Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





What needeth it, therefore, to sermon more ?

For right, as they had cast his death before,

Right, so they have him slain.-Chaucer.

MORE than a week had now passed away, and young Osborne's absence had scarcely been noticed in the house of Master Hewet. There seemed to be an implied understanding that his name was not to be mentioned. The merchant had told his dame that he had sent him upon a little business, and it would have been unbecoming in a dutiful wife, like .


Alyce Hewet, to have ventured further question. Horton chuckled at his own supposed cleverness, believing he knew, even better than the merchant, where Edward really was, so never broached the subject. The little Anne was the only one who evinced any sorrow at his long absence; but she was easily pacified, when her father foretold her playmate's speedy return.

As the day for the trial of Miles, the robber, drew near, Horton became more and more nervous: he thought, that if Wallace, the weaver, had been found missing, which his guilty soul translated, murdered! his master must have been apprised of it, ere this, and could not have kept such a circumstance a secret; nor, indeed, would there have been any cause, on his part, for secrecy.

For several nights past Harry Horton had waited for hours in the lower drinking-room of the " Cardinal's Hat," but the man with whom he there met before, came not. On the last night but one before the trial, his anxiety had reached a pitch of the greatest mental suffering. His lips had become ashy pale-the skin peeled off with fever. He scarcely spoke a word while in this den of vice, but kept his eyes riveted upon the door. Every time a new comer entered, he started up; then finding himself again disappointed, he sat down more moodily than ever, biting his fevered lips until they bled. Continually did he keep muttering to himself-" Something must be wrong-something must be wrong." Hour after hour passed away; the great bell of St. Paul continued to tell how fleeting were the minutes of man's life-it seemed to his excited mind to be ever striking-and yet he came not. At last a heavy foot was heard descending the stairs-the door flew open, and there the long-expected villain stood. The name this worthy bore amongst his pals was Blare-eyed Bully; he had gained this inelegant, but truly appropriate appellation, from his reckless bearing, and from the circumstance of his eyes protruding to a truly frightful and unnatural extent.

" What, in the devil's name," said Horton, unable, at the moment, to govern his temper, " has kept you so long away ?"

" What, in the devil's name," retorted the other, " caused you to send your bloodhounds on a wrong scent ? But this is no place to talk of our affairs." Not waiting a reply, he lifted the trapdoor, and, followed by Horton, descended to their former place of conference.

" Did you not tell me, that in the letter you were to place mysteriously in your master's way, to alarm him for Osborne's safety, you would propose, as the best place to send the boy for security, would be to the house of his uncle at Woolwich, where we could easily secure him, and place him under hatches, aboard of our smuggling boat ?"

"I did ! and the boy is gone."

"And the boy has never been there," said the other, sneeringly.

" Not there ! then where is he ?" exclaimed Horton, with evident surprise.

" That's what I've come to ask of you," rejoined the other; and then went on in a more savage tone, " I hate half measures: if you bite, bite to the bone! I like not your mincing morsels. If he was to be put out of our way, why, put him out at once, say I. The weaver too,


. thanks to your notable scheme of alarming the merchant. Why, idiot that you are, if Hewet became fearful for the safety of one witness, did it not follow, that he would be equally so for that of the other ? and so lie was: and that cursed weaver had nearly escaped us-he, too, had been sent away to a place of security, as they thought it; but the Blare-eyed Bully was not to be tricked so easily-no, no, we traced him out, and - "

" You've murdered him !" exclaimed Horton, trembling.

" That's my business," rejoined the other: " what I promise to do, I do. You undertook to look after Osborne-do it! for I wash my hands of him. Go into court with a bold face: all will go well, if you but keep your word about Osborne. I shall be there to enjoy the joke; and a glorious joke it will be to hear the fools calling for their witnesses- ha, ha! nice witnesses they'll find. I never saw a dead man yet give evidence in a court of justice. Oh! it will be a glorious joke; but, remember, you may spoil all, unless you find Osborne."

" I have still one hope of doing so," said Horton. " If Dame Alyce know where he is hid, her saintly father Brassinjaw shall get it from her, and then the secret's mine. But even if Edward should appear, he could do but little harm: the weaver is the one we have to fear, but he, you say, is safe. Farewell, until we meet on the morning after to-morrow, in the court. Tell Miles, I've ordered a famous feast for him here, after his acquittal-farewell."

Although Horton assumed a bold air as they separated, he no sooner found himself alone in his own chamber, than he gave way to all his fears. " Man," he said, " is a fool, when he thinks he can direct his own fate. I fear I have fallen into the trap I myself had laid. I am certain Master Hewet had the letter I placed under the outward door, otherwise, why have sent Osborne hence; but if he took the warning, as from a friend, why not have carried out that unknown friend's advice in full ? The Bully must have sought him in the wrong direction-my search shall prove more certain."

Old Walter Cromwell, the brewer, of Putney, under whose care the merchant had placed Edward, had acquainted.the youth with the true cause of his exile from the Bridge: this had greatly relieved young Osborne's mind; and now, having nought to do but to amuse himself, he gave way entirely to his newly-born passion for the water. Billy- the-bridge-shooter had so thoroughly instilled into his pupil's mind the true principles of the swimmer's art, that nothing but practice was now required to enable him to reach perfection-and certainly practise he did. Morning, noon, and night, saw him emulating his sire, as he had called old Father Thames, ever since the night of his water-wonder dream.

