Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
THE reader will doubtless remember that at the close of the third chapter we described the manner in which the Blear-eyed Bully, with his two assistant murderers, had disposed of the unfortunate weaver and Edward Osborne. This happened in the night preceding the day on which the robber Miles was to be tried for his life. During the whole of that evening Master Hewet had felt so much anxiety concerning the non-appearance of Edward, that he could no longer resist telling his wife and Harry Horton the course he had pursued to ensure the safety of his apprentice. " Alas !" he said, "I fear I have fallen into a deep-laid snare, and have perchance become the innocent cause of some dreadful misfortune to the youth. Why was I in such haste to follow the advice of any anonymous informer? I believe that both the letters -
" Both the letters !" exclaimed Horton, taken off his guard.
"Yes, two letters reached me; but I have every reason to believe that the second was forwarded merely to raise my confidence in the advice offered in the first; for in that I was told another would be placed within my reach, and so there was, and exactly in the manner described."
Horton was now taken completely aback. Could the Blear-eyed Bully have betrayed him ? But why should he ? He was the only one to whom Horton had divulged his scheme; but, then, the Bully's safety was as much at stake as his own.
Dame Alyce, to whom all this seemed like a romance, became greatly interested; for she, equally with the merchant, felt convinced that there was a plot laid, either for good or ill, so asked her husband a thousand questions, every one of which Horton himself would have liked to have put, but felt he dared not. How anxiously did he list to every word the merchant uttered in answer to Alyce's inquiries, hoping therefrom to find some clue to the mystery.
It appeared, that not an hour after the dead of night, the merchant was disturbed by a strange noise at the window of the room next to his dormitory, looking on to the bridge; indeed, it was the same casement at which they had stood the day before to witness the procession of the Maypole. As this noise, a sort of tapping, continued, the merchant at last arose to learn the cause; and on looking out, he saw a boy beneath, who, the moment the casement opened, raised on the end of a long willow wand a letter, which the merchant having taken, the boy ran swiftly away towards the City. So truthfully was this letter written, that Master Hewet acted upon its advice immediately, and sent off Edward in the manner the reader is already aware of. The merchant, on descending in the morning, found Horton's letter forced under the outer door; he had placed it there only a few minutes after Osborne had departed.
|The merchant said, that although the finding the second letter confirmed, in some degree, the truth of the first, yet it had perplexed him much, for it proposed a place of safety directly opposite to that in which he had placed Edward. "But," he continued, " whatever misfortune, if any has happened, must have occurred this day; for he was safe with my old friend at Putney as late as yesterday; this I know."|
" And is safe, yet, you may depend," said Alyce. " He knows full well the hour he will be wanted, and, no doubt, will be at Westminster to-morrow, by the time you reach the court. You know how pressing Walter Cromwell is to all who visit him; and to that over-kindness you may, believe me, attribute this delay. But Osborne ever was a thoughtless boy, and, doubtless, was glad of any plea to spend another day of idleness; for, as the saintly father Brassinjaw has often said--"
Yes, yes, my dear, I know, I know exactly what the saintly Father has often said," observed the merchant, "so let us retire to rest, for the thought of that man always makes me feel sleepy, without even hearing what he says."
"Oh, husband, I'm shocked ! but, yet, I hope we both may live to see the day that you will think as highly of that saintly creature as I do."
I hope, with all my soul, we may," replied the merchant, "for then we shall never die !"
This was far too shocking to be replied to, so Alyce took up the lamp, and shaking her head sadly, left the room, followed by her husband.
Horton went to his chamber, but it was useless to attempt sleep: he was bewildered quite. He said he must have been a fool not to have thought of Cromwell's; but how could he have guessed that any one could have proposed that place-and how could any one have learnt his plans. It was too late, now, to start for Putney, and he had, unfortunately, no appointment with the Bully until after the trial; but, still, so anxious and restless did he feel, that he determined to visit the " Cardinal's hat," thinking it might, by some chance, so happen that his murderous friend should be there upon other affairs.
