“Buy my silks, pretty lady, buy my silks! Fresh from the Turkey walk on the Exchange, and cheaper than you can buy their like in all the city—buy my silks, lady!” Thus the peddler with his little pack of finery.
“My philter, lady,” cried the gipsy woman, who had left her donkey cart outside the line. “My philter! ’Twill keep-a your eyes bright and your cheeks red for ay. Secret of the Pharaohs, lady; and but a shilling!”
“Have ye a parrot, ma’am? Have ye never a parrot to keep ye free and give ye laughter every hour? Buy my parrot, lady. Just from the Gold Coast. He’ll talk ye Spanish, Flemish or good city tongue. Buy my parrot at ten crowns, and so cheap, lady!” So spoke the ear-ringed sailor, who might never have seen a salter water than the Thames.
“Powder-puffs for the face, lady,” whispered a lean and weazen-faced hawker, slipping among the crowd with secrecy. “See my puff, made from the foot of English hares. Rubs out all wrinkles, lady, and keeps ye young as when ye were a lass. But a shilling, a shilling. See!” And with the pretense of secrecy the seller would sidle up to a carriage of some dame, slip to her the hare’s foot and take the shilling with an air as though no one could see what none could fail to notice.
Above these mingled cries of the hangers-on of this crowd of nobility and gentles rose the blare of crude music, and cries far off and confused. Above it all shone the May sun, brighter here than lower toward the Thames. In the edge of London town it was, all this little pageant, and from the residence squares below and far to the westward came the carriages and the riders, gathering at the spot which for the hour was the designated rendezvous of capricious fashion. No matter if the tower at the drinking curb was crowded, so that inmates of the coaches could not find way among the others. There was at least magic in the morning, even if one might not drink at the chalybeate spring. Cheeks did indeed grow rosy, and eyes brightened under the challenge not only of the dawn but of the ardent eyes that gazed impertinently bold or reproachfully imploring.
Far-reaching was the line of the gentility, to whose flanks clung the rabble of trade. Back upon the white road came yet other carriages, saluted by those departing. Low hedges of English green reached out into the distance, blending ultimately at the edge of the pleasant sky. Merry enough it was, and gladsome, this spring day; for be sure the really ill did not brave the long morning ride to test the virtue of the waters of Sadler’s Wells. It was for the most part the young, the lively, the full-blooded, perhaps the wearied, but none the less the vital and stirring natures which met in the decreed assemblage.
Back of Sadler’s little court the country came creeping close up to the town. There were fields not so far away on these long highways. Wandering and rambling roads ran off to the westward and to the north, leading toward the straight old Roman road which once upon a time ran down to London town. Ill-kept enough were some of the lanes, with their hedges and shrubs overhanging the highways, if such the paths could be called which came braiding down toward the south. One needed not to go far outward beyond Sadler’s Wells of a night-time to find adventure, or to lose a purse.