OLD SAINT PAUL'S
A TALE OF THE PLAGUE AND THE FIRE
BY WILLIAM HARRISON AINSWORTH
The portion of the ensuing Tale relating to the Grocer of Wood-street, and his manner of victualling his house, and shutting up himself and his family within it during the worst part of the Plague of 1665, is founded on a narrative, which I have followed pretty closely in most of its details, contained in a very rare little volume, entitled, "Preparations against the Plague, both of Soul and Body," the authorship of which I have no hesitation in assigning to DEFOE. Indeed, I venture to pronounce it his masterpiece. It is strange that this matchless performance should have hitherto escaped attention, and that it should not have been reprinted with some one of the countless impressions of the "History of the Plague of London," to which it forms an almost necessary accompaniment. The omission, I trust, will be repaired by Mr. HAZLITT the younger, DEFOE'S last and best editor, in his valuable edition of the works of that great novelist and political writer, now in the course of publication. It may be added, that a case precisely similar to that of the Grocer, and attended with the same happy results, occurred during the Plague of Marseilles, in 1720.
For my acquaintance with this narrative, as well as for the suggestion of its application to the present purpose, I am indebted to my friend, Mr. JAMES CROSSLEY, of Manchester.
KENSAL MANOR HOUSE, HARROW ROAD, November 30, 1841.
BOOK THE FIRST—April, 1665.
1. The Grocer of Wood-street and his Family.
2. The Coffin-maker.
3. The Gamester and the Bully.
4. The Interview.
5. The Pomander-box.
6. The Libertine Punished.
7. The Plague Nurse.
8. The Mosaical Rods.
9. The Miniature.
10. The Duel.
BOOK THE SECOND.—May, 1665.
1. The Progress of the Pestilence.
2. In what Manner the Grocer Victualled his House.
3. The Quack Doctors.
4. The Two Watchmen.
5. The Blind Piper and his Daughter.
6. Old London from Old Saint Paul's.
7. Paul's Walk.
8. The Amulet.
9. How Leonard was cured of the Plague.
10. The Pest-house in Finsbury Fields.
11. How the Grocer shut up his House.
BOOK THE THIRD.—June, 1665.
1. The Imprisoned Family.
2. How Fires were Lighted in the Streets.
3. The Dance of Death.
4. The Plague-pit.
5. How Saint Paul's was used as a Pest-house.
6. The Departure.
7. The Journey.
8. Ashdown Lodge.
9. Kingston Lisle.
BOOK THE FOURTH.—September, 1665.
1. The Plague at its Height.
2. The Second Plague-pit.
3. The House in Nicholas-lane.
4. The Trials of Amabel.
5. The Marriage and its Consequences.
6. The Certificate.
BOOK THE FIFTH.—December, 1665.
1. The Decline of the Plague.
2. The Midnight Meeting.
BOOK THE SIXTH.—September, 1666.
1. The Fire-ball.
2. The First Night of the Fire.
3. Progress of the Fire.
4. Leonard's Interview with the King.
5. How Leonard saved the King's Life.
6. How the Grocer's House was Burnt.
7. The Burning of Saint Paul's.
8. How Leonard rescued the Lady Isabella.
9. What befel Chowles and Judith in the Vaults of Saint Faith's.
OLD SAINT PAUL'S.
BOOK THE FIRST.
THE GROCER OF WOOD-STREET AND HIS FAMILY.
One night, at the latter end of April, 1665, the family of a citizen of London carrying on an extensive business as a grocer in Wood-street, Cheapside, were assembled, according to custom, at prayer. The grocer's name was Stephen Bloundel. His family consisted of his wife, three sons, and two daughters. He had, moreover, an apprentice; an elderly female serving as cook; her son, a young man about five-and-twenty, filling the place of porter to the shop and general assistant; and a kitchen-maid. The whole household attended; for the worthy grocer, being a strict observer of his religious duties, as well as a rigid disciplinarian in other respects, suffered no one to be absent, on any plea whatever, except indisposition, from morning and evening devotions; and these were always performed at stated times. In fact, the establishment was conducted with the regularity of clockwork, it being the aim of its master not to pass a single hour of the day unprofitably.
The ordinary prayers gone through, Stephen Bloundel offered up along and fervent supplication to the Most High for protection against the devouring pestilence with which the city was then scourged. He acknowledged that this terrible visitation had been justly brought upon it by the wickedness of its inhabitants; that they deserved their doom, dreadful though it was; that, like the dwellers in Jerusalem before it was given up to ruin and desolation, they "had mocked the messengers of God and despised His word;" that in the language of the prophet, "they had refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear; yea, had made their heart like an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law and the words which the Lord of Hosts had sent in his spirit by the former prophets." He admitted that great sins require great chastisement, and that the sins of London were enormous; that it was filled with strifes, seditions, heresies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and every kind of abomination; that the ordinances of God were neglected, and all manner of vice openly practised; that, despite repeated warnings and afflictions less grievous than the present, these vicious practices had been persisted in. All this he humbly acknowledged. But he implored a gracious Providence, in consideration of his few faithful servants, to spare the others yet a little longer, and give them a last chance of repentance and amendment; or, if this could not be, and their utter extirpation was inevitable, that the habitations of the devout might be exempted from the general destruction—might be places of refuge, as Zoar was to Lot. He concluded by earnestly exhorting those around him to keep constant watch upon themselves; not to murmur at God's dealings and dispensations; but so to comport themselves, that "they might be able to stand in the day of wrath, in the day of death, and in the day of judgment." The exhortation produced a powerful effect upon its hearers, and they arose, some with serious, others with terrified looks.
Before proceeding further, it may be desirable to show in what manner the dreadful pestilence referred to by the grocer commenced, and how far its ravages had already extended. Two years before, namely, in 1663, more than a third of the population of Amsterdam was carried off by a desolating plague. Hamburgh was also grievously afflicted about the same time, and in the same manner. Notwithstanding every effort to cut off communication with these states, the insidious disease found its way into England by means of some bales of merchandise, as it was suspected, at the latter end of the year 1664, when two persons died suddenly, with undoubted symptoms of the distemper, in Westminster. Its next appearance was at a house in Long Acre, and its victims two Frenchmen, who had brought goods from the Levant. Smothered for a short time, like a fire upon which coals had been heaped, it broke out with fresh fury in several places.
