Old London Bridge, A Romance of the Sixteenth Century
Rodwell, G Herbert
ALYCE being too indisposed to ride home, Sir Filbut Fussy flew to the Palace Stairs, and hired one of the most commodious barges there in this she was placed, supported by cushions, and sat reclining between her husband and Sir Filbut: on one side of the boat was Flora Gray, on the other little Anne, with her favourite, Edward Osborne, and in the centre, but at a respectful distance, Billy-the-bridge-shooter was seated on the floor, for Edward had already acquainted the good merchant with quite enough of the late strange occurrences to raise his curiosity, and create a desire to know more. They had searched in vain for Harry Horton-he had left the court unseen, immediately after
|. the murderer had been committed. They felt no alarm on his account, for just as the merchant was placing his foot upon the barge, an ill- looking fellow handed him a letter; this was from Horton, excusing his absence, under the plea of having been sent for, to attend, wha , he said he feared, would prove the death-bed of his beloved father. Not one word of this was truth; but he found himself in such a state of fear for his own safety, which now rested upon the breath of the Blear-eyed Bully, that it was impossible he could endure the restraint, under which he would be compelled to keep his dreadful anxiety, were he beneath his master's roof. The letter could scarcely be read, from the trembling of his hand, which Alyce attributed to "that good young man's over-wrought filial anxiety."|
As may be supposed, they had scarcely been seated before the wonderful scene they had just left became the all-absorbing topic of conversation, and now Edward explained those parts in which he was concerned, and which he had omitted when in court, as being useless at that time.
" But to what miracle," said the merchant, " did you owe the preservation of your own life ?"
"To that miracle !" replied Edward, pointing and looking kindly at Billy-the-bridge-shooter; 'it is to him I owe my life, through God's help, and to him alone!" he seized the lad's hand and shook it heartily; " would that I knew how to thank him enough !"
" Kiss him," said the child; "that's the way you always thank me when I please you."
" But perhaps, Anne," said the merchant, smiling at the child's innocence, "but perhaps he would prefer being thanked by some fine lady-will Flora, perchance--'"
"Indeed, master, but Flora won't," said the maid, tossing up her nose.
" Then I will," and throwing her arms round the lad's neck, the child kissed the Bridge-shooter, whose face became scarlet with confusion. A hearty laugh was sent forth at his expense, as he said, " Thank'y, my lady, but vot I a' done for him an't worth half of that-it an't indeed, my lady; he was kind to my poor old mother, you sees, my lady; and I teached him to svim-I only teached him to svim-that's all-and I hope my lord and my lady, and you, honord sir, I an't done no harm; if I has, I humbly craves your pardon." Having said this he looked all manner of ways, he felt so terribly ashamed. Edward to relieve him of his embarrassment, drew all the attention towards himself, by explaining how (having, by the able instruction of his humble friend, become a most able and expert swimmer, since he had left his master's home), he had been enabled to baffle the murderous intention of his assailants the night before. It appeared, fortunately for himself, his presence of mind never for a moment forsook him, notwithstanding the danger he was in, and the agitation caused by witnessing the dreadful murder. The moment he was precipitated into the water, he felt that were he again to be seen by those wretches, his death was certain, so calculating (which proved to be exactly the case), that as the stream was running swiftly down, they ,
|would naturally first watch in that direction, in order to complete his destruction should he again appear, he, whilst under the water, laboured to swim for a time against the stream, and remembering that he had see a single barge at some distance off, he turned his course, as well as he could guess, in that direction; fortune befriended him, for when compelled again to come to the surface to take breath, he perceived himself to be just on the further side of it; this for a time screened him from their view, but fancying they were turning their boat to that point, he once again dived under, and coming up as seldom as his now-failing strength would permit, he at last gained the shore. So completely worn out was he, that he found it impossible to rise from the ground upon which he now lay. The night had become bitter cold-his senses were gradually leaving him-strange fancies flitted through his brain --he felt that he was dying-when, just as his eyes were closing, and he had given up all hopes of life, he felt a hand placed upon his shoulder. The sudden thought that the murderers had seized him, gave him for a moment the strength of despair; he turned, when over him he saw, by the moon's light, the kneeling figure of an aged woman. " Come," she said, " come, I am sent to fetch you. Ha, ha ! my son will own I'm a witch now, I'm thinking: were I not a witch, how had I known you were here. Whoever you may be rise and follow me; but first take this-it is a magic draught that always gives me strength." She placed to his lips an antique wooden bottle, curiously carved; the spirit it contained acted powerfully upon his frame, it glowed like fire through his veins. The old woman again urging him to follow her, he made another effort to rise, which, by her aid, proved successful. In a few minutes they reached a hut of the humblest kind; it stood alone in the midst of the marshes near Lambeth, then a bleak and desolate spot; but his heart was cheered by the sight of a blazing fire, and his wonder raised to the highest pitch, for there by its welcome light he saw the Bridge-shooter comfortably seated.|
" But I was more astonished nor him," said the lad, " to see Master Edward walk in with my old mother. But don't believe, good gentle folks, that she is a vitch-she isn't-indeed she isn't; although she does at times make vun doubt vun's seven senses."
