Chapter II

Queer Friends!

Houses lined either side of old London Bridge, with only an occasional gap between them to give a view of the broad river that swirled up to its arches and shook its very foundations as it flowed on its course.

To Dorothy it seemed but another street such as the ones she and her escort had lately traversed, and it was only when he whom they called “Will” said, “This is the Bridge,” that she was aware that she had reached her destination.

“And there is Master Bachelor’s shop,” said another. “Shut up and padlocked; yet with a glimmer of light in one of the upper windows to tell us he has not yet gone to roost.”

“He expects me,” Dorothy told them.

They halted, and one of the ’prentices vigorously plied his cudgel to the door panels.

For a while there was no response; then suddenly a window opened, and glancing up they saw the muzzle of an arquebuse protruding. Over the weapon peered a stout, elderly man.

“What mad frolic is this?” he demanded sternly.

“No frolic at all,” replied the ’prentice Will, not a bit perturbed by this war-like reception. “We have brought you a visitor​—​a young lady who says you expect her.”

“Indeed it is so,” called out Dorothy. “My name is——”

“S’hush, have a care!” cut in the silk merchant warningly. “Names are sometimes perilous things. Ann!”​—​he addressed someone behind him​—​“Get ye down and unbar the door.”

With that the arquebuse was withdrawn, the window shut, and almost immediately afterwards there came the sounds of bolts being shot back. Then the door opened and Dorothy saw a girl of about her own age standing on the threshold.

“Betty sent me here,” said Dorothy, as proof that she was the expected visitor.

“Yes​—​yes. Come inside,” replied the girl hurriedly.

“Farewell, and thank you,” said Dorothy to the ’prentice lads and she would have added further words of gratitude; but the girl seized her by the arm and by main force dragged her inside the shop. Clang went a rusty chain; followed by the bolts rattling back into their sockets.

“Do you not know the peril we run on your behalf,” muttered the girl, “that you bring a crowd to our doors?”

But before Dorothy could explain, Master Bachelor came along the passage.

“There, there, Ann,” he said. “The thing is done and cross words won’t mend it. Yet, it would have been wiser to have come alone, Mistress Gresham.”

“I lost my way,” said Dorothy, “and the ’prentices guided me here. I’m sure they are honest lads.”

“Like enough,” answered the old man. “Yet should your uncle offer a reward when he finds you missing, it may be a sum large enough to make them forget their honesty. Still, we must hope for the best.”

Dorothy was filled with contrition as she realised the anxiety she was causing these people. She half-turned towards the door.

“I’ll seek shelter elsewhere,” she muttered.

“Nay, nay,” said Master Bachelor, placing a detaining hand on her arm. “What folly is this? There is no shelter elsewhere. Ann, take Mistress Dorothy to her quarters. All will be well, I have no doubt.”

And he rubbed his hands, and his fat face wreathed into a reassuring smile. His granddaughter​—​for such was the girl Ann​—​took Dorothy’s hand and gently pulled her towards a winding set of stairs.

For the life of her Dorothy could not tell why, but a sudden and overpowering sense of suspicion and doubt seized her, Yet the Bachelors must be honest, she told herself, else the faithful Betty would never have brought them into the business.

“Is there news of my father’s ship?” asked Dorothy, pausing on the first step.

“Near the Nore by this time,” said the old man. “We shall have the Good Hope anchored off the Tower this time to-morrow, if all goes well.”

“You know my father?”

“Ay, a gallant and muchly-wronged gentleman,” answered old Bachelor. And once more he rubbed his hands and his fat face wrinkled into smiles. “Not exactly friends, d’ye understand, for he is of ancient family, whilst I am just a humble shopkeeper. Still, I count myself fortunate to be of service to his daughter.”

Dorothy tried to find words to express her gratitude; but the girl Ann hurried her up to the floor above, and turning a key in the door, threw it open.

“Wait here while I get a light,” said Ann Bachelor.

The place was in pitch blackness save for one corner where there was a slit of a window. As Dorothy gazed in this direction a pale shaft of moonlight suddenly crept through and made a thin streak of light across the floor.

Dorothy stole up to the window and looked out to see the dark outline of the Tower of London silhouetted against the sky, whilst beneath her flowed the Thames sparkling in the moonlight.

“Just there dear father’s ship will anchor,” thought Dorothy. “To-morrow we shall meet, and then​—​away to Virginia.”

At that moment Ann returned, bearing a heavy iron lantern. The light cast strange shadows over the girl’s thin face, giving her a sinister look which in no way served to lessen the uneasy feelings that Dorothy still experienced.

“Do I stop here?” asked Dorothy, with a glance round the bare, dusty room.

The other shook her head, and going up to the wall facing the window, pressed a portion of the woodwork. Immediately a panel swung inward, disclosing a secret aperture.

In those days such a contrivance was quite common, and so Dorothy felt no surprise at the sight.

“In there,” said the girl, raising the lantern on high. “And as good a hiding-place as you’ll find in old London. I’ll defy your uncle to find you here, not if he were to search for a month of Sundays.”

So saying, she stepped through the opening, and Dorothy following found herself in a small chamber about ten feet square which contained nothing but a table, a chair, and a roughly-constructed couch. There was no window, but evidently there was some means of ventilation, for there was no sensation of stuffiness.

“It will not be for long,” mused Dorothy aloud.

“Quite right​—​not for long,” echoed Ann.

Once more suspicion crossed Dorothy’s mind that these people were not to be trusted. But what could she do? She was alone and friendless in this great city, and if she left this retreat where was she to go?

“It is very good of you and your grandfather to shelter me,” said Dorothy, feeling the necessity of saying something of the kind.

Ann Bachelor nodded in an off-hand sort of way. She placed the lantern on the ground, muttered a surly sort of “good night,” and stepping through the secret doorway closed it with a sharp click.

A chill struck Dorothy’s heart. The “click” had about it the sound which prisoners hear when the gaoler departs.

In other words, she had all the feelings of a prisoner.