Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
NIGHT had long tired of its dark and lonely life, and seemed to be thinking seriously of wedding itself to morning, ere the revellers at the Cardinal's Hat, gave indication of retiring to their various homes. But be it known, that this was the second night of revelry-it was the night of the coronation, and was now at the guests' own charge; and pretty well the host did charge them.
The jolly vintner, Brassinjaw, was the first to show signs of inebriety, but the last to talk of allowing his dear friends to leave him. It was quite extraordinary how any man, so unsteady as mine host had become, could, when he pushed his penny, by a jerk of the hand along the table, upon which chalk lines had been drawn, send the money exactly to the winning point. Not a guest there had a chance against him at this same game of shovel-board; no, not even Spikely, who remained the soberest of the party.
What caused great wonder, in those who had managed to retain enough sense to wonder at anything, was to think where the host's winnings went to, for so great had they been, that his pouch might have been filled half a dozen times over, and yet it always seemed nearly empty.
At last, all the rest of the party having lost every farthing they had brought with them, Brassinjaw, in a most unsteady voice, observed, " That, perhaps, a little bed would be of infinite service to some of his dear friends, particularly to such as found it rather inconvenient to stand."
This wise remark was hailed with cheers, and every man began to hug his neighbour in the most affectionate manner, and many even shed tears at parting; and, as one went one way, and another the other, they simultaneously swore that nothing should separate them as long as they existed.
There were four certainly of the party, who seemed determined to carry this vow into effect, for, before they left the lower room, Checklocke, Catchemayde, Silkworm, and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, linked their arms together, and thus tied, as it were, endeavoured to mount the steep and narrow stairs: they had all ascended some way, when the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, swearing that he would stand by them to the last, slipped his foot, and dragged the whole of them backwards into the room ; this misfortune seemed but to rivet them closer in the bonds of amity. Nothing could tempt them to leave go of each other; so the other guests managed to lift them up, and placed them on their feet, chained as they were in friendship's tie. Their next effort to reach the top of the stairs proving more successful, they soon found themselves in the open air upon the Bridge. Seeing a light still burning in the merchant's house, they knocked loudly at the door, and then gave three cheers " For honest Master Hewet;" this they immediately followed by all the abusive epithets they could lay their tongues to :--" He should never be Lord Mayor, they'd eat him first; and since they were now constables--"
This last word seemed to change all their ideas in a moment; for, it must be known, they had been lately enrolled in the constabulary force, for the purpose of protecting their neighbourhood against all immoral people, particularly drunkards. So, now their sense of duty rushing like a torrent upon them, they turned against each other, and swore they would take one another up for being intoxicated: this brought on a serious scuffle, which ended in their determining, as they could not take themselves up, they would exert their resistless power elsewhere. Catchemayde, and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker at once commanded an immediate attack upon the thieves in the Clink. "They would rout them out; they would not sneak away, as the Lord Mayor had done a night or two before. No, no; they would tie them all back to back, and in the morning they would lead them by a rope in - triumph to Guildhall."
This appearing such a legitimate vent for their pot-valiancy, that, once more linking their arms together, they hastened towards that sink of vice and wretchedness, the Clink. It so happened that the " Bishop of Winchester's birds" were taking a flight that night in search of prey, so that the lanes were perfectly clear, when the four redoubtables emerged from beneath the black arch, and still finding themselves unopposed, they set up a shout of defiance.
" What !" exclaimed the smith, " have you all fled at our approach ?- dare not one of you show his nose, in case we should pull it off ? Oh,
|. oh! we have caught you have we ?" he bawled out, while at the same time he pointed up to a window, from which a man's head was thrust Seeing this they all exclaimed, as with one voice-" Surrender! surrender! surrender !"
"You be d d !" was the only reply they received.
"Come down, and surrender !" squeaked out the sharp--nosed little arrow-maker. "Know, villain, that we are constables - constables ! do you hear that ! So tremble, and surrender !"
"But wouldn't you like more than one of us, my masters ?" said the man, giving a vulgar, brutal laugh.
" A hundred, if we can catch them !" roared out Catchemayde; "not one less than a hundred will satisfy me !"
" Well, we must see what we can do to please you." Having said this, the man thrust his fingers into his mouth, against his tongue, and then sent forth a whistle, so loud and shrill, that it seemed to call forth echoes for miles around. Scarcely a second elapsed, before another whistle, of like power and shrillness replied; and then another, and another, and another.