Old Walter Cromwell had taken a great fancy to young Osborne, and often did they stroll together into the country around. On the morning of the day he was to start for London, the old man and he were out together, when the former stopped before a very humble ,cottage, lying west of the highway, leading from Putney to the upper gate. It was called the " Smith's shop;" above the door was the sign of the anchor, and within was heard the clinking of an anvil. The old man .


beaved a sigh, as he said-" Many is the happy hour I've passed in that old cottage; but then I was young, and to the young, every thing seems happiness; and my boy Tom was happy, too, before he ran away into foreign parts, and became a soldier, and the Lord knows what. I doubt me whether he is happier now he is called the great Lord Cromwell, than when he was but poor honest Tom, the smith. He wants me to go up to London, and says he'll make me a Lord; the Lord forbid ! No, no, an old blacksmith, or an old brewer, is but ill-suited to a gilded court; so here I intend to live, and here I hope to die."

When Edward started for his master's home, the old man gave him a kind adieu, and then his blessing. When he reached the ferry at Battersea, he could not resist the temptation of a bath at the very spot where he had taken his first lesson in the art he now so much loved. He had scarcely prepared himself for the plunge, when violent screams and cries were heard from the opposite shore. He there saw a party of youths who had been bathing, but one of them had apparently floated out of his depth, and was evidently struggling for his life. Edward dashed into the water, and, swimming manfully, with the hope of rescuing the unfortunate youth, reached the spot just as the poor boy sank. In an instant more, and Edward was also gone. Now the screaming and cries for help along the shore were redoubled; but in a minute more, and all was changed to frantic shouts of delight, for they saw Osborne again come to the surface, bringing with him the senseless form of the youth.

"Take him," he said, now almost exhausted, as he landed upon the shore, " take him quickly to the hostelrie, in the lane by the church, there you will get proper aid; fear nothing, he is not dead-his heart still beats."

The lads on the shore, who were evidently of the better order, were so bewildered, so confused, that they never thought of thanking Osborne for the noble action he had performed, but hurried away with their deathlike burden, while he, jumping into the ferry-boat which had come to lend assistance, returned to the opposite side, where he had left his own boat and his clothes. Having dressed himself, and feeling fatigued, he threw himself upon the grass, and in a few minutes, his senses were wrapped in a profound slumber.

When he again awoke, he was astonished to find that the moon had already risen high in the heavens; so, getting quickly into the skiff, he launched her into the middle of the stream, and was once more on his solitary way. His mind was full of his recent exploit; but he now regretted much that he had not asked the name of the youth he had saved. How little could he then have guessed, that in after life, not only would he know that name, but that the bare sound of it would be as a dagger thrust through the ear into his very heart-but we must not anticipate.

" Come," said he, " I have not learnt to swim for nothing: he who saves a fellow-creature, has done that, which, though no more than his duty, may still make him feel an honest pride for the rest of his life. And I do feel proud-and I now bless the hour I met with that poor ragged lad; but he shall not go unrewarded-no, no, Edward Osborne is not one to make a friend, and break with him in the same instant:


. if he be the lad I take him for, we are bound together for life. I shall first teach him to read and write-yes, this shall be the first service I will render him; and may Heaven grant that my boon to him may be as productive of good as his has been to me. Onward he rowed, and onward rolled the busy clouds above his head-one moment all was brightness-the next was deepest gloom. He was now fast approaching the Lambeth Marshes, whereon no house then stood-all here looked desolate. As he drew near the solitary tree which grew upon the point of land, at the bend of the river, he fancied he saw the forms of men as if struggling together, and dragging something towards the water's edge. The moon at this moment shone out so brightly that he could clearly discern four men-three of them forcing the fourth along, whose head and shoulders were entirely covered with some thick cloth, as if to prevent his cries from being heard; they dragged him into a boat and hastened to the centre of the river. Here the struggle appeared to be renewed, and the poor wretch, having for a moment freed his head, screamed out " murder," and franticly cried aloud for help. Osborne forgetting at once the danger he might run, strained every nerve, and made his skiff fly through the water towards the murderers; just when he reached them he saw the tallest ruffian raise a large hammer, and dash it with all his might upon the head of their victim. Osborne's heart turned sick at the sound of that deadly blow. The body they cast overboard, but as it fell, it nearly carried with it the murderer, for the poor wretch had seized, in the death struggle, so firmly upon the assassin, that had not his coat given way, they had both sunk together into eternity. They now furiously attacked young Osborne-and in a moment his boat was turned keel upwards, and he was gone !

As the tide was running down rapidly, the murderers watched anxiously in the direction of the flood, and Blared-eyed Bully, for it was he who had just murdered the poor weaver, said, " Take this hammer, Bill, and if he comes to the surface again, use it as I did. Good fortune, like misfortune never comes single. Who could have expected such luck as to have met with our other man, the stripling Osborne, in such a place, and at such a time too ! He and the weaver may go together and give their evidence to the fishes-they'll tell no tales of us to-morrow, I'll swear. What's that ?" and he pointed to something in the water; thinking that it might be Osborne they dashed the hammer at it, but soon found it to be merely an old basket floating by. They looked around in every direction; not a ripple was on the bright face of the water; so feeling now secure, the three wretches rowed on towards Old London Bridge.