We have already stated, that after the murder, the three wretches took their way towards the Bridge, so, that, by mere accident, it did turn out exactly as Horton had hoped; for, soon after he had entered, these blood-stained worthies also came in.
Horton was upon the point of telling the Bully all he had that night learnt; but was silenced, and made almost to sink with fear, as the Blear-eyed Bully whispered in his ear the horrors they had just committed. --" Here, milksop !" he said, pushing a jug of hot liquor towards Horton, who had turned deadly pale, " take some of this spirit, for you have but little of your own, and then go home to bed-that's the best place for boys: sleep off your fears, and, in the morning, when we meet in the court, look well at me, and learn the proper bearing of a man."
We will not attempt to follow the workings of Horton's mind during the dark hours of that night. At every turn he fancied lie saw the weaver and Osborne bleeding at his bedside; and waking, found himself continually crying out, that it was not he who had murdered them.
|The moment it was light, he arose, and bathing his head and face again and again in cold water, he tried to shake off his fears, and to a degree succeeded. He felt, that although the crime had been committed, no one could accuse him; and now, both the witnesses against Miles being gone, the robber would doubtless put on a more courageous bearing, and keep his tongue between his teeth. What seemed to relieve Horton's mind most effectually, was a virtuous determination he had formed, in the darkness of the night, that, should he but escape the present danger, henceforth he would enter upon a better course. Poor youth! he had yet to learn, how seldom are the good intentions formed in darkness, ever allowed to live through the light of even a single day.|
When the time for departure of the merchant, and those who were to attend the court, had arrived, Sir Filbut Fussy, who had now become a frequent visitor at the house of merchant Hewet, made his appearance. He was mounted on a beautiful horse, and followed by a number of others, led by his men, bearing upon their left arms his badge of servitude. Alyce, having expressed a wish to hear the trial, it had been settled, at the earnest solicitation of Sir Filbut, that the whole party should go by land, instead of by water, as was the usual method, and that he should be allowed the honour of supplying the horses from his own stables. Another reason Sir Filbut offered for proposing this arrangement, was, his desire to have the advice of the merchant, regarding an open plot of ground lying in the Strand, which he had a wish to purchase for the purpose of erecting a mansion upon it.-" This they could," he said, " examine on their way to Westminster; and he should, by the present arrangement, have the advantage of consulting the exquisite taste of the merchant's wife."
A splendid charger had been provided for Master Hewet, with a pillion behind for the accommodation of his fair spouse. A mule was placed at the disposal of Horton, and another, upon hich was a kind of double leathern chair, very like those used in the present day for children, when they ride in pairs upon donkeys in the park-this was for the use of Flora Gray and the little Anne, for Dame Hewet seldom took pleasure away from home, where she could not be accompanied by her handmaiden and her darling child. After all were mounted, there still remained one mule without a rider; this had been provided for Osborne, for up to the last moment, they still expected his arrival. When all was ready, two running footmen took the lead, two more, one on each side the head of the horse, which bore the merchant and his wife, attended by Sir Filbut Fussy, then came Flora with the little Anne, and at her side, the worthless, but by her admired, Harry Horton. The rear was brought up by several mounted serving-men, all in the livery of Sir Filbut Fussy.
The narrowness of the bridge, rendered it incumbent on those who met the cavalcade, occasionally to vanish into the shop door-ways, or to stand aside, in the open spaces looking upon the waters. Here and there, the houses approached so close together, that only one rider could pass comfortably along without endangering the pedestrians, whom they should chance to meet.