These extraordinary sounds flying about in every direction, appeared rather to awaken the four invincibles from their drunkenness; and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, although he could not believe it possible, yet felt almost certain that he trembled.
Often had they been linked together arm-in-arm, but never had they been so tightly linked together as now; but, strange to say, some magic thought appearing suddenly to have touched all their minds at once, which, causing a repulsive action to take place, they all flew four different ways, as hard as their legs could carry them.
Silkworm and Checklocke fortunately took the right road from the Clink; not so poor Catchemayde, and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker; who, rushing into two alleys, each flew into the arms of about fifty ruffians; they were at once dragged off towards the black arch, for the thieves knew that to be the spot whence the first whistle had been heard.
By this time, the man at the window had descended, and was dancing about quite franticly, and laughing and roaring out, " Huzza, huzza, my Bishop's Birds ! we've caught a constable-caught a constable, and glorious fun we'll have !"
Never were seen two such poor miserable wretches as Catchemayde and his valiant friend appeared, as they approached the man whom they had but a moment before so insolently defied; fear had completely sobered them both; and now their only thought was, how to save their own lives, no matter, though it were at the sacrifice of goods, chattel, friends, relations, and all. But how to do it ? The arrow-maker threw' himself upon his knees, and prayed for his life.
This caused a roar of laughter, and a loud call from the leader of the thieves, to know whether there were yet a hundred present-" For you must know, my brother Birds, that not one, no, not one less than a hundred, will satisfy this cormorant of a constable." Saying this, he gave Catchemaydes nose a dreadful twist, which made the blood spirt
|all over him, and caused him to utter a scream, so excruciating was the pain.
" Silence !" exclaimed a woman, " silence! or if you can't hold your tongue, we'll hold it for you, with a pair of red hot tongs."
"But time wears, "said the leader of this lawless band, " and justice must be satisfied. When a boy robs a bird's nest, and carries off a young linnet or two, what's done to him ? Why, he's well thrashed, is not he ? for if he must steal, he should learn to steal something that's worth the stealing ; but if a rascally hawk will come and poke his nose into a Bishop's nest, and want to hook out a hundred full-grown birds, what ought he to be done to ?"
"Plucked and roasted alive !" said the woman who had before spoken.
" But you know, brother, what's the best to do in such a case; and it's my advice," she continued, addressing those around her, " it's my advice to leave the handling of these fools to the mercy of Bludgeon Billy, our leader here."
" Leave 'em to him, leave 'em to him !" exclaimed nearly every man at once.
The leader bearing, as we have just heard, the euphonious title of Bludgeon Billy, made a sort of bow, in acknowledgment of the honour such a marked deference to his ideas of justice had conferred on him. "Then thus I decree, and from which there is no appeal!" The two prisoners trembled from head to foot, as the ruffian continued-" First, tie them back to back." Scarcely was the command given, before poor Catchemayde and the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker found themselves fastened securely, with their backs to each other. "We will now haul them up to yonder beam, and roast them alive, until they are half done -cut off their ears, and, as a treat, the one shall eat the ears of the other."
" Oh, mercy, mercy !" exclaimed the two poor wretches.
"Yes," said Bludgeon Billy, laughing, "you shall have mercy-lots of mercy-just such mercy as our people receive from you, when they are tied to the stake in Smithfield. When thus much of the sentence has been fulfilled, we will hunt them through the filth of the Clink, and when we're tired start them to their friends in the city, as examples to all medling fools that dare invade the kingdom of the Clink. To it, my Birds-pick 'em, and pluck 'em, and hang 'em to roast!"
"Hurrah !" exclaimed the thieves, and in an instant all was bustle, swearing, laughing-cries from the victims-shouts of derision from the rabble. The rope was thrown over the beam, and poor Catchemayde and his now other half, were hanging by the arm-pits, under which the rope had been passed, screaming and kicking about, to the great delight and merriment of the crowd below, many of whom were busily employed heaping up straw, and faggots, and broken wood, to make the fire beneath them.
The agony the poor creatures suffered may easily be imagined, as the smoke and fire began to ascend. Despair was rapidly seizing upon the little consciousness that fear had left them, when their ears were startled by loud shouts being heard approaching through the passage of the Black Arch. They thought that more of the thieves were returning, until they
|. perceived a sudden panic seizing upon the ruffians below. All was in confusion, many arming themselves as quickly as they could, with whatever weapon their hands could catch hold of. The women were hurrying away, as if to fetch more aid. Many of the men drew forth long knives; others having procured wooden staves, or iron bars, and some even arming themselves with large stones, they all together rushed beneath the Black Arch to meet the danger, whatever that might be.