Edward soon concluded his narrative, by stating that, completely overcome with fatigue, horror, and anxiety, it was useless to attempt reaching the merchant's that night, and it was late in the morning before a boat could be procured. The Bridge-shooter had not accompanied him, for he said he had a little secret business of his own to perform that morning, but hurried Edward away straight to the Court. Of all that subsequently happened there, the reader is fully aware. Alyce and Flora had been so interested in Edward as he told his tale of wonder, that they began to regard him with a very different feeling to that which they had experienced towards the poor youth on May-day, at Mary Overies' Green. Billy-the-bridge-shooter now became the centre of attraction to all the party, as he took up the thread of the discourse, saying-" Indeed, I vos astonished to see Master Edward come in vith my mother! And didn't she rate me soundly for my disbelief of her being a vitch ? ' What,' said she, ven Master Edward vos asleep, and
|. we were a votching on him-' what,' said she, 'should have told me all that has come to pass, if I am not a witch ? Is it nothing, think you, that three several times to-night a coal should have flown out of the fire, and every time of a different shape ?' ' It vould a been much more vunderful, mother,' said I, ' if their shapes had a been all alike.' Then she vent on-' The first was like a coffin, and so fairly made, that I knew it was for speedy use; that spoke of coming death-and has not a man been murdered? The next was like but half a coffin; a death but half performed-and has not Master Edward, as you call him, been within an inch of death? The last that came, was like a large full purse !'-' Vell, mother,' said I, ' that's not comed at all events.' ' But it will, boy-it will,' she replied: and I vish it may---"|
"And so it shall," interrupted Master Hewet; " but, proceed."
"There, now, I think you thinks I thinks about the money," said the lad, " and that's vot made me tell you vot mother said; but I doesn't-indeed I doesn't! Vell, ven Master Edward vos fairly off, says I to mother, 'to prove a murder, you vonts a vitness; now, there can't be no vitness half so good of a man's being murdered, as to make a vitness out o' the man himself. Mother agreed vith vot I said, for she's clever at times; so off I started to the vorter. Scaley Bill, the salmon fisher, was close in ashore. I told him all about it, and off we pushed to the spot Master Edward had pointed out: down I dives, and there, sure enough, I found the body-it was bolt upright, as if trying to rise to tell the world of the misdeed. I'm not afraid of dead men -not I, nor much of living vuns neither; so I undid the stone that vos fastened by a slipknot round his legs, and vith my horrid load, swam to the light o' day. Scaley Bill vos monstrous frightened ven he saw me come up, and crossed himself, I don't know how many times, and said I don't know how many prayers, afore he'd let me get into the boat. Lots of other boats now came about; ve soon landed-and all the rest your honors knows."
" But," enquired Edward, who possessed, as all else did in those days, a degree of superstition, " but, if your mother were not a witch, how came she to find me at that hour of the night, and in such a place ? and what did she mean by saying she was sent to fetch me ?"
" I axed that myself," said the lad; " and she said-' Do you think it's nothing,' for she generally begins her clevernesses by asking if it's nothing-and it very often is--' do you think it's nothing to see a spider creeping, and creeping, from under your petticoats---"
" Ah !" screamed Flora, at the same time catching up her own all round her legs, and shewing a very pretty little pair of ankles, as though one had been creeping, and creeping, from under her own; then blushing at her fears, she carefully covered her feet, and the lad went on.
