then, making an effort to speak low, “His Highness is safe in the palace, and we are two of his faithful guards who would see the Midsummerwatch set. Have you a dagger under your russetcoat, my good Almoner? for the watch, they say, does not fear the rogues any more than the gallows.” It was Wolsey, then upon the lower rounds of the ladder of preferment, who answered Henry in the gay tone of his master. Brandon, who, in spite of his generous nature, did not quite like the accommodating churchman, was scarcely so familiar with him. The three, however, all gaily enough passed onward through the spacious gardens of Empson's deserted palace, which covered the ground now known as Dorset Street and Salisbury Square; and, with a master-key, with which the prosperous Al
moner was already provided, they sallied forth into the public street, and, crossing Fleet Bridge, pursued their way towards West Cheap.* Ludgate was not closed.
In the open space under the city-wall was an enormous bonfire, which was reflected from the magnificent steeple of Paul's. Looking up the hill there was another bonfire in the open space before the cathedral, which threw its deep light upon every pinnacle of the vast edifice, and gleamed in its many windows as if a thousand tapers were blazing within its choir and transepts. The street was full of light. Over the doorways of the houses were “lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night;" and "some hung out branches of iron, curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps lighted at once.” | Before the houses were tables set out, on which were placed ponderous cakes and flagons of ale and wine, “unexercised by lungs;" and the sturdy apprentices, who by day were wont to cry
“ What lack ye?” threw open their blue cloaks, disclosing their white hose, with a knowing look of independence, as they courteously invited the passer-by to partake of their dainties. Over the doors hung the delicate
*“On Midsummer-Eve, at night, King Henry came privily into West Cheap, of London, being clothed in one of the coats of his guard.”—(Stow's “ Annals' under date 1510.) It is not likely that Henry, though bold enough, would so far yield to the impulses which belong to a youth of nineteen as to go alone. Brandon had been his companion from childhood; Wolsey had already learned to minister to his pleasures as one mode of governing him. The patent by which the great churchman obtained Empson's house is dated 1510.
† Stow's Survey.
branches of the graceful birch, with wreaths of lilies and St.-John's-wort; and there were suspended pots of the green orpine, in the bending of whose leaves the maiden could read her fate in love. Wending their way through the throng, the three men of the west felt, the two younger especially, something of that pleasure which human beings can scarcely avoid feeling at the sight of happiness in others. Henry whispered to Wolsey, “This is a merry land ;” and the courtier answered, “You have made it so."
The three visitors of the city moved slowly along with the dense crowd towards the Cross in West Cheap. They there stationed themselves. The liveries which two of them wore would have secured them respect, if their lofty bearing had not appeared to command it. The galleries of the houses and the windows were filled with ladies. Between the high gabled roofs stood venturous boys and servants. Tapestry floated from the walls. Within was ever and anon heard the cadence of many voices singing in harmony. Then came a loud sound of trumpets; and a greater light than that of the flickering bonfires was seen in the distance, and the windows became more crowded, and the songs ceased within the dwellings.
The procession which was approaching was magnificent enough to afford the highest gratification to one at least of the three spectators that we have described. It suggested, however, the consideration that it did not belong to himself, and threw no
particular glory round his throne and person. But, nevertheless, his curiosity was greatly stimulated; and that love of pomp which he had already begun to indulge, in processions, and jousts, and tournays, could not fail of receiving some delight from the remarkable scene that was before him. as Cavendish has described him, “a young, lusty, and courageous prince, entering into the flower of pleasant youth.” His amusements were manly and intellectual,"exercising himself daily in shooting, singing, dancing, wrestling, casting of the bar, playing at the recorders, flute, virginals, and in setting of songs and making of ballads." * The future sensual tyrant is not readily seen in this description. But here, on Midsummer-Eve, in 1510, was Henry standing beside the cross in West Cheap, and mixing unknown amongst his subjects, like the Haroon el-Rasheed of the Thousand and One Nights.' Onward came the Marching Watch, winding into Cheap from the little conduit by Paul's Gate. Here, literally,
“ The front of Heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets.” The pitchy ropes borne aloft in iron frames sent up their tongues of fire and wreaths of smoke in volumes which showed, afar off, like the light of a burning city. Stow tells us that for the “furniture” of the Marching Watch there were appointed seven hundred cressets ; besides which every constable, amounting to two hundred and forty, had
* Hall. VOL. I.