All this time the fire was increasing, and poor Catchemayde, with his companion in affliction, incessantly imploring to be released, but no one heeded them; the women who had but recently left the ground, now returned, bringing with them many additional ruffians, all well armed; the women also were armed with knives, and brandishing them over their heads, they followed their male companions through the arch.
It was not difficult to comprehend that a dreadful collision had already taken place; the air was now filled with screams of women, curses or men, and shouts of defiance and of rage; many returned covered with blood; some with broken heads; others with broken arms, or wounded limbs; one or two were carried past, apparently dead; from the increasing number of the fugitives, it was evident the thieves, for once, were being worsted. At last the main body came from under the arch, apparently driven backwards by a superior power; fortunately, for the poor creatures who were hanging from the beam, the crowds were forced across the fire, who, kicking it here and there, made the scene more awful to look upon, but at the same time, saved the two intended victims from a dreadful death.
The thieves-of whom great numbers had, as we have before stated, gone on a robbing expedition-who remained in the Clink, soon found the force now brought against them perfectly resistless. The two leaders of the attacking party, fought with a determination against which there was no standing; each seemed endeavouring to outvie the other; for pride as well as courage appeared to actuate them both.
"You shan't outdo me, Master Edward !" exclaimed the Bridge- shooter, for he it was, with Osborne, who now was heading several scores of city apprentices, armed, as usual, with their resistless clubs; "you shan't outdo me-there !-and there !-and there !" he bawled out, as at every blow a ruffian fell to the ground.
Edward went more coolly, but not less determinedly to work; he remembered for what purpose they had been called out, merely to rescue Catchemayde and his companion, so that all he aimed at, was to cut his way through the crowd of thieves, until he should find those he came to save.
The sharp-nosed little arrow-maker and Catchemayde, notwithstanding all their shouting to be released, were never observed, being, as they were, so far above the heads of the combatants.
So desperate had been the onset of the apprentices, that in a few minutes more, the whole space before the Black Arch was clear of an opponent, and then it was the perilous but ridiculous situation in which their friends were dangling, was first perceived by Edward and his companions. In spite of every feeling of pity and humanity, they could
|not resist having a hearty laugh at the expense of poor Catchemayde, and little sharp-nose.
" Never mind, never mind!" said the two, as they were being lowered down; "only let us once more set foot upon Old London Bridge, and if ever we are caught attempting to put salt upon the tails of the Bishop's Birds, may we be picked to death for our pains, say we !"
How this fortunate rescue had been accomplished, was owing, principally, to the circumstance of Edward Osborne having sat up late that night, to see the Bridge-shooter the momen' he arrived from Hampton, where he was to leave Flora; but from various causes, such delays had happened to William on his road, that several hours had elapsed since the time at which he should have reached the Bridge, and it was almost morning when Edward opened the outer door to admit him.
Edward had scarcely commenced informing the Bridge-shooter of the affairs that would require them astir at daybreak, when they were alarmed by a violent knocking at the door, and cries for help and rescue.
It appeared, that when Silkworm and Checklocke had effected their escape, they hurried to the Bridge, and observing the light still in the merchant's house, it at once struck them that Edward Osborne was, of all people, the most likely to aid in the rescue of their two unfortunate companions.
The moment Edward and the Bridge-shooter heard what had happened, they lost not a moment in giving the alarm to those, whom they knew would not be backward in such a cause, and this being the night of the coronation, there were plenty of the wine-houses still filled with the very boys they wanted to assist them.
A word from Edward, beloved as he was by almost every apprentice of the city, was quite sufficient to raise an army of youths who knew the use of the club, and who had courage enough to employ it against a legion of fiends, were they told to do so by a leader whom they liked and confided in; such a leader was Edward, and a better lieutenant than Billy the Bridge-shooter could not have been found betwixt the old Bridge and Wapping: how quickly they were in the Clink, and what good service they there performed, the reader is already aware of.
" If I might pop in a little bit of advice," said the Bridge-shooter, "knowing, as I do, somewhat of the whereabouts of these rascals, I should say, having gained our end, the sooner we sound an honourable retreat the better; by the comparatively small numbers that I saw, there is some other expedition going on elsewhere; and if those who are away, were to return just now, ten to one but the honour we have gained might still be tarnished before we were safe again in our beds."
