Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century

Rodwell, G Herbert





For which his horse for fear 'gan to turn,

And leap'd aside, and founder'd as he leap;

And ere that Arcite may take any keep,

He pigh't him on the pommel of his head,

That in the place he lay as he were dead.

His breast to-bursten with his sadde-bow,

As black he lay as any coal or crow,

So was his blood yrunnen in his face. Chaucer.

HORTON'S ease of mind, caused by the discovery of the dead bodies of two of those, whom he had long since regarded as his bitterest foes, was not of long continuance, for just as he had left the city by the Posterngate, for the death of Spikely had changed his plans of going to Gravesend, he happened to pass by a carpenter's yard, in which two workmen were grinding their tools, and talking very loudly.

"It always was so, and it always will be so," said the carpenter who was turning the stone, "blood will have blood, and murder will out: I was one of those who brought the murdered knight out of the wood."

As these words struck upon Horton's ear he started, though he scarcely would confess to himself the reason why.

"It's some years now," said the man, " since that happened, but I remember it as well as if it were yesterday: we carried him to merchant Hewet's on the Bridge. It was the merchant that found the knight."

Horton no longer doubted the subject upon which the carpenter was dilating, and felt as if spell-bound to the spot; he longed to hear more, yet dreaded what might follow.-" But why should I?" he said inwardly, " they know not me; and if aught of danger has transpired, the sooner I gain the knowledge, the sooner may such danger be averted."

"At this moment, the carpenter who had been holding the tools was called away; and Horton, as an excuse for entering into conversation with the man, who was now standing listlessly against the stone, drew out the broken knife, and said-" Come, my good fellow, give me a turn or two, will you? and I will give you a flagon of ale. I have broken the point off my knife here."



"Oh, right willingly, master," replied the man, "and I'll drink you a long life and a happy."

The man began to turn the stone. Horton placed the dagger-knife upon it, and as many a man figuratively has done before, was unconsciously sharpening a weapon to pierce his own side with.

" Were you not talking about some strange murder ?" said Horton, in a careless tone.

"Ay, marry was I," replied the man, " of a murder that mayhap you may remember, the murder of Sir Filbut Fussy many years ago ?"

" No," said Horton, " I remember nothing of it-curse the knife !" he exclaimed, " I've cut my hand."

The cut not being of much consequence, he resumed his labour, as the man went on to relate all the circumstances of the assassination; to these Horton was compelled to listen, having, as he had done, told the man he remembered nothing of them--" Yes," said the man, "there were no less than five stabs, that had been done with a knife, it was supposed, just of that sort."

Horton's eye fell upon the blade, and there he beheld the stains, which at that moment to his imagination, looked like so many bleeding tongues, that called out murder !

"That will do," he said, quickly hiding the knife from his own sight, by placing it in his girdle: " but why did you say, as I think I heard you, that murder would out ?"

" Oh," said the man, " because murder always does, and so has this -at least it's pretty sure to do. We have had the officers here, not ten minutes before you came, to tell me that I shall be wanted again to give evidence; for it seems that it is almost certain now, from some secret information lately received, that the murderer was one of Hewet's apprentices, a worthless scoundrel called Harry Horton; he has bolted, so they. say, but they're after him, and I hope yet to see him hanged."

Horton frowned, and flinging down the money he had promised, hurried away. " He has betrayed me then," he exclaimed, " and his death will bring no safety. I must fly this kingdom for ever; but whither shall I go ? Could I but pass the borders, in Scotland I were safe, and yet might with my sword, cut out a better fortune than seems to beset me here." He took out a leather purse, and began to count his money. " I have scarcely enough to buy a horse, and keep me too, until I have crossed the border; well, I must trudge it a foot, until chance shall allow me to beg, borrow, or steal a nag."

In order to help him on his way, he drew forth the knife, and going to a hedge close by, cut a strong cudgel of a good ell in length, and as he tramped along, he trimmed off the rough knots; while thus employed he became lost in thought, and unconscious of whither he was strolling. From his reverie he was suddenly aroused by hearing a loud voice bawling out, " Why don't you look where you're going-you'll have your brains kicked out."

Horton, raising his eyes, now found that he was in Smithfield, close to a horse that was backing towards him; the man before the horse's head was pulling at the bridle, but the horse dragged him along. It


being market-day, there was a crowd standing by, but all appeared afraid of approaching too near.

" Damn him !" said the man; "I wish a knife was in him."

Horton, as he sprung aside, gave the animal a sharp blow with his hedge-stick, which made the horse plunge forward, and then to kick as if he had been mad."

" You seem to have an awkward customer there, friend," said Horton, addressing the man; "he has evidently more blood in his veins than flesh on his bones; and has more of the devil than the dove about him."

" Hang me," said the man, " if I don't think he isthe devil himself, or some witch in the shape of a horse."

"He can't be a witch, Master Giles," observed one of the bystanders, "for you see he's got a tail, though it's a rum'un, and that's a part of an animal, bird, or fish, that witches can't come at-not any how: I suppose that's why so many witches appear like old women, for old women, having no tails, do you see, it's plaguy difficult to find out which is a witch, and which isn't."

Whether the horse took any interest in this conversation, we know not; but he certainly became, suddenly, very quiet, and allowed the bridle to be put properly over his head.

" There are many good points about him," observed Horton, looking at the animal with the eye of a profound judge of horseflesh; " and when he was young, must have been a sightly beast; would you sell him ?"

" Sell him !" exclaimed the man, " would I not, if I could find a fool great enough to buy him; but he's too well known in Smithfield to find a customer here! We can only use him to draw timber, and he won't do that but when he likes."