" I watched it,' said mother, 'all across the floor, and it went on, and on, until it came to some water I had spilt, and there it stopped; by that I knew it was at the water's brink, that what I was to find would no where else be found: so off I trudged, and didn't I find the youth; and now, silly boy, will you still say I'm not a witch!' I know mother'll be burnt, 1 know she will; I keeps her in the marshes out of the way, on purpose that no one may hear her nonsense."
|All the party agreed, however, that it was very strange, a very wonderful coincidence, a very extraordinary agreeing of facts, &c. &c. ; but everybody laughed at the idea of believing in witchcraft, yet, inwardly every soul there determined privately to pay a visit to the witch of the marshes. No other incident occurred until they arrived at the merchant's, excepting that Billy-the-bridge-shooter, at his most earnest entreaty, was allowed to shoot the boat through Old London Bridge, instead of landing the party at the Swan stairs, and this he did in so masterly a manner, that all allowed the honourable name he bore was most meritoriously bestowed. Sir Filbut placed a piece of gold in his hand, and desired to know the address of his mother in the marshes, as he might, perchance, pay her a visit of charity. As the lad described the spot, not only were Flora's ears strained wide open to catch every word, but also those of the lovely Alyce; and it must be owned that Master Hewet, too, made up his mind not to forget the direction of the cunning woman of the marsh.|
Such horrible murders as that of the weaver on the river, and of Miles in the open court, combined with the strange, nay, almost miraculous, discovery of the perpetrator, naturally became the topic of universal conversation. Every running newsman reaped a plentiful harvest, by retailing all the most minute particulars of how deep the wound was in the weaver's head--and how far the blood of Miles had flown, and how tne greater part of it had spirted right over Harry Horton, Master Hewet's apprentice. " Indeed, but it did," said the newsman of the Cardinal's Hat; " I ought to know, for I was there, I imagine." Now he, like all his fraternity, was sure to have been at every scene he described, although fifty might have been going on at once, in fifty different places.-" Indeed, but it did, and it took such an effect on Master Horton, that he's gone home ill to his father's."--" But who is the murderer ?" said Checklocke the smith, for this dialogue took place in the upper, or more respectable room of the wine house, and was now filled by the traders and smaller merchants of the Bridge. " Oh! replied the newsman, knowing his business too well to injure the respectability of the Cardinal's Hat, by owning he had seen him there, "oh; a fellow from some distant part-no one seems to know him further than that they call him the Blear-eyed Bully; he's as tough as iron, for when he was put to the rack he only laughed, and told them 'to save their trouble, for that they might tear his flesh into a hundred mouths, but all the racks the fiends could muster, should not put a tongue into one of them; and he has kept his word; although it is well known he had accomplices, he has not betrayed a single name."
" No, nor will he," said saintly father Brassinjaw, who now looked smug and trim, and it being midday, was perfectly sober, and was now drinking a little sweetened water; " no, they will wring nothing from him. I have visited him night and day, at the intercession of that good young man, Harry Horton, who, although too ill himself to come to his master's, has not forgotten the spiritual welfare of that poor lost creature."
In part this was true, for Horton had employed his friend the priest to act as the go-between for him to the Bully, who laughed at Horton's
|. fears, and sent him word to " Come to his execution, and see how a man could die."|
" But what other news have you, good Master Knowy ?" inquired Catchemayde; " how goes on the trial of the Queen ?"
" Oh, her affair's so stale, it's scarcely worth the mentioning; but it will be a rather pretty execution on the 17th, when her five lovers are to die: Smeaton's to be hanged-the others lose their heads. That's all well enough; but it is vastly like playing with the people's patience, methinks-first to give out that we were to have a bonfire, made of a real right arnest Queen, and then, forsooth, to be put off in this way, with a mere slash-my-neck-and-it's-all-over."
" What !" said Silkworm the stringer; " is she only to have her head cut off, after all ? then I shall not take the trouble to go and see it, I can tell 'em."
" Nor shall I," added Checklocke.
" And I'm sure I won't !" chimed in Catchemayde.
" And I'm sure," said the newsman, " you're all right if you don't go, for you wouldn't s e it if you did. Why, bless you ! so tender-hearted is our good, dear, sweet King Harry, that not only has he refused to lot her be burnt to death, for he was to do as he liked with her-which, by the by, he generally does with most people; but in case she might be put to the blush, sweet innocent, by honest folks looking at her, it's all to be done within the walls of the Tower, and nobody is to know the time: but I know the day-mum, the 19th-but keep that snug; and now listen to this, my masters-if this isn't a bit of favouritism, I don't know what is. Why, bless you, so afraid is the King that his dear Nanny should be hurt, that he has sent all the way to Calais for the French headsman. To be sure, we all know that mounseer's a pretty workman, a very pretty workman; and I believe it's a fact, that no one whose head he has once cut off has ever after been heard to complain of his method."