" Right, right !" exclaimed the sharp-nosed little arrow-maker, "and I and Catchemayde will lead you back in triumph." He did not wait for a reply, but placing himself in the very foremost rank of those nearest the line of march leading from the Clink, began to move on.
As they were passing under the dark arch, a man closely muffled up met them, and as he passed close to Edward, muttered some words, but so indistinctly, he could not clearly make them out; he turned back, and the Bridge-shooter being close behind, he said, "Did you observe that man just passed."
"I did," replied William, "and what I did see of him, was not much to admire !"
"Did you hear what he muttered as he went by ?"
"He said-' Oh, 'tis you, young sir, is it ?' but whether he meant you, or me, or any other of the dozen that were close by, I know not. Shall I after him and ask ?"
" On no account," said Edward; "it matters not to us whom he meant; so let us on as quickly as we can, for see, the day is breaking !"
When they reached the Bridge, the early risers were already preparing for the new day's labour; while, every here and there, were seen jovial parties seeking their houses, after a right loyal carouse, in honour of the young king's coronation.
While these scenes of noise and desperate encounter had been enacting at the Clink, one of a different stamp had passed in the Cardinal's Hat, between Brassinjaw and the villain Spikely. The moment the house was clear of the roysterers, Brassinjaw threw off the mask of drunkenness under which he had been acting, and cheating his customers at shovel- board, and thus addressed Spikely-" Now, Master Spikely, although years have passed since we met, and may have caused many a change around us, yet, do I suspect, that we ourselves are so little changed in mind, that there need be no useless beating about the bush before we come to a clear, an honest-don't stare, man-I say honest understanding with each other: when we last parted, we parted enemies-how do we meet ?"
"As friends, an thou wilt !" replied Spikely, " for since you have jumped into the shoes of him who owned this tavern when I fled from England, I see not why you should not jump into all his other business too. I shall feel his loss but little, since he has left such a worthy representative as Master Brassinjaw. As the work I come upon must pay us both well, I suppose the bargain of friendship between us is already settled ?"
" It is !" replied the host, " I am your sworn ally-that is, if, as you seem to promise, you can make it worth my while-not else !"
" Of that you shall be the judge," said Spikely; " listen !"
"First," observed Brassinjaw, " let me disgorge my winnings, for they are somewhat heavy, and bear me down behind !"
Saying this, he thrust his hand into a kind of pocket made in the back part of his dress, from which he produced all he had won; his system being when he gamed, to appear to put his money into his pouch, but really, only to drop a single piece therein, retaining the remainder in the palm of his hand-" palming," is a conjuror's trick, and by practice, can be brought to great perfection; he afterwards took occasion, when unperceived, to deposit what he had been thus holding, into his secret pocket behind. This manoeuvre he resorted to, in order to be able, when any dispute arose regarding his great run of luck, to bluster, and swear that "none there had won so little as he," and then, to prove the assertion, he would, with seeming honest indignation, cast the whole contents of his pouch upon the table, in order that the doubters might count his gains, and convince themselves.
This we may presume was a common trick with cheats in those days,
|for Spikely took no heed of what Brassinjaw was doing, nor evinced the slightest surprise at the large quantity of coin the host produced, and, which he carefully tied in a strong bag, and then locked securely in a cupboard, well barred with iron, which was built in the stone wall. This agreeable occupation being finished, mine host seating himself at the opposite side of the table, gave signs to Spikely that he was ready to listen to whatever communication he might wish to make.
" You hate Horton ?" said Spikely, with a look that seemed to enquire, and answer its own enquiry at once. " I know it," he continued, " for he used you scurvily enough in former times, notwithstanding all I used to do to make him honest to you."
" We'll not lose time," said Brassinjaw, " in talking of your honest wishes-but to the point. You say I hate him-I do !"
" Otherwise," continued Spikely, " I would not trust you. Know, then, that bound as he and I were once by mutual interest, that interest having vanished, the bonds are severed. He knew I held a secret that was like a rope about his neck; I had but to speak the word, and that rope would have squeezed his life out."
" And it shall!" said Brassinjaw, at the same time clenching his hand and grinning malignantly; "that is, if you but let me catch one end on't, and he be now alive !"