" Well," said Horton, " I have never yet seen a horse that could conquer me; put on a saddle; and old as he is, and vicious as he seems to be, I may perhaps be a customer, if your charge be monstrous low."

" There's no difficulty in putting a saddle on him," replied the man; "but putting yourself on him is quite another thing."

" Pshaw !" ejaculated Horton; "if we are to buy and sell, we must do so quickly, for I have no time to spare."

" You'll take all blame to yourself," said the man, as he was saddling the horse; "and if he gives you an awkward kick when you try to mount him, don't blame me: and I'll tell you what I'll do-I'll bet you a silver groat that you don't get on at all; and I'll bet you another silver groat, that if you do, you're off again before you can say Billy-the-bird- catcher."

" Done," said Horton, who, always vain of his horsemanship, now felt proud, fancying he had an opportunity of shewing off his skill in equitation. Horton's first care was to examine the girths, then the stirrup leathers, and last of all, the bridle; the whole seeming sound and firm, the time to mount had arrived.

" You had better pay the two groats, and give up the trial," said the man, "for I tell you he'll kick your inside out before he'll let you back him."

"That's may affair," replied Horton; "I'll tame the brute, or kill


him, or he shall kill me; depend on this, no horse shall ever conquer me."

The people by could not imagine what Horton was about, when they saw him climb a cresset-post; there was a projection about four or five feet up the post; upon this he placed one of his feet, and holding by the upper part swung outwards; then extending his legs, he told the man to lead the horse quietly past the post; the man understood his manoeuvre, and nodding to Horton, did as he was desired ; the moment the horse was exactly beneath Horton, he dropped upon the saddle; the animal for a moment seemed taken by surprise, and trembled all over; this moment was enough for his rider to succeed in placing his feet firmly in the stirrups.

" The first groat is mine !" exclaimed Horton triumphantly, and the bystanders set up a shout of laughter; this seemed to awake the horse, for instantly he began to rear, and plunge, and then to kick violently; but Horton still kept his seat; and laughing, cried out-" Billy-the-bird- catcher; there goes your other groat."

This caused another shout of laughter. The horse now took to a new maneuvre to dismount his rider, and that was by swiftly turning round and round as on a pivot; but finding this avail him nothing, he once more took to rearing, which he now did to such a frightful extent, that at every instant, it was feared he would fall backwards and crush his rider beneath him.

Of this Horton himself now began to have some fear ; so raising his heavy stick, he gave the horse a violent blow between the ears, which made him drop as though he had been shot. As he fell, Horton managed to alight with his own feet upon the ground, still striding across the animal. Now a general cry was raised for Horton to escape. " Get off, get off!" exclaimed at least fifty voices at once.

" No, no," said Horton, "if once I'm off, he'll never let me get on again; I must be master now or never."

Such determination as that of Horton's, and his apparent knowledge of horsemanship, raised him wonderfully in the estimation of the crowd around. Horton observed their admiration, and by it his vanity was excited to the highest pitch. Presently the horse began to move, and then to snort violently, and shake his head.

" I have conquered him !" exclaimed Horton, " and now, with me, he'll be a lamb."

In this the rider was at fault, for he had scarcely said the words, ere the horse was again upon his feet; for a time he seemed drunk or groggy, but with all his vice still unsubdued; he champed at his bit, and at last getting it in his teeth, darted off wildly mad; still Horton was on his back, and seemed as though he had grown to his seat. On flew the horse defying all power of rein.

Horton exerted every nerve to pull him in; all was useless; still on flew the horse. Just as he had entered the last street leading into the open roads, the reins gave way, and by the sudden jerk Horton was flung from the saddle. A violent cry of horror was raised by all who saw the fall, for one of Horton's feet had slipped through the stirrup, and he was now being dragged bleeding on the ground; yet still the horse flew on. Horton's shrieks seemed to add new fears to the wild


and maddened brute, whose speed now rendered all thoughts of pursuit hopeless. Horton, whose senses were not yet quite gone, made violent efforts to release his foot, but all were unavailing, and on, and on, flew the horse. The poor wretch's clothes were torn to shreds, and blood and flesh now began to mark the road as the infuriated animal past along. The horse at last began to slacken his pace from sheer exhaustion, but still went on; Horton's now lifeless body, had become a shapeless mass of torn and bloody flesh.

A close wood was lying before the phrenzied horse; towards this he flew with vigour, once again renewed, as if anxious to reach it, that he might there die away from the sight of man; again more slow, and now tottering, became his pace; but on, and on, he still dragged his gory victim. The wood was close and dark, but at the further end of the road appeared an open space where all was light; he had nearly reached this outlet, when exhausted nature suddenly gave way, and falling heavily upon the earth, was dead.

Although the horse had soon outstripped his horror-stricken pursuers, they found no difficulty in tracking his course; awful traces of Horton's dreadful fate were too clear and many, to leave a doubt as to the road on which he had been dragged. When the pursuers reached the wood, it was found that the horse had fallen dead exactly upon the spot where Horton had stabbed the young knight; and it seemed as though the hand of avenging fate had directed the way the horse should go, thus to render the poor unconscious animal the executor of justice upon his master's murderer; for it so happened that the old horse was the very same restive creature upon which the knight had ridden with Alyce, as they journeyed from Old London Bridge to Westminster. But even beyond this the hand of retribution seemed to have been at work, for the knife, the very one with which Horton had assassinated Sir Filbut, and which he himself had so recently sharpened, was now found with the blade deeply embedded in his heart, driven there by the violent dashing of the body upon the earth.