Just before quitting the Bridge, when in one of the narrowest parts ,
|the merchant's horse, from some cause or other, shied, and had nearly done great harm to a passer-by, who, striking the horse across the head with his staff, exclaimed-" Curses on ye, upstarts! What, oh ! brother Hewet, is it thou ? Ha, ha! ho, ho! he, he-- ! But I shall boil your head yet! I shall boil your head yet !"|
"Out of the way, Cripple!" said Horton, savagely striking at him with a heavy whip, which the Cripple parried with his staff, and merely uttering a contemptuous " Pish !" hobbled on towards the Bridge-gate Tower, humming, as he went-
When the party quitted the Bridge, they turned to the left, and passed along Thames Street, then one of the best Streets, but still very straggling in its form. By-and-by they turned up Paul's Chain, into Paul's Church Yard, and thence quitting the City by the Ludgate, descended Ludgate Hill, then called Fleete Hyll; passed over Fleete Bridge, for, at the time we speak of, the River Thames received a smaller river, where Blackfriars Bridge now stands, which river was called the River of Fleete; it was broad and deep, and was of great use for merchant-vessels. This river afterwards became partially filled up, and then bore the less ostentatious appellation of Fleet Ditch. Many years elapsed, and it was covered in, and now what remains of it is hid beneath Bridge Street, and that magnificent opening, Farringdon Street, at the extremity of which, formerly stood another bridge, crossing the same River of Fleete, called Oldbourn, or Holborn Bridge. An observation, which fell from the lips of merchant Hewet, as they crossed Fleete Bridge, clearly shews that, at that early period of his career, he must, as we have before stated, have been a merchant well to do, for he said, answering a question of his wife-" No, love, not on the left, but yonder, to the right; the whole of that range of vessels, which, even you, a female, may perceive, are better appointed than the rest, those are the vessels belonging to your adoring husband, William Hewet."
A little beyond Temple Bar, the noble horse upon which the merchant rode, and which had previously, more than once, shewn a restive disposition, became almost unmanageable, and Alyce was so alarmed, that she dared not, she said, remain upon so fiery a steed; but Sir Filbut Fussy declared, that this horse was the one he always rode, and was mildness itself when he was upon its back; as a proof of the soothness of his words, he begged the merchant to alight, and change horses. This the merchant did, and Sir Filbut, having placed himself before the lovely Alyce, and having begged of her to hold fast by him, and fear nothing, made the animal go through his various paces with all the docility of a lamb. Sir Filbut's spirits now rose to an amazing height, for he had, at last, brought about what he had expected long before; but he had miscalculated the good horsemanship of our city merchant. The truth was, that Sir Filbut's charger was so well schooled to the peculinar manage of his master, that, hitherto, few had ever been
|able to keep their seats but himself; and it had annoyed him terribly, to find that Hewet knew so well the temper of a horse, as to be able, thus long, to keep him in control.|
They had now reached the Strand, at that time a very ill-formed road, for it was but three years before that the real line of way could be said to have been fairly marked out; before that, it is true, the land traffic, the little which took place, passed this way from the City of London to that of Westminster, the principal conveyance, both of merchandize as well as of passengers, being that of boats. As a proof of the enormous importance the Thames then enjoyed, it is said, that no less than forty thousand watermen were at one time enrolled upon the lists of their fraternity.
The new road, for it might be called new at the time we speak of, having, as we have just said, but been completed three years before, namely, , was scarcely used but to approach the northern entrances of the grounds belonging to the various noble mansions built some distance from the Strand, and overlooking the bright and busy Thames. From all the gardens belonging to these mansions, houses, and castles of the great, there was, from each, a " stair," or, as frequently called, a " bridge" by our modern writers, who seem to regard the terms as synonymous; but, upon this point, we must be allowed to differ. The stairs" were, as their name implies, merely steps leading down to the water; but the " bridge," as the " Queen's Bridge," "Privy Bridge," and others, were well-built structures, erected for the purpose of commodious embarkation, and at the end of which were steps, also descending to the water, to be used when the tide was low; but the main portion was literally a bridge, extending, in many cases, far into the river, and built upon several arches.
The whole of the north side of the Strand, at this time, was open country, and it was here that Sir Filbut pointed out a spot of ground, not far from where the Adelphi Theatre now stands, as the site of his new mansion. He said-" I shall build a tower high enough to overlook all the fields yonder; the Convent Garden (now Covent Garden Market), the little village of St. Giles, and, indeed, far beyond." The merchant pronounced it to be an admirably-formed conceit; and Alyce admired the locality as being " so superbly open."