"No !" exclaimed all present.
" Never! at least I've heard so, and that's saying a great deal for one who has had it in his power to hurt the feelings of so many."
Here the saintly father Brassinjaw, giving the newsman a sly wink, and beckoning him forward, whispered into his ear-" Good Master Knowy, canst thou not, in all thy budget, scrape up a little morsel of- of innocent scandal? hush-mum-it gives a piquant seasoning to thy discourse, friend Knowy."
The newsman, catching at the hint, said-" By-the-by, were I but sure that it would go no further, I could give you, friends, a rare bit of tittle-tattle; but, no, I'd better keep it to myself, for were it known that I had set it floating-"
The moment he threw in a dash of mystery, that moment did every one present desire to learn more.
" And, besides, it were cruel to draw an honest neighbour into ridicule."
I love to laugh at my neighbours," said Silkworm.
"And I'd rather laugh than cry at any time, or at any thing," added Catchemayde.
Here Brassinjaw began to snore, and pretended to go fast asleep.
" Come, Master Knowy, speak out, man," said Checklocke; "we love a bit of scandal, particularly about our own dear friends; and see, Brass- injaw is fast asleep, so you need fear to offend no one here."
" Well then," said Knowy, " it's about a certain person, not a hundred miles from this very house."
" Not Driggles," exclaimed one, " the lantern maker, whose wife broke his head with a ladle ?"
" Or Bunks, the buttoner, who could not get up, for his wife had run away with his slops and his hose ?" said another.
" Nearer than that," replied the newsman, "and his name begins with H."
" It can't be Master Hewet? No, you don't mean it ?" and then they all got closer round the newsman, and Brassinjaw snored louder than ever; and then they all declared they would give a sound silver penny each of them, ay, that they would, if they could only get one good laugh at Master Hewet.
" Well then, my friends, give me but the silver pennies, and I'll give you the laugh," saying this he held round his cap, into which they threw broken pieces of money; for the penny was then coined with a deeply indented cross upon it, which, if broken one way, made two halt pennies, if broken again the other way, it formed four fourthings, or as we now say farthings.
Having received a goodround sum, for scandal was as high in the market then, as it has been since, he began by saying, " Now, remember, I say nothing, I know nothing, and therefore can tell nothing, but it is odd, isn't it ?" They all nodded their heads, not that they had heard anything very odd yet, but they assented by anticipation, knowing that Master Knowy was no duper, but a true man and an honest.
" But it is odd, isn't it," said he, " that Master Hewet should have such a pretty wife ?"
"Oh! come," said Catchemayde, "that won't do at all-no, no, there's nothing of scandal there, I'd be sworn."
" I didn't say there was-I only said it was odd-and it is odd, that twenty times a week, a dapper little page, more splendidly dressed than dapper little page was ever dressed before, should call on honest Master Hewet-I say on honest Master Hewet, and with him always brings some costlyfruits from over seas, or else some lovely flowers.--Dame Alyce, so the story goes, is wondrously fond of fruits and flowers- now it's odd, but mind, I say nothing farther than it is odd, that Master Hewet's lovely wife is now no longer satisfied with a good pillion behind her loving lord, but needs must learn to ride upon a noble steed herself."
"Well, that is odd, I own," said Catchemayde.
"And it's odd, methinks, that the very horse she learns to ride upon belongs to the master of the dapper little page---
" And who is he ?" exclaimed more than one.
" I say not who, but only that it is odd-that on the left arm of this same page, the arms should there be found of young Sir Filbut Fussy !"
No ?" ejaculated a dozen at the least.