"He is, but he believes me dead !" As Spikely said this, his countenance appeared that of a fiend. "Yes, thanks to his kind intentions, he believes me dead-dead, and rotting beneath the sod of a foreign land. When, on the fall of Cromwell, we both fled, we entered as mercenaries into the service of the Emperor; and many a bloody scene of war we mixed in. By some good luck for him, for the devil always takes care of his own, he ever gained the greatest share of spoils and plunder, I the most hard knocks. But my secret ever made his purse my own, so it mattered little, that the gold passed through my agent's hands, for thus I used to call him. At last, so goaded was he by my- ever-renewing wants, that I felt I had strained the cord too tight; so I thought it better to look some little to my own safety. I therefore shifted my quarters from the band to which he belonged, intending for a time to keep aloof from him. In the last battle, and a frightful one it was, I fell to the earth wounded, as I thought, to death; but it proved not so When I recovered my senses, I gazed around; the battle was over, and from the stragglers about, who were first robbing, and then burying the dead, I knew by their dress that our party had gained the day. So great had been the loss of blood I had sustained, and so severe the wounds Ihad received, that not one inch could I raise myself from off the earth; my dress being but of the poorest, those who came near enough to hear my feeble calls for help, cast but a glance upon my rags, which holding out no temptation to their avarice, passed on, caring not a jot whether I lived or died. At last, who should I perceive approaching but Horton. Monster as I knew him to be, I never believed he could have proved the fiend he did. By a violent effort, I succeeded at last in raising my arm to attract his notice; but so intent was he upon the work of despoiling the dead, that for some time he perceived me not. Presently turning towards the spot where I was lying, I exerted the whole of my little
|. remaining strength, and called him by his name. When he saw by whom he had been addressed, his countenance became suddenly deadly pale; I had seen that look before, and trembled, for in an instant his fell intent flashed through my mind. No other soul was near. I knew he held me in deadly hate, and wished my death; I was resistless, and in his power. As he approached me, I saw him deliberately take from its sheath his knife; he looked around-no one was near; think what I felt at that dread moment : as he came nearer, affrighted nature gave me power to scream. ''Tis hopeless to call for aid,' he said, as he grinned at me like a devil; 'you laughed at me once for my childish fears at being a murderer: I am now a man, and no longer fear to look on, or shed man's blood: it is but justice that you who taught me, should have some share of the harvest of your tuition-die, wretch !' he shouted in my ear. I heard no more-but I felt one pang as he stabbed his knife into my neck-and then my senses fled."
" But how," enquired Brassinjaw, " did you escape alive at last ?"
" By a miracle, if such things be !" replied Spikely, " and by a miracle that would have made even the saintly Father Brassinjaw of former times raise up his hands in wonder. When consciousness returned, I at first believed I was already in the other world, for by my side was sitting what I thought to be an angel of heaven; but turning my head the other way, there sat, what seemed to me a fiend awaiting my guilty soul. I smile at my fears now, but at that moment, worn down by anguish of body, childish in mind from weakness and loss of blood, I can tell you, my master, my feelings were none to be envied. But now comes the strangest part of all: for who think you my preserver was ?-the Cripple of the Bridge-gate-tower !-The angel by my side-the blind girl, Eoline !"
Brassinjaw certainly did give a look of astonishment; but perceiving Spikely about to proceed, held his peace.
"It appeared," continued the latter, "that after the battle, the Cripple had gone to' the field, to render all the service he might to the wounded or the dying. I had been thrown upon a heap of dead, intended for burial: fancying he saw in me some signs of still-lingering life, he bore me in his arms to his own cottage, just without the town Although there was but little chance of my recovery, they never gave up hope, but tended me like an infant, and thus, by their unceasing care, I was saved from death. One more of our old friends was there, and one whom I used most scurvily-the Abbess of St. Clair; but she forgave me; and one night when I thought I was dying, and being half delirious, I --- but, pshaw !-my story has already been long enough; the end of all, is all I ever care for-I recovered, and here I am ! And now I am sworn to hunt to death the villain Horton. I will serve all that he would wrong, be whom they may. I want revenge upon him, and that I'll gain, though I be hanged by the same rope in gaining it."
Spikely now toldBrassinjaw, that Horton was the real murderer of Sir Filbut Fussy; but that he himself having been so deeply implicated in the affair, and Brassinjaw, although not connected with the knight's death, being so mixed up with the continued robbing of Sir Filbut, that they would take their revenge in a way more. safe for themselves, than by a public denunciation. What their ultimate plans were, time will show.