The consternation now began. The whole city was panic-stricken: nothing was talked of but the plague—nothing planned but means of arresting its progress—one grim and ghastly idea possessed the minds of all. Like a hideous phantom stalking the streets at noon-day, and scaring all in its path, Death took his course through London, and selected his prey at pleasure. The alarm was further increased by the predictions confidently made as to the vast numbers who would be swept away by the visitation; by the prognostications of astrologers; by the prophesyings of enthusiasts; by the denunciations of preachers, and by the portents and prodigies reported to have occurred. During the long and frosty winter preceding this fatal year, a comet appeared in the heavens, the sickly colour of which was supposed to forebode the judgment about to follow. Blazing stars and other meteors, of a lurid hue and strange and preternatural shape, were likewise seen. The sun was said to have set in streams of blood, and the moon to have shown without reflecting a shadow; grisly shapes appeared at night—strange clamours and groans were heard in the air—hearses, coffins, and heaps of unburied dead were discovered in the sky, and great cakes and clots of blood were found in the Tower moat; while a marvellous double tide occurred at London Bridge. All these prodigies were currently reported, and in most cases believed.
The severe frost, before noticed, did not break up till the end of February, and with the thaw the plague frightfully increased in violence. From Drury-lane it spread along Holborn, eastward as far as Great Turnstile, and westward to Saint Giles's Pound, and so along the Tyburn-road. Saint Andrew's, Holborn, was next infected; and as this was a much more populous parish than the former, the deaths were more numerous within it. For a while, the disease was checked by Fleet Ditch; it then leaped this narrow boundary, and ascending the opposite hill, carried fearful devastation into Saint James's, Clerkenwell. At the same time, it attacked Saint Bride's; thinned the ranks of the thievish horde haunting Whitefriars, and proceeding in a westerly course, decimated Saint Clement Danes.
Hitherto, the city had escaped. The destroyer had not passed Ludgate or Newgate, but environed the walls like a besieging enemy. A few days, however, before the opening of this history, fine weather having commenced, the horrible disease began to grow more rife, and laughing all precautions and impediments to scorn, broke out in the very heart of the stronghold—namely, in Bearbinder-lane, near Stock's Market, where nine persons died.
At a season so awful, it may be imagined how an impressive address, like that delivered by the grocer, would be received by those who saw in the pestilence, not merely an overwhelming scourge from which few could escape, but a direct manifestation of the Divine displeasure. Not a word was said. Blaize Shotterel, the porter, and old Josyna, his mother, together with Patience, the other woman-servant, betook themselves silently, and with troubled countenances, to the kitchen. Leonard Holt, the apprentice, lingered for a moment to catch a glance from the soft blue eyes of Amabel, the grocer's eldest daughter (for even the plague was a secondary consideration with him when she was present), and failing in the attempt, he heaved a deep sigh, which was luckily laid to the account of the discourse he had just listened to by his sharp-sighted master, and proceeded to the shop, where he busied himself in arranging matters for the night.
Having just completed his twenty-first year, and his apprenticeship being within a few months of its expiration, Leonard Holt began to think of returning to his native town of Manchester, where he intended to settle, and where he had once fondly hoped the fair Amabel would accompany him, in the character of his bride. Not that he had ever ventured to declare his passion, nor that he had received sufficient encouragement to make it matter of certainty that if he did so declare himself, he should be accepted; but being both "proper and tall," and having tolerable confidence in his good looks, he had made himself, up to a short time prior to his introduction to the reader, quite easy on the point.
His present misgivings were occasioned by Amabel's altered manner towards him, and by a rival who, he had reason to fear, had completely superseded him in her good graces. Brought up together from an early age, the grocer's daughter and the young apprentice had at first regarded each other as brother and sister. By degrees, the feeling changed; Amabel became more reserved, and held little intercourse with Leonard, who, busied with his own concerns, thought little about her. But, as he grew towards manhood, he could not remain insensible to her extraordinary beauty—for extraordinary it was, and such as to attract admiration wherever she went, so that the "Grocer's Daughter" became the toast among the ruffling gallants of the town, many of whom sought to obtain speech with her. Her parents, however, were far too careful to permit any such approach. Amabel's stature was lofty; her limbs slight, but exquisitely symmetrical; her features small, and cast in the most delicate mould; her eyes of the softest blue; and her hair luxuriant, and of the finest texture and richest brown. Her other beauties must be left to the imagination; but it ought not to be omitted that she was barely eighteen, and had all the freshness, the innocence, and vivacity of that most charming period of woman's existence. No wonder she ravished every heart. No wonder, in an age when love-making was more general even than now, that she was beset by admirers. No wonder her father's apprentice became desperately enamoured of her, and proportionately jealous.
And this brings us to his rival. On the 10th of April, two gallants, both richly attired, and both young and handsome, dismounted before the grocer's door, and, leaving their steeds to the care of their attendants, entered the shop. They made sundry purchases of conserves, figs, and other dried fruit, chatted familiarly with the grocer, and tarried so long, that at last he began to suspect they must have some motive. All at once, however, they disagreed on some slight matter—Bloundel could not tell what, nor, perhaps, could the disputants, even if their quarrel was not preconcerted—high words arose, and in another moment, swords were drawn, and furious passes exchanged. The grocer called to his eldest son, a stout youth of nineteen, and to Leonard Holt, to separate them. The apprentice seized his cudgel—no apprentice in those days was without one—and rushed towards the combatants, but before he could interfere, the fray was ended. One of them had received a thrust through the sword arm, and his blade dropping, his antagonist declared himself satisfied, and with a grave salute walked off. The wounded man wrapped a lace handkerchief round his arm, but immediately afterwards complained of great faintness. Pitying his condition, and suspecting no harm, the grocer led him into an inner room, where restoratives were offered by Mrs. Bloundel and her daughter Amabel, both of whom had been alarmed by the noise of the conflict. In a short time, the wounded man was so far recovered as to be able to converse with his assistants, especially the younger one; and the grocer having returned to the shop, his discourse became so very animated and tender, that Mrs. Bloundel deemed it prudent to give her daughter a hint to retire. Amabel reluctantly obeyed, for the young stranger was so handsome, so richly dressed, had such a captivating manner, and so distinguished an air, that she was strongly prepossessed in his favour. A second look from her mother, however, caused her to disappear, nor did she return. After waiting with suppressed anxiety for some time, the young gallant departed, overwhelming the good dame with his thanks, and entreating permission to call again. This was peremptorily refused, but, notwithstanding the interdiction, he came on the following day. The grocer chanced to be out at the time, and the gallant, who had probably watched him go forth, deriding the remonstrances of the younger Bloundel and Leonard, marched straight to the inner room, where he found the dame and her daughter. They were much disconcerted at his appearance, and the latter instantly rose with the intention of retiring, but the gallant caught her arm and detained her.
