« ZurückWeiter »
again. Amongst other disputes, he managed to embroil himself at play with the celebrated Beau Fielding, a man, who if he was no swordsman nor particularly remarkable for courage, was not likely to be restrained by any moral considerations from revenging an injury by safe means.
Several days had elapsed since the appearance of the spirit, when an event happened that must have brought it again to his recollection, though it failed to teach him prudence. As he was walking from his chambers in Lincolns' Inn to a certain tavern in the Strand, one of his customary places of resort, he imagined that he was dogged by a man, who followed him at a short distance. To make the matter quite certain, he went into a chemist's, under pretence of buying some unim. portant drug, but though he staid there full ten minutes, when he came out, there was his pertinacious follower. Turning round sharply upon him, Robert demanded “who he was, and what he meant by following him ?” the man replied, and with no less sharpness, “ I am not following you, I'm following my own business." Robert paused for a moment, half disposed to make a quarrel of it, but on second thoughts he abandoned this purpose; it might be nothing more than mere sullenness in the fellow, and a perverse disposition to do that which he saw was a matter of annoyance. “I will give the brute one more chance," said Robert to himself; " and then, if he still dares to keep at my heels, it will be at his peril.”
And so saying, he crossed to the opposite side
of the way
The man followed himn step for step, and Robert could hear the tread of his heavy-nailed shoes the moment they had reached the pavement. It was now close upon eleven o'clock at night, the street was almost deserted, and, moreover, the lamps, according to the custom of those days, were so few in number, and so sparingly supplied with oil, that they rather served to show the darkness than to afford light. Still he heard the steps behind, and—or did fancy deceive him? the whispering of more than two voices. Again he turned round hastily, and his pursuer being just then under a lamp, he saw him at about twenty paces off with a second ruffian, who had just that minute joined him. Decisive measures were now evidently indispensable, and drawing his sword, he called upon them to retire at their peril. Tothis the tworuffians replied by falling upon him sword in hand ; and such, at the time, was the state of so public a thoroughfare as the Strand, that the combat continued without interruption from any accidental passer-by, till one of the assailants, being wounded, took to his heels, and the other was not slow in following his example. But neither had Robert escaped scot free. One of them had wounded him in the leg, and, abandoning all thoughts of following his enemies, he made the best of his way to the nearest tavern. Faint from loss of blood, he called for some brandy, and having drank it off, he coolly wiped his reeking sword, returned it to its sheath, and bound a handkerchief about his wounded leg. Common as scenes of this kind were, his tale excited much speculation as to the probable authors of the attack. Some suggested that the ruffians, aiter all, might not have been personal enemies, but merely intent upon plunder. Robert shook his head.
“I do not believe it,” he replied. “My firm conviction is that the villains were hired and set on by some one who owed me a grudge; and mark you, landlord”--this was addressed to the owner of the tavern—"if any thing happens to me before the night's over, as I am persuaded there will, let my friends know what I now say. It will be no hard matter for them to guess the murderer.”
The landlord would fain have persuaded him to pass the night where he was, or, if not, to let some of the tavern-people see him safe to his chambers in Lincoln's Inn. Many of the guests then and anger.
present joined in pressing the same advice upon him, but he was obstinate to go home by himself; he never had, and never would skulk from fear of any such rascals; and when they persisted in their remonstrances, he repelled them with so much acrimony that every one was silent. He was suffered to go out alone, none feeling that it was their duty to run a serious risk for the sake of a man who rejected their assistance with contempt
The scene of our tradition must now be shifted to another place and to other actors.
There was a Mrs. Brown, who appears, though we know not from what cause, to have taken a lively interest in his fortunes. Perhaps it was from her holding some situation in the family of his uncle, Sir Robert. On this fatal night she dreamed that one Mrs. Shearman, who seems to have been the housekeeper, came to her, and asked for a sheet. She demanded, " for what purpose ?” Mrs. Shearman replied, “poor Master Robert is killed, and it is to wind him in." And this dream proved true to the letter, for in the morning, Mrs. Shearman came, at an early honr, into her room, and seeming like one bewildered, asked for a sheet.— For what purpose," said the terrified dreamer, the very words of her sleep rising spontaneously to her lips.—“Poor Mr. Robert is murdered," was the reply ; "he lies dead in the
Strand watch-house, and it is to wind his body in."
We will not attempt to deny or explain the vision. Enough for our purpose, that he had been really found dead, near the so-called Maypole, in the Strand, which occupied the site of an ancient stone cross, and having been found here early in the morning, his body was removed to the watch-house. There was a deep wound under his left breast, by him was his bloody sword, yet it was generally supposed at the time, that he had been killed in some house, and laid there afterwards. It was also said, that a stranger's hat, with a bunch of ribbons in it was found by his side, but notwithstanding these indicia, and the earnest exertions of his friends and relatives; the assassins could never be discovered. Suspicion did indeed fall upon Beau Fielding, from the previous quarrel, to which we have already alluded, but it never went beyond suspicion ; others imagined, and perhaps with as little reason, that the murder had been committed by a near relation of Sir Robert Southwell's wife, but “the matter," as the old narrator tells
us, too uncertain to admit of any free discourse of any person for it."
Singular as this story is, its marvels are not yet over.—“Sir Philip, his elder brother, being re