"And odder still it is, that he who teaches the merchant's lovely wife
|. to ride, is rich Sir Filbut Fussy's self! But not a word, not a breath of what I've told you as being odd, for it's only odd, and nothing more, depend upon it. And now a right good day to you all, my worthy sirs." On this the newsman made his exit, determining, in his own mind, that now he had found out how well scandal was paid for, he would henceforth publicly announce himself as Master Knowy, the knowing scandal newsman.|
The rest of the party, after making their several comments upon what they had heard, and uttering a few jokes at the expense of Master Hewet, determined to go past the merchant's in a body, and if the page, or Sir Filbut Fussy, should be there, to set up a horse' laugh, and then run away. Fortunately for all parties, they were disappointed in their kind intention. The moment they had all left the room, Brassinjaw opened his eyes-but they had been pretty well opened by the newsman, and in a manner he had little expected : he was evidently greatly annoyed, and frowned prodigiously. He got up, put on his bonnet, and left the place muttering as he went-" She shall do a pretty penance for this, in purse as well as person. I'll not leave a bit of skin on her knees, nor a silver penny in her purse. I'm not angry with her for disliking her husband, for who can like the fellow-I have hated him ever since he refused to be one of my flock. Nor am I angy that she should discover beauties in the rich fool, Sir Filbut Fussy; no, for all this I might find absolution; but I'll never forgive her keeping the secret so snug from me. Why, properly used, it would have been a little fortune to me; but it may not yet be too late to do something in the matter." A short time after this, the saintly father Brassinjaw might be seen seated upon a little fat long-eared mule, that trotted along the road up Chancery Lane, then a lovely lane bordered by green hedges clothed in May's most tempting livery. The truth is that in a lonely cottage in the fields near Holbourne, Harry Horton had taken up his quarters, the whole tale of his own, or his father's illness being a mere subterfuge, an excuse for remaining away from his master's abode, until he saw how matters were likely to turn. Here he could unnoticed by any one carry on his schemes, and it was here that Sir Filbut Fussy was made to pay rather dearly for the assistance and advice of Horton in the conspiracy, carrying on against honest Master Hewet and his simple-minded lovely spouse. Brassinjaw was not so great a fool as to imagine that Harry Horton was not aware of all that had been going on under his master's roof, and was now on his way to come to an explanation, and to settle upon what terms he was either to speak out or to hold his peace; the scheme of villany concocted between them at this interview we must leave the incidents themselves to elucidate. But this much we may here relate, that Sir Filbut-therich Sir Filbut-became one of the saintly father Brassin- jaw's flock, and it occurred strangely enough, that father Brassinjaw's memory became suddenly so bad, that he was for ever appointing the same day, and the very same hour, for receiving the confessions both of Sir Filbut and the lovely Alyce, by which it naturally occurred that they were for ever meeting in the chapel of Saint Thomas of the Bridge, for as the reader may have perceived, Alyce was rather given to holy views, and Sir Filbut now became prodigiously religious.
It was Friday, the 19th of May, when, about the middle of the day, a single gun was heard to boom loudly from the Tower walls; at that moment, the head of the once madly-adored Queen of Henry the Eighth, the lovely Anne Boleyn, had fallen beneath the sword or the Calais executioner. So unexpected a sound naturally drew the inhabitants of Old London Bridge to the casements which looked towards the east. The hour of the Queen's execution had been kept a profound secret from the public, so that the awful scene was witnessed but by few. There were two circumstances connected with the death of this unfortunate creature, which, perhaps, as much as any, speak the heartless and cruel nature of her tyrant lord; the one was placing her as a prisoner in the very same apartments in the Tower in which she had slept the night before her coronation, when she had arrived from Greenwich in all the pomp that the wealth of this most wealthy city could lavish upon the aquatic pageant, to show devotion to the favourite of a King; the other was in fixing on the 19th of May for her death, that very day being the anniversary of her coming to the Tower. She arrived there on the , in all the pride of royalty, to ascend a throne-she left the Tower on the , in all the horrors of despair, to mount a scaffold.
The gun the citizens had heard was the signal to tell King Henry, who had gone hunting, that he was now a widower; and it is said, that when the anxiously-expected but welcome sound reached the heartless miscreant's ear, he ordered his attendants then to " slip the dogs, and let the chase begin."
Now, although the good citizens had been prevented enjoying so rare a sight as that of gazing upon the first female blood that had ever flowed in England to stain a public scaffold, they had been, for some hours previously, feasting their eyes upon a different kind of death, which, from its lingering nature, the imagination can scarcely conceive aught more horrible--it was the execution of the Blear-eyed Bully. Crowds of boats, of all shapes and colours, covered the Thames below bridge, for the scene now taking place was one of rare occurrence, and consequently had drawn together an immense concourse of people.