"Do not fly me, Amabel," he cried, in an impassioned tone, "but suffer me to declare the love I have for you. I cannot live without you."
Amabel, whose neck and cheeks were crimsoned with blushes, cast down her eyes before the ardent regards of the gallant, and endeavoured to withdraw her hand.
"One word only," he continued, "and I release you. Am I wholly indifferent to you! Answer me—yes or no!"
"Do not answer him, Amabel," interposed her mother. "He is deceiving you. He loves you not. He would ruin you. This is the way with all these court butterflies. Tell him you hate him, child, and bid him begone."
"But I cannot tell him an untruth, mother," returned Amabel, artlessly, "for I do not hate him."
"Then you love me," cried the young man, falling on his knees, and pressing her hand to his lips. "Tell me so, and make me the happiest of men."
But Amabel had now recovered from the confusion into which she had been thrown, and, alarmed at her own indiscretion, forcibly withdrew her hand, exclaiming in a cold tone, and with much natural dignity, "Arise, sir. I will not tolerate these freedoms. My mother is right—you have some ill design."
"By my soul, no!" cried the gallant, passionately. "I love you, and would make you mine."
"No doubt," remarked Mrs. Bloundel, contemptuously, "but not by marriage."
"Yes, by marriage," rejoined the gallant, rising. "If she will consent, I will wed her forthwith."
Both Amabel and her mother looked surprised at the young man's declaration, which was uttered with a fervour that seemed to leave no doubt of its sincerity; but the latter, fearing some artifice, replied, "If what you say is true, and you really love my daughter as much as you pretend, this is not the way to win her; for though she can have no pretension to wed with one of your seeming degree, nor is it for her happiness that she should, yet, were she sought by the proudest noble in the land, she shall never, if I can help it, be lightly won. If your intentions are honourable, you must address yourself, in the first place, to her father, and if he agrees (which I much doubt) that you shall become her suitor, I can make no objection. Till this is settled, I must pray you to desist from further importunity."
"And so must I," added Amabel. "I cannot give you a hope till you have spoken to my father."
"Be it so," replied the gallant. "I will tarry here till his return."
So saying, he was about to seat himself, but Mrs. Bloundel prevented him.
"I cannot permit this, sir," she cried. "Your tarrying here may, for aught I know, bring scandal upon my house;—I am sure it will be disagreeable to my husband. I am unacquainted with your name and condition. You may be a man of rank. You may be one of the profligate and profane crew who haunt the court. You may be the worst of them all, my Lord Rochester himself. He is about your age, I have heard, and though a mere boy in years, is a veteran in libertinism. But, whoever you are, and whatever your rank and station may be, unless your character will bear the strictest scrutiny, I am certain Stephen Bloundel will never consent to your union with his daughter."
"Nay, mother," observed Amabel, "you judge the gentleman unjustly. I am sure he is neither a profligate gallant himself, nor a companion of such—especially of the wicked Earl of Rochester."
"I pretend to be no better than I am," replied the young man, repressing a smile that rose to his lips at Mrs. Bloundel's address; "but I shall reform when I am married. It would be impossible to be inconstant to so fair a creature as Amabel. For my rank, I have none. My condition is that of a private gentleman,—my name, Maurice Wyvil."
"What you say of yourself, Mr. Maurice Wyvil, convinces me you will meet with a decided refusal from my husband," returned Mrs. Bloundel.
"I trust not," replied Wyvil, glancing tenderly at Amabel. "If I should be so fortunate as to gain his consent, have I yours?"
"It is too soon to ask that question," she rejoined, blushing deeply. "And now, sir, you must go, indeed, you must. You distress my mother."
"If I do not distress you, I will stay," resumed Wyvil, with an imploring look.
"You do distress me," she answered, averting her gaze.
"Nay, then, I must tear myself away," he rejoined. "I shall return shortly, and trust to find your father less flinty-hearted than he is represented."
He would have clasped Amabel in his arms, and perhaps snatched a kiss, if her mother had not rushed between them.
"No more familiarities, sir," she cried angrily; "no court manners here. If you look to wed my daughter, you must conduct yourself more decorously; but I can tell you, you have no chance—none whatever."
"Time will show," replied Wyvil, audaciously. "You had better give her to me quietly, and save me the trouble of carrying her off,—for have her I will."
"Mercy on us!" cried Mrs. Bloundel, in accents of alarm; "now his wicked intentions are out."
"Fear nothing, mother," observed Amabel, coldly. "He will scarcely carry me off without my own consent; and I am not likely to sacrifice myself for one who holds me in such light esteem."
"Forgive me, Amabel," rejoined Wyvil, in a voice so penitent that it instantly effaced her displeasure; "I meant not to offend. I spoke only the language of distraction. Do not dismiss me thus, or my death will lie at your door."
"I should be sorry for that," she replied; "but, inexperienced as I am, I feel this is not the language of real regard, but of furious passion."
A dark shade passed over Wyvil's handsome features, and the almost feminine beauty by which they were characterized gave place to a fierce and forbidding expression. Controlling himself by a powerful effort, he replied, with forced calmness, "Amabel, you know not what it is to love. I will not stir hence till I have seen your father."
"We will see that, sir," exclaimed Mrs. Bloundel, angrily. "What, ho! son Stephen! Leonard Holt! I say. This gentleman will stay here, whether I like or not. Show him forth."
"That I will, right willingly," replied the apprentice, rushing before the younger Bloundel, and flourishing his formidable cudgel. "Out with you, sir! Out with you!"
"Not at your bidding you, saucy knave," rejoined Wyvil, laying his hand upon his sword: "and if it were not for the presence of your mistress and her lovely daughter, I would crop your ears for your insolence."
"Their presence shall not prevent me from making my cudgel and your shoulders acquainted, if you do not budge," replied the apprentice, sturdily.
Enraged by the retort, Wyvil would have drawn his sword, but a blow on the arm disabled him.
"Plague on you, fellow!" he exclaimed; "you shall rue this to the last day of your existence."
"Threaten those who heed you," replied Leonard, about to repeat the blow.