It now seems almost beyond our belief, when casting an eye up any of the several courts, to imagine that that spot could have ever been pronounced as " superbly open;" yet so it then was; and even thirty years later, we find but a single row of dwellings along that line, and all beyond green open country.
The party soon after arrived at the court of justice. Sir Filbut Fussy, with Alyce and her maiden, obtained accommodation in the gallery above, while Hewet and Horton hurried about, in vain endeavour, to find Edward Osborne and the other witness, Wallace the weaver. Horton was not yet so inured to crime, as to be able to hear, with composure, even the names of those whose dreadful fates he knew full well. Horton had another reason for his present seeming activity in his master's cause, and that was, the hope of learning from the Bully, if possible, how Miles was likely to act, now there was every chance, nay, .
|a certainty, of his acquittal. His mind was set completely at rest, when at last he encountered this worthy, for he assured Horton, that Miles was " staunch to the backbone, now there could be no danger; but he's a cowardly cur," he said; "and lucky it is for us that they are both dead, or we should have swung for it, as sure as we have necks to hang by. But, hark! they are calling on the cause." They entered the court by different ways, just as Miles was put to the bar.|
The merchant had proposed to his man of law to throw up the case, and let Miles be discharged at once; but the man of law, having prepared a most eloquent speech, not feeling inclined that the world should lose so great a treasure, insisted upon going on at all events, until they had to call their witnesses-" For," as he said, "it is not impossible that both Osborne, as well as Wallace, may yet arrive." Every time he came to the words, " which we shall be able to prove by our witnesses," Horton saw a sneer of contempt and triumph pass across the features of the Bully. At last, the counsel having exhausted all his beauties of speech, as well as his breath, sat down; and the crier called upon Edward Osborne to come into court; but no Edward Osborne answered: this having been done three times, the opposing counsel was heard to say, in an undertone of voice, but quite loud enough to reach every ear--" Exactly what I expected, exactly what I expected." Then came great nodding of heads together, and smiles, and a whispered witticism or two at the expense of brother Whistlepipe, Master Hewet's leading counsel. Then the crier called three times upon the next witness, Wallace, the weaver, to appear, but with no better result than in the case of Osborne. Upon this second failure, up started Sergeant Thunderdown, brimful of that virtuous indignation which counsel can at all times call up from the very bottom of their too sensitive hearts. He said-" The insult to the Court was almost too great to be borne, and were it not for the respect he felt for the learned judge before him, he should be tempted to tell his learned brother, Whistlepipe-- but, no, no; he would, for this time, swallow the gall of his indignation, and stifle in its birth the child of his resentment. Besides," he said, "there was another reason for his determination to say but little, and that was, his wish to ease the feelings of that poor innocent creature there," (here he pointed to the prisoner, who really appeared to be the very impersonation of villany), " look at his face-there you will see the very index of a book of innocence, that a babe might read with advantage." He appealed to the judge, he appealed to the jury, he appealed to all who heard him-had there ever been such a trumpery, such a contemptible, such an insulting case, as the one now brought before them ? Here was a poor, worthy, hard-working, honest, religious creature, accused of robbery, kept in prison for weeks and months--he was going to say years, for every week in prison, to the innocent, is as a year-he is to be tried for his life, and when it comes to the proof, the witnesses dare not look innocence in the face, and therefore abscond-yes, abscond! Now, although his injured client must of necessity be acquitted, yet, to shew the world how worthy a man had been placed in that dreadful position, he would call one, only one, although he had a hundred witnesses ready to speak to character. He called Captain Bully.