The trial of the Blear-eyed Bully, as might be expected, was but a short affair; the evidence concerning the murder of the weaver was too powerful to admit of a moment's doubt; and the second murder, within the Court, could not for an instant be denied; indeed, the Bully knew himself to be so utterly lost, that he would not answer a single question, until put to the rack; and then he only gave the answer which we , have already put into the mouth of the newsman. As the first crime had been committed upon the river, the sentence passed upon him was that he should die the death of water, that is, he should be chained to a pile, driven into the bed of the river at low water, and there remain until he had had three tides rise over him.
The spot appointed for the horrid exhibition was off the stairs at Billingsgate, as being a part of the river most frequented by the reckless portion of the city, and therefore well adapted to so striking an example. As early as six in the morning the preparations had began.
|, The water-bailiffs had arranged a semicircle of boats, containing their officers, all fully armed, at some distance around the fatal pile to which the poor wretch was to be bound, thus keeping an open space about the culprit, and at the same time preventing any chance of a rescue; for in those days such violent attempts were not infrequent, the inhahitants of the Clink, or of Alsasia, seldom allowing one of their body to oe taken, or, if taken, to be executed, without at least a struggle for his freedom. The Blear-eyed Bully appeared to have no friends of this sort, for all who were present seemed to delight in the dreadful agonies they hoped the murderer would have to endure.|
It had fallen to the lot of Checklocke, the smith, to be employed in fixing the staples and the chains to the strong pile. This gave him an opportunity of affording such a treat to his two sworn friends, Catchemayde and Silkworm, that they had never before known the like of. They acted as Checklocke's assistants, and held the boat steady, as he laboured away at his, to them all, most pleasing duty. In case that the struggles of so powerful a man as the Blear-eyed Bully should draw a staple, or otherwise damage the work, the smith's boat was ordered to remain close to the prisoner, so that they would be able to mark every change of feature: and didn't they make up their minds to enjoy themselves
About an hour after the turn of tide, such a yelling, and shouting, and huzzaing, was heard, that it was not difficult to guess that the prisoner was on his way to death. Several got a good ducking in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of the Bully; for, in standing up suddenly, they overbalanced themselves, and upset their boats. There were, as may be supposed, not many of the windows of the Bridge-houses unoccupied, and all was noise, movement, and confusion. From the Bridge an excellent view was obtained, for the Bailiffs' boats keeping the space quite clear, everything close to the pile could be clearly distinguished. Presently, two boats put off; in the one sat the Blear-eyed Bully, strongly bound, and securely guarded; in the other, were the priests of St. Thomas of the Bridge, amongst them our saintly father Brassinjaw. To the front side of the pile had been affixed a sort of table to support the feet of the murderer; but this was now out of sight, the water having risen nearly two feet above it. A deafening shout burst forth as the Bully took his place upon the spot appointed, the water now reaching to his knees. A chain was then bound about his body and the pile, like a serpent, beginning at his feet, and coiling round and round upwards, till it finished by being passed twice around his neck, and fastened by a strong staple to the back of the pile: this was Checklocke's affair, and, strongly enough did he drive the staple home, and then, looking insultingly into the face of the doomed man, asked him how he liked it ? The only notice the Blear-eyed Bully took of him, was, to spit right in his eye, which dreadfully insulted Checklocke, and caused shouts of applause and laughter from those around.
Before the preparations were completed, the poor wretch could clearly feel the waters rising, and rising, slowly, it is true, but surely: what must have been the reflections of man in such a situation ?-it is dreadful to contemplate ! The guilt of murder on his soul-the ghosts of his
|victims shewing again in memory's fearful glass, like shadowy but bloody sentinels, watching until the moment when life's great commander, Death, should give the word to guard that soul into the prison-house f never-ending woe--to hear the writhings of affrighted nature made subjects of disgusting ribaldry and brutal jest ! The Blear-eyed Bully bore his fate as though his soul had been wrought in steel. At every rising wave, the only change that even the priests, who never ceased to pray, to chant, and then exhort the dying man to repent, while yet it was time, could perceive, was a stronger compression of the lip, and a firmen fixing of the eye. His hands were fastened in the attitude of prayer, and between them was bound a crucifix. In this horrid situation, he had to be exposed for hours, for, to him, death came too slowly, that comes so quickly to all who breathe the breath of hope-but his only hope was death! As the spectators grew tired, some moved away, and others rowed then nearer, to get a better view of the doomed murderer. So passed away the first dreadful hour-so the next; and on, and on, time sped his never varying course; and higher still up heaved the monster river, but, oh! so gently, that his deadly approach was scarcely felt or seen--like the hand upon a dial, its motion was only told by having reached a spot, that not long before we knew to be at a distance.|
The people of the Bridge had almost vanished, for the monotony was tiresome; but still the waters rose; the crucifix that rested against his breast was now half hidden by the flood; and still the waters rose. Master Hewet and Edward Osborne kept their rooms that day, for they felt that in a degree they were mixed up with the wretched man who Was then undergoing the dreadful expiation of all his crimes; the truth had been carefully concealed from Alyce, and the merchant had hitherto succeeded in keeping her to tne front part of their dwelling; not so Flora Gray; although she had been commanded not to go out upon the bal ony, peep she would, and let little Anne peep too, and more than peep, for she stood the child upon the upper edge of the balcony, and holding her fast, pointed out to her all that was moving upon the flood beneath.