"Do him no further injury!" cried Amabel, arresting his hand, and looking with the greatest commiseration at Wyvil. "You have dealt with him far too rudely already."
"Since I have your sympathy, sweet Amabel," rejoined Wyvil, "I care not what rude treatment I experience from this churl. We shall soon meet again." And bowing to her, he strode out of the room.
Leonard followed him to the shop-door, hoping some further pretext for quarrel would arise, but he was disappointed. Wyvil took no notice of him, and proceeded at a slow pace towards Cheapside.
Half an hour afterwards, Stephen Bloundel came home. On being informed of what had occurred, he was greatly annoyed, though he concealed his vexation, and highly applauded his daughter's conduct. Without further comment, he proceeded about his business, and remained in the shop till it was closed. Wyvil did not return, and the grocer tried to persuade himself they should see nothing more of him. Before Amabel retired to rest, he imprinted a kiss on her snowy brow, and said, in a tone of the utmost kindness, "You have never yet deceived me, child, and I hope never will. Tell me truly, do you take any interest in this young gallant?"
Amabel blushed deeply.
"I should not speak the truth, father," she rejoined, after a pause, "if I were to say I do not."
"I am sorry for it," replied Bloundel, gravely. "But you would not be happy with him. I am sure he is unprincipled and profligate:—you must forget him."
"I will try to do so," sighed Amabel. And the conversation dropped.
On the following day, Maurice Wyvil entered the grocer's shop. He was more richly attired than before, and there was a haughtiness in his manner which he had not hitherto assumed. What passed between him and Bloundel was not known, for the latter never spoke of it; but the result may be gathered from the fact that the young gallant was not allowed an interview with the grocer's daughter.
From this moment the change previously noticed took place in Amabel's demeanour towards Leonard. She seemed scarcely able to endure his presence, and sedulously avoided his regards. From being habitually gay and cheerful, she became pensive and reserved. Her mother more than once caught her in tears; and it was evident, from many other signs, that Wyvil completely engrossed her thoughts. Fully aware of this, Mrs. Bloundel said nothing of it to her husband, because the subject was painful to him; and not supposing the passion deeply rooted, she hoped it would speedily wear away. But she was mistaken—the flame was kept alive in Amabel's breast in a manner of which she was totally ignorant. Wyvil found means to deceive the vigilance of the grocer and his wife, but he could not deceive the vigilance of a jealous lover. Leonard discovered that his mistress had received a letter. He would not betray her, but he determined to watch her narrowly.
Accordingly, when she went forth one morning in company with her younger sister (a little girl of some five years old), he made an excuse to follow them, and, keeping within sight, perceived them enter Saint Paul's Cathedral, the mid aisle of which was then converted into a public walk, and generally thronged with town gallants, bullies, bona-robas, cut-purses, and rogues of every description. In short, it was the haunt of the worst of characters of the metropolis. When, therefore, Amabel entered this structure, Leonard felt certain it was to meet her lover. Rushing forward, he saw her take her course through the crowd, and attract general attention from her loveliness—but he nowhere discerned Maurice Wyvil.
Suddenly, however, she struck off to the right, and halted near one of the pillars, and the apprentice, advancing, detected his rival behind it. He was whispering a few words in her ear, unperceived by her sister. Maddened by the sight, Leonard hurried towards them, but before he could reach the spot Wyvil was gone, and Amabel, though greatly confused, looked at the same time so indignant, that he almost regretted his precipitation.
"You will, of course, make known to my father what you have just seen?" she said in a low tone.
"If you will promise not to meet that gallant again without my knowledge, I will not," replied Leonard.
After a moment's reflection, Amabel gave the required promise, and they returned to Wood-street together. Satisfied she would not break her word, the apprentice became more easy, and as a week elapsed, and nothing was said to him on the subject, he persuaded himself she would not attempt to meet her lover again.
Things were in this state at the opening of our tale, but upon the night in question, Leonard fancied he discerned some agitation in Amabel's manner towards him, and in consequence of this notion, he sought to meet her gaze, as before related, after prayers. While trying to distract his thoughts by arranging sundry firkins of butter, and putting other things in order, he heard a light footstep behind him, and turning at the sound, beheld Amabel.
"Leonard," she whispered, "I promised to tell you when I should next meet Maurice Wyvil. He will be here to-night." And without giving him time to answer, she retired.
For awhile, Leonard remained in a state almost of stupefaction, repeating to himself, as if unwilling to believe them, the words he had just heard. He had not recovered when the grocer entered the shop, and noticing his haggard looks, kindly inquired if he felt unwell. The apprentice returned an evasive answer, and half determined to relate all he knew to his master, but the next moment he changed his intention, and, influenced by that chivalric feeling which always governs those, of whatever condition, who love profoundly, resolved not to betray the thoughtless girl, but to trust to his own ingenuity to thwart the designs of his rival, and preserve her Acting upon this resolution, he said he had a slight headache, and instantly resumed his occupation.
At nine o'clock, the whole family assembled at supper. The board was plentifully though plainly spread, but the grocer observed, with some uneasiness, that his apprentice, who had a good appetite in ordinary, ate little or nothing. He kept his eye constantly upon him, and became convinced from his manner that something ailed him. Not having any notion of the truth, and being filled with apprehensions of the plague, his dread was that Leonard was infected by the disease. Supper was generally the pleasantest meal of the day at the grocer's house, but on this occasion it passed off cheerlessly enough, and a circumstance occurred at its close which threw all into confusion and distress. Before relating this, however, we must complete our description of the family under their present aspect.
Tall, and of a spare frame, with good features, somewhat austere in their expression, and of the cast which we are apt to term precise and puritanical, but tempered with great benevolence, Stephen Bloundel had a keen, deep-seated eye, overshadowed by thick brows, and suffered his long-flowing grey hair to descend over his shoulders. His forehead was high and ample, his chin square and well defined, and his general appearance exceedingly striking. In age he was about fifty. His integrity and fairness of dealing, never once called in question for a period of thirty years, had won him the esteem of all who knew him; while his prudence and economy had enabled him, during that time, to amass a tolerable fortune. His methodical habits, and strong religious principles, have been already mentioned. His eldest son was named after him, and resembled him both in person and character, promising to tread in his footsteps. The younger sons require little notice at present. One was twelve, and the other only half that age; but both appeared to inherit many of their father's good qualities. Basil, the elder, was a stout, well-grown lad, and had never known a day's ill-health; while Hubert, the younger, was thin, delicate, and constantly ailing.