Horton rose up actually with astonishment when he saw the Blear- eyed Bully most unconcernedly take his place in the witness-box. Had but one hundredth part of what Captain Bully said been true, Miles would have been one of the most celestial beings heaven had ever permitted to visit this earth-there was not a virtue of man, woman, or child, that Miles did not possess, at least, so said the noble Captain. The Bully became so warmed by his subject, so enthusiastic in his eule giums, so eloquent in his praises, that Miles actually blushed at hearing himself thus painted in all the colours of the purest virtue, religion, equity, and honour ! There is scarcely any knowing how long the Bully would have continued, had not he been stopped suddenly, just as he was calling upon Heaven to send, if such an one could be found, a single human being, who would dare to accuse his innocent friend. He had just finished this sentence, when a cry was raised by those without, or " He's here! he's here !" followed by loud shouts; in another moment, a party of Hewet's workmen hurried in, bringing with them Edward Osborne.
Had a ghost really appeared, the effect could have been but little greater upon the prisoner and the witness. Miles became deadly pale, his teeth chattered in his head, and he had nearly fallen to the ground; the Blear-eyed Bully stood aghast, but being a man of iron nerves, suddenly recovered his self-possession, and immediately attempted unseen to leave the court.
" Remain !" exclaimed the Judge, who had observed the intention of the Bully. The crowd that stood around the witness-box forced him back again, and then came forth all the wretch's reckless audacity. He in a loud voice addressed the Judge, saying-" My Lord, why am I de tained ? I have given my evidence. I am a witness, not a prisoner!"
" Oh, God ! that voice !" exclaimed Edward, who, turning saw the Bully; " that form-it is-it is the murderer !"
As may be supposed, this sudden accusation caused an immense sensation in the Court. Edward was called upon to explain his meaning, and listened to with breathless attention, as he related all that he had witnessed the night before. As he proceeded in his narrative, at every step the interest became more and more intense; and a shudder ran through the whole court, as he described the death-struggle of the victim with nis murderer; every eye was fixed on the Blear-eyed Bully, as Edward pointing to him, exclaimed, " and as God shall prove my words, that man is the murderer !"
There was little doubt now, that if what Osborne had stated were true, the murdered man was the unfortunate weaver. The Bully was placed in the dock with Miles, and called upon to answer, if he could, the accusation against him.
As he took his place by Miles, he looked down upon him with a withering sneer of utter contempt, for Miles was almost sinking from intense agitation. Harry Horton was scarcely less alarmed, and kept his eyes rivetted imploringly upon the Bully, who said in a deep under tone, "I am no blab !" Horton felt his meaning, and for a moment. breathed more freely.
" See, see," said Osborne, again pointing to the accused, " I had forgotten
|to say, that as the body, to the feet of which a huge stone was tied, fell heavily from the boat, the murdered victim had seized so tightly upon his assassin, that in sinking down, he bore with him a portion of the murderer's coat, to which he had clung; and see, the jerkin of that man is rent, and part is torn away."|
" Ha, ha, a pretty witness this to swear a man's life away !" exclaimed the Bully, " who first examines a poor devil's clothes, and because they are not so prim and new as his own, turns one's poverty to account, and -"
Here he was interrupted by Miles, who no longer able to bear his mental suffering, cried out--" Mercy, mercy ! only save my life, and I will tell all "
"Silence !" roared out the Blear-eyed Bully. At the same time Harry Horton rose, knowing not what he did.
"I will not be silent!" said the other; "only promise me my life-- only promise me my life-and I will tell all: there are more here who know- "
"Silence, hell-dog !" exclaimed the Bully, foaming with rage.
' I will speak, I will speak--"
"Then damn you !" he cried, in a voice of thunder; and with a giant's power gave the poor wretch such a deadly blow upon the temple with his clenched fist, that the blood flew about in all directions, and Miles lay dead at his feet.
But this was not yet the climax of the horrid scene; shouts of execration were heard, the large doors opposite to where the prisoner stood suddenly flew open, and there was seen a crowd, headed by the Bridge-shooter, bearing in the dead body of the murdered weaver, in whose hand was still clenched the damning evidence against his assassin. The Blear-eyed Bully's whole face swelled up until scarcely a feature could be distinguished; his eyes seemed bursting from their sockets; the women screamed; Alyce fainted; and the whole court became a scene of fright, bewilderment, confusion and of horror.