The waters had now risen up to the very mouth of the murderer- the boats tried to get nearer and nearer, and even as far as the Bridge, which was again crowded, the murmur might be heard--" See, see, a few minutes, and it's all over with the wretch." The Blear-eyed Bully's eyes now protruded farther and farther, as despair seemed to take possession of his soul; he held back his head as far as the firm manner in which it had been placed, permitted, in the vain endeavour to raise his lips above the stream; this was indeed a moment frought with death, for it was at that instant the gun was fired from the Tower.
The sudden sound of cannon made Alyce run into the lower balcony, thinking some pageant was passing by, when, who can paint her horror, as from the balcony above, she saw her only child fall headlong into the raging cataracts beneath ! Her screams were frightful, as were those of Flora, who, startled at the sound of the cannon, had let loose her hold - -the child was gone !
Of all the crowd of boats, not one dared shoot the Bridge to attempt the rescue of the child. But, oh, what a shout was heard, as Edward Osborne was seen to leap from the balcony's upper roof into the raging
|. flood! Did we say no boat dared attempt the falls? Yes, there was one, and only one; it had in it a single rower-that rower was the ragged lad, the fearless Shooter-of-the-bridge. In an instant he had brought his boat into the power of the resistless current; then turning to face the danger, he fixed his feet firmly against the board in front, threw back his body until it nearly lay upon the seats behind, and like an arrow shot through the Bridge, and down the fatal fall. The waters had done their dread vengeance upon the wretched murderer; the stream flowed smoothly o'er his guilty head, and all was over. The excitement now took a different turn; every boat hastened to the shores, the people landing hurried to the other side of the Bridge, to learn the fate of the merchant's lovely child, and that of the gallant Edward Osborne; these, after they had passed the falls of the Bridge, were seen tossed over and over by the rushing waves; and then came dashing through the no-less-gallant Bridge-shooter. Never were the instructions of a great master in any art more fully rewarded by success, than in the case of Edward Osborne. He buffetted the waves until he mastered their power sufficiently to allow him to call in the energies of his mind to direct his course; at last a loud peal of triumph rent the air, as the beholders saw, to their astonishment, the youth floating on the surface, and with one hand upholding his master's child. But there was one more to share his glory, the worthy master of such a pupil. Billy-the- bridge-shooter had that very moment proved his right to the title he so nobly bore, and his was the first boat that reached the almost-exhausted youth. Osborne, with the child still held close to his breast, was soon landed, and the mother and sire both kneeling in thankfulness at his feet.|
Before we close this strange and eventful chapter, we are compelled to add one incident more, scarcely less strange, and certainly not less eventful to our coming tale, than those that have preceded it.
The day was passing rapidly away, when the changeling tide having done its worst upon the murderer, had long since been hurrying to the ocean to tell its tale of horror, and now was at its lowest. There still was seen the dead body chained to the fatal pile, for the law enacted that three tides should cover it. At this moment, a boat was seen coming up the river, in which a solitary passenger, with trunks and other things bespeaking the traveller, was being rowed towards the landing-place of Billingsgate. Before the stranger came very near the shore, he was horror-stricken at seeing the awful spectre, that seemed to be rising from out the flood. The waterman explained to him all that had occurred, when he no longer felt pity for such a wretch; but curiosity impelled him to make the man row as close as possible to the executed criminal. Indeed, so close had the man brought the boat, that when the stranger who was standing up in it turned round, his face came almost in contact with that of the dead man. He gave one horrid shriek, and falling backward, exclaimed-" Oh God, it is my brother !"