Mrs. Bloundel was a specimen of a city dame of the best kind. She had a few pardonable vanities, which no arguments could overcome—such as a little ostentation in dress—a little pride in the neatness of her house—and a good deal in the beauty of her children, especially in that of Amabel—as well as in the wealth and high character of her husband, whom she regarded as the most perfect of human beings. These slight failings allowed for, nothing but good remained. Her conduct was exemplary in all the relations of life. The tenderest of mothers, and the most affectionate of wives, she had as much genuine piety and strictness of moral principles as her husband. Short, plump, and well-proportioned, though somewhat, perhaps, exceeding the rules of symmetry—she had a rich olive complexion, fine black eyes, beaming with good nature, and an ever-laughing mouth, ornamented by a beautiful set of teeth. To wind up all, she was a few years younger than her husband.
Amabel has already been described. The youngest girl, Christiana, was a pretty little dove-eyed, flaxen-haired child, between four and five years old, and shared the fate of most younger children, being very much caressed, and not a little spoiled by her parents.
The foregoing description of the grocer's family would be incomplete without some mention of his household. Old Josyna Shotterel, the cook, who had lived with her master ever since his marriage, and had the strongest attachment for him, was a hale, stout dame, of about sixty, with few infirmities for her years, and with less asperity of temper than generally belongs to servants of her class. She was a native of Holland, and came to England early in life, where she married Blaize's father, who died soon after their union. An excellent cook in a plain way—indeed, she had no practice in any other—she would brew strong ale and mead, or mix a sack-posset with, any innkeeper in the city. Moreover, she was a careful and tender nurse, if her services were ever required in that capacity. The children looked upon her as a second mother; and her affection for them, which was unbounded, deserved their regard. She was a perfect storehouse of what are termed "old women's receipts;" and there were few complaints (except the plague) for which she did not think herself qualified to prescribe and able to cure. Her skill in the healing art was often tested by her charitable mistress, who required her to prepare remedies, as well as nourishing broths, for such of the poor of the parish as applied to her for relief at times of sickness.
Her son, Blaize, was a stout, stumpy fellow, about four feet ten, with a head somewhat too large for his body, and extremely long arms. Ever since the plague had broken out in Drury-lane, it haunted him like a spectre, and scattered the few faculties he possessed. In vain he tried to combat his alarm—in vain his mother endeavoured to laugh him out of it. Nothing would do. He read the bills of mortality daily; ascertained the particulars of every case; dilated upon the agonies of the sufferers; watched the progress of the infection, and calculated the time it would take to reach Wood-street. He talked of the pestilence by day, and dreamed of it at night; and more than once alarmed the house by roaring for assistance, under the idea that he was suddenly attacked. By his mother's advice, he steeped rue, wormwood, and sage in his drink, till it was so abominably nauseous that he could scarcely swallow it, and carried a small ball in the hollow of his hand, compounded of wax, angelica, camphor, and other drugs. He likewise chewed a small piece of Virginian snake-root, or zedoary, if he approached any place supposed to be infected. A dried toad was suspended round his neck, as an amulet of sovereign virtue. Every nostrum sold by the quacks in the streets tempted him; and a few days before, he had expended his last crown in the purchase of a bottle of plague-water. Being of a superstitious nature, he placed full faith in all the predictions of the astrologers, who foretold that London should be utterly laid waste, that grass should grow in the streets, and that the living should not be able to bury the dead. He quaked at the terrible denunciations of the preachers, who exhorted their hearers to repentance, telling them a judgment was at hand, and shuddered at the wild and fearful prophesying of the insane enthusiasts who roamed the streets. His nativity having been cast, and it appearing that he would be in great danger on the 20th of June, he made up his mind that he should die of the plague on that day. Before he was assailed by these terrors, he had entertained a sneaking attachment for Patience, the kitchen-maid, a young and buxom damsel, who had no especial objection to him. But of late, his love had given way to apprehension, and his whole thoughts were centred in one idea, namely, self-preservation.
By this time supper was over, and the family were about to separate for the night, when Stephen, the grocer's eldest son, having risen to quit the room, staggered and complained of a strange dizziness and headache, which almost deprived him of sight, while his heart palpitated frightfully. A dreadful suspicion seized his father. He ran towards him, and assisted him to a seat. Scarcely had the young man reached it, when a violent sickness seized him; a greenish-coloured froth appeared at the mouth, and he began to grow delirious. Guided by the convulsive efforts of the sufferer, Bloundel tore off his clothes, and after a moment's search, perceived under the left arm a livid pustule. He uttered a cry of anguish. His son was plague-stricken.
The first shock over, the grocer bore the affliction manfully, and like one prepared for it. Exhibiting little outward emotion, though his heart was torn with anguish, and acting with the utmost calmness, he forbade his wife to approach the sufferer, and desired her instantly to retire to her own room with her daughters; and not to leave it on any consideration whatever, without his permission.
Accustomed to regard her husband's word as law, Mrs. Bloundel, for the first time in her life, disputed his authority, and, falling on her knees, besought him, with tears in her eyes, to allow her to nurse her son. But he remained inflexible, and she was forced to comply.
He next gave similar directions to old Josyna respecting his two younger sons, with this difference only, that when they were put to rest, and the door was locked upon them, she was to return to the kitchen and prepare a posset-drink of canary and spirits of sulphur, together with a poultice of mallows, lily-roots, figs, linseed, and palm-oil, for the patient.
These orders given and obeyed, with Leonard Holt's assistance-for Blaize, who had crept into a corner, in extremity of terror, was wholly incapable of rendering any help-he conveyed his son to the adjoining room, on the ground floor, where there was a bed, and placing him within it, heaped blankets upon him to promote profuse perspiration, while the apprentice lighted a fire.
Provided with the most efficacious remedies for the distemper, and acquainted with the mode of treating it prescribed by the College of Physicians, Bloundel was at no loss how to act, but, rubbing the part affected with a stimulating ointment, he administered at the same time doses of mithridate, Venice treacle, and other potent alexipharmics.
He had soon the satisfaction of perceiving that his son became somewhat easier; and after swallowing the posset-drink prepared by old Josyna, who used all the expedition she could, a moisture broke out upon the youth's skin, and appeared to relieve him so much, that, but for the ghastly paleness of his countenance, and the muddy look of his eye, his father would have indulged a hope of his recovery.
Up to this time, the grocer had acted for himself, and felt confident he had acted rightly; but he now deemed it expedient to call in advice, and, accordingly, commissioned his apprentice to fetch Doctor Hodges, a physician, residing in Great Knightrider-street, Doctors' Commons, who had recently acquired considerable reputation for his skilful treatment of those attacked by the plague, and who (it may be incidentally mentioned) afterwards gave to the medical world a curious account of the ravages of the disorder, as well as of his own professional experiences during this terrible period. He likewise told him—and he could not repress a sigh as he did so—to give notice to the Examiner of Health (there were one or two officers, so designated, appointed to every parish, at this awful season, by the city authorities) that his house was infected.
While preparing to set out, Leonard again debated with himself whether he should acquaint his master with Maurice Wyvil's meditated visit. But conceiving it wholly impossible that Amabel could leave her mother's room, even if she were disposed to do so, he determined to let the affair take its course. On his way to the shop, he entered a small room occupied by Blaize, and found him seated near a table, with his hands upon his knees, and his eyes fixed upon the ground, looking the very image of despair. The atmosphere smelt like that of an apothecary's shop, and was so overpowering, that Leonard could scarcely breathe. The table was covered with pill-boxes and phials, most of which were emptied, and a dim light was afforded by a candle with a most portentous crest of snuff.
"So you have been poisoning yourself, I perceive," observed Leonard, approaching him.
"Keep off!" cried the porter, springing suddenly to his feet. "Don't touch me, I say. Poisoning myself! I have taken three rufuses, or pestilential pills; two spoonfuls of alexiteral water; the same quantity of anti-pestilential decoction; half as much of Sir Theodore Mayerne's electuary; and a large dose of orvietan. Do you call that poisoning myself? I call it taking proper precaution, and would recommend you to do the same. Beside this, I have sprinkled myself with vinegar, fumigated my clothes, and rubbed my nose, inside and out, till it smarted so intolerably, I was obliged to desist, with balsam of sulphur."
"Well, well, if you don't escape the plague, it won't be your fault," returned Leonard, scarcely able to refrain from laughing. "But I have something to tell you before I go."
"What is the matter?" demanded Blaize, in alarm. "Where—where are you going?"
"To fetch the doctor," replied Leonard.
"Is Master Stephen worse?" rejoined the porter.
"On the contrary, I hope he is better," replied Leonard "I shall be back directly, but as I have to give notice to the Examiner of Health that the house is infected, I may be detained a few minutes longer than I anticipate. Keep the street-door locked; I will fasten the yard-gate, and do not for your life let any one in, except Doctor Hodges, till I return. Do you hear?—do you understand what I say?"
"Yes, I hear plain enough," growled Blaize. "You say that the house is infected, and that we shall all be locked up."
"Dolt!" exclaimed the apprentice, "I said no such thing." And he repeated his injunctions, but Blaize was too much terrified to comprehend them. At last, losing all patience, Leonard cried in a menacing tone, "If you do not attend to me, I will cudgel you within an inch of your life, and you will find the thrashing harder to bear even than the plague itself. Rouse yourself, fool, and follow me."
Accompanied by the porter, he hurried to the yard-gate, saw it bolted within-side, and then returned to the shop, where, having found his cap and cudgel, he directed Blaize to lock the door after him, cautioning him, for the third time, not to admit any one except the doctor. "If I find, on my return, that you have neglected my injunctions," he concluded, "as sure as I now stand before you, I'll break every bone in your body."
Blaize promised obedience, adding in a supplicating tone, "Leonard, if I were you, I would not go to the Examiner of Health. Poor Stephen may not have the plague, after all. It's a dreadful thing to be imprisoned for a month, for that's the time appointed by the Lord Mayor. Only a week ago I passed several houses in Holborn, shut up on account of the plague, with a watchman at the door, and I never shall forget the melancholy faces I saw at the windows. It was a dreadful spectacle, and has haunted me ever since."
"It cannot be helped," rejoined Leonard, with a sigh. "If we disobey the Lord Mayor's orders, and neglect giving information, we shall all be sent to Newgate, while poor Stephen will be taken to the pest-house. Besides, the searchers will be here before morning. They are sure to learn what has happened from Doctor Hodges."
"True, true," replied Blaize; "I had forgotten that. Let me go with you, dear Leonard. I dare not remain here longer."
"What! would you leave your kind good master, at a time like this, when he most needs your services?" rejoined Leonard, reproachfully. "Out, cowardly hound! I am ashamed of you. Shake off your fears, and be a man. You can but die once; and what matters it whether you die of the plague or the cholic?"
"It matters a great deal," replied Blaize. "I am afraid of nothing but the plague. I am sure I shall be its next victim in this house. But you are right—I cannot desert my kind master, nor my old mother. Farewell, Leonard. Perhaps we may never meet again. I may be dead before you come back. I feel very ill already."
"No wonder, after all the stuff you have swallowed," returned Leonard. "But pluck up your courage, or you will bring on the very thing you are anxious to avoid. As many people have died from fear as from any other cause. One word before I go. If any one should get into the house by scaling the yard-wall, or through the window, instantly alarm our master."
"Certainly," returned Blaize, with a look of surprise, "But do you expect any one to enter the house in that way?"
"Ask no questions, but do as I bid you," rejoined Leonard, opening the door, and about to go forth.
"Stop a moment," cried Blaize, detaining him, and drawing from his pocket a handful of simples. "Won't you take some of them with you to guard against infection? There's wormwood, woodsorrel, masterwort, zedoary, and angelica; and lastly, there is a little bottle of the sovereign preservative against the plague, as prepared by the great Lord Bacon, and approved by Queen Elizabeth. Won't you take that?"
"I have no fear," replied Leonard, shutting the door in his face. And as he lingered for a moment while it was locked, he heard Blaize say to himself, "I must go and take three more rufuses and a large dose of diascordium."
It was a bright moonlight night, and as the apprentice turned to depart, he perceived a figure hastily retreating on the other side of the way. Making sure it was Maurice Wyvil, though he could not distinguish the garb of the person—that side of the street being in the shade—and stung by jealousy, he immediately started in pursuit. The fugitive struck down Lad-lane, and run on till he came to the end of Lawrence-lane, where, finding himself closely pressed, he suddenly halted, and pulling his hat over his brows to conceal his features, fiercely confronted his pursuer.
"Why do you follow me thus, rascal?" he cried, drawing his sword. "Would you rob me? Begone, or I will call the watch."
"It is his voice!" cried the apprentice. "I have news for you, Mr. Maurice Wyvil. You will not see Amabel to-night. The plague is in her father's house."
"The plague!" exclaimed Wyvil, in an altered tone, and dropping the point of his sword. "Is she smitten by it?"
The apprentice answered by a bitter laugh, and without tarrying longer to enjoy his rival's distress, set off towards Cheapside. Before reaching the end of Lawrence-lane, however, he half-repented his conduct, and halted to see whether Wyvil was following him; but as he could perceive nothing of him, he continued his course.
Entering Cheapside, he observed, to his surprise, a crowd of persons collected near the Cross, then standing a little to the east of Wood-street. This cross, which was of great antiquity, and had undergone many mutilations and alterations since its erection in 1486, when it boasted, amongst other embellishments, images of the Virgin and Saint Edward the Confessor, was still not without some pretensions to architectural beauty. In form it was hexagonal, and composed of three tiers, rising from one another like the divisions of a telescope, each angle being supported by a pillar surmounted by a statue, while the intervening niches were filled up with sculptures, intended to represent some of the sovereigns of England. The structure was of considerable height, and crowned by a large gilt cross. Its base was protected by a strong wooden railing. About a hundred yards to the east, there stood a smaller hexagonal tower, likewise ornamented with carvings, and having a figure on its conical summit blowing a horn. This was the Conduit. Midway between these buildings the crowd alluded to above was collected.
As Leonard drew near, he found the assemblage was listening to the exhortations of an enthusiast, whom he instantly recognised from a description he had heard of him from Blaize. The name of this half-crazed being was Solomon Eagle. Originally a Quaker, upon the outbreak of the plague he had abandoned his home and friends, and roamed the streets at night, denouncing doom to the city. He was a tall gaunt man, with long jet-black hair hanging in disordered masses over his shoulders. His eyes were large and black, and blazed with insane lustre, and his looks were so wild and terrific, that it required no great stretch of imagination to convert him into the genius of the pestilence. Entirely stripped of apparel except that his loins were girt with a sheep-skin, in imitation of Saint John in the Wilderness, he bore upon his head a brazier of flaming coals, the lurid light of which falling upon his sable locks and tawny skin, gave him an unearthly appearance.
Impelled by curiosity, Leonard paused for a moment to listen, and heard him thunder forth the following denunciation:—"And now, therefore, as the prophet Jeremiah saith, 'I have this day declared it to you, but ye have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God, nor anything for the which he hath sent me unto you. Now, therefore, know certainly that ye shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.' Again, in the words of the prophet Amos, the Lord saith unto YOU by my mouth, 'I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt, yet have you not returned unto me. Therefore, will I do this unto thee, O Israel; and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God?' Do you hear this, O sinners? God will proceed against you in the day of His wrath, though He hath borne with you in the day of His patience? O how many hundred years hath He spared this city, notwithstanding its great provocations and wickedness! But now He will no longer show it pity, but will pour out His wrath upon it I Plagues shall come upon it, and desolation; and it shall be utterly burnt with fire,—for strong is the Lord who judgeth it!"
His address concluded, the enthusiast started off at a swift pace, shrieking, in a voice that caused many persons to throw open their windows to listen to him, "Awake! sinners, awake'—the plague is at your doors!—the grave yawns for you!—awake, and repent!" And followed by the crowd, many of whom kept up with him, he ran on vociferating in this manner till he was out of hearing.
Hurrying forward in the opposite direction, Leonard glanced at the ancient and picturesque houses on either side of the way,—now bathed in the moonlight, and apparently hushed in repose and security,—and he could not repress a shudder as he reflected that an evil angel was, indeed, abroad, who might suddenly arouse their slumbering inmates to despair and death. His thoughts took another turn as he entered the precincts of Saint Paul's, and surveyed the venerable and majestic fabric before him. His eyes rested upon its innumerable crocketed pinnacles, its buttresses, its battlements, and upon the magnificent rose-window terminating the choir. The apprentice had no especial love for antiquity, but being of an imaginative turn, the sight of this reverend structure conjured up old recollections, and brought to mind the noble Collegiate Church of his native town.
"Shall I ever see Manchester again?" he sighed: "shall I take Amabel with me there? Alas! I doubt it. If I survive the plague, she, I fear, will never be mine."
Musing thus, he scanned the roof of the cathedral, and noticing its stunted central tower, could not help thinking how much more striking its effects must have been, when the lofty spire it once supported was standing. The spire, it may be remarked, was twice destroyed by lightning; first in February, 1444, and subsequently in June, 1561, when it was entirely burnt down, and never rebuilt. Passing the Convocation House, which then stood at one side of the southern transept, Leonard struck down Paul's Chain, and turning to the right, speeded along Great Knightrider-street, until he reached an old habitation at the corner of the passage leading to Doctors' Commons.
Knocking at the door, an elderly servant presently appeared, and in answer to his inquiries whether Doctor Hodges was at home, stated that he had gone out, about half an hour ago, to attend Mr. Fisher, a proctor, who had been suddenly attacked by the plague at his residence in Bartholomew-close, near Smithfield.
"I am come on the same errand," said Leonard, "and must see your master instantly."
"If you choose to go to Bartholomew-close," replied the servant, "you may probably meet with him. Mr. Fisher's house is the last but two, on the right, before you come to the area in front of the church."
"I can easily find it," returned Leonard, "and will run there as fast as I can. But if your master should pass me on the road, beseech him to go instantly to Stephen Bloundell's, the grocer, in Wood-street."
The servant assenting, Leonard hastily retraced his steps, and traversing Blow-bladder-street and Saint-Martin's-le-Grand, passed through Aldersgate. He then shaped his course through the windings of Little Britain and entered Duck-lane. He was now in a quarter fearfully assailed by the pestilence. Most of the houses had the fatal sign upon their doors—a red cross, of a foot long, with the piteous words above it, "Lord have mercy upon us," in characters so legible that they could be easily distinguished by the moonlight, while a watchman, with a halberd in his hand, kept guard outside.
Involuntarily drawing in his breath, Leonard quickened his pace. But he met with an unexpected and fearful interruption. Just as he reached the narrow passage leading from Duck-lane to Bartholomew-close, he heard the ringing of a bell, followed by a hoarse voice, crying, "Bring out your dead—bring out your dead!" he then perceived that a large, strangely-shaped cart stopped up the further end of the passage, and heard a window open, and a voice call out that all was ready. The next moment a light was seen at the door, and a coffin was brought out and placed in the cart. This done, the driver, who was smoking a pipe, cracked his whip, and put the vehicle in motion.
Shrinking into a doorway, and holding a handkerchief to his face, to avoid breathing the pestilential effluvia, Leonard saw that there were other coffins in the cart, and that it was followed by two persons in long black cloaks. The vehicle itself, fashioned like an open hearse, and of the same sombre colour, relieved by fantastical designs, painted in white, emblematic of the pestilence, was drawn by a horse of the large black Flanders breed, and decorated with funeral trappings. To Leonard's inexpressible horror, the cart again stopped opposite him, and the driver ringing his bell, repeated his doleful cry. While another coffin was brought out, and placed with the rest, a window in the next house was opened, and a woman looking forth screamed, "Is Anselm Chowles, the coffin-maker, there?"
"Yes, here I am, Mother Malmayns," replied one of the men in black cloaks, looking up as he spoke, and exhibiting features so hideous, and stamped with such a revolting expression, that Leonard's blood curdled at the sight. "What do you want with me?" he added.
"I want you to carry away old Mike Norborough," replied the woman.
"What, is the old miser gone at last?" exclaimed Chowles, with an atrocious laugh. "But how shall I get paid for a coffin?"
"You may pay yourself with what you can find in the house," replied Mother Malmayns; "or you may carry him to the grave without one, if you prefer it."
"No, no, that won't do," returned Chowles. "I've other customers to attend to who will pay; and, besides, I want to get home. I expect friends at supper. Good-night, Mother Malmayns. You know where to find me, if you want me. Move on, Jonas, or you will never reach Saint Sepulchre's."
The woman angrily expostulated with him, and some further parley ensued,—Leonard did not tarry to hear what, but rushing past them, gained Bartholomew-close.
He soon reached the proctor's house, and found it marked with the fatal cross. Addressing a watchman at the door, he learnt, to his great dismay, that Doctor Hodges had been gone more than a quarter of an hour. "He was too late," said the man. "Poor Mr. Fisher had breathed his last before he arrived, and after giving some directions to the family as to the precautions they ought to observe, the doctor departed."
"How unfortunate!" exclaimed Leonard, "I have missed him a second time. But I will run back to his house instantly."
"You will not find him at home," returned the watchman "He is gone to Saint Paul's, to attend a sick person."
"To Saint Paul's at this hour!" cried the apprentice. "Why, no one is there, except the vergers or the sexton."
"He is gone to visit the sexton, who is ill of the plague," replied the watchman. "I have told you all I know about him. You can do what you think best."
Determined to make another effort before giving in, Leonard hurried back as fast as he could. While threading Duck-lane, he heard the doleful bell again, and perceived the dead-cart standing before a house, from which two small coffins were brought. Hurrying past the vehicle, he remarked that its load was fearfully increased, but that the coffin-maker and his companion had left it. Another minute had not elapsed before he reached Aldersgate, and passing through the postern, he beheld a light at the end of Saint Anne's-lane, and heard the terrible voice of Solomon Eagle, calling to the sleepers to awake and repent.
Shutting his ears to the cry, Leonard did not halt till he reached the great western door of the cathedral, against which he knocked. His first summons remaining unanswered, he repeated it, and a wicket was then opened by a grey-headed verger, with a lantern in his hand, who at first was very angry at being disturbed; but on learning whom the applicant was in search of, and that the case was one of urgent necessity, he admitted that the doctor was in the cathedral at the time.
"Or rather, I should say," he added, "he is in Saint Faith's. I will conduct you to him, if you think proper. Doctor Hodges is a good man,—a charitable man," he continued, "and attends the poor for nothing. He is now with Matthew Malmayns, the sexton, who was taken ill of the plague yesterday, and will get nothing but thanks—if he gets those—for his fee. But, follow me, young man, follow me."
So saying, he shut the wicket, and led the way along the transept. The path was uneven, many of the flags having been removed, and the verger often paused to throw a light upon the ground, and warn his companion of a hole.
On arriving at the head of the nave, Leonard cast his eyes down it, and was surprised at the magical effect of the moonlight upon its magnificent avenue of pillars; the massive shafts on the left being completely illuminated by the silvery beams, while those on the right lay in deep shadow.
"Ay, it is a noble structure," replied the old verger, noticing his look of wonder and admiration, "and, like many a proud human being, has known better days. It has seen sad changes in my time, for I recollect it when good Queen Bess ruled the land. But come along, young man,—you have something else to think of now."
Bestowing a momentary glance upon the matchless choir, with its groined roof, its clerestory windows, its arched openings, its carved stalls, and its gorgeous rose-window, Leonard followed his conductor through a small doorway on the left of the southern transept, and descending a flight of stone steps, entered a dark and extensive vault, for such it seemed. The feeble light of the lantern fell upon ranks of short heavy pillars, supporting a ponderous arched roof.
"You are now in Saint Faith's," observed the verger, "and above you is the choir of Saint Paul's."
Leonard took no notice of the remark, but silently crossing the nave of this beautiful subterranean church (part of which still exists), traversed its northern aisle. At length the verger stopped before the entrance of a small chapel, once dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, but now devoted to a less sacred purpose. As they advanced, Leonard observed a pile of dried skulls and bones in one corner, a stone coffin, strips of woollen shrouds, fragments of coffins, mattocks, and spades. It was evidently half a charnel, half a receptacle for the sexton's tools.
"If you choose to open that door," said the verger, pointing to one at the lower end of the chamber, "you will find him you seek. I shall go no further."
Summoning up all his resolution, Leonard pushed open the door. A frightful scene met his gaze. At one side of a deep, low-roofed vault, the architecture of which was of great antiquity, and showed that it had been a place of burial, was stretched a miserable pallet, and upon it, covered by a single blanket, lay a wretch, whose groans and struggles proclaimed the anguish he endured. A lamp was burning on the floor, and threw a sickly light upon the agonized countenance of the sufferer. He was a middle-aged man, with features naturally harsh, but which now, contracted by pain, had assumed a revolting expression. An old crone, who proved to be his mother, and a young man, who held him down in bed by main force, tended him. He was rambling in a frightful manner; and as his ravings turned upon the most loathly matters, it required some firmness to listen to them.
At a little distance from him, upon a bench, sat a stout, shrewd-looking, but benevolent little personage, somewhat between forty and fifty. This was Doctor Hodges. He had a lancet in his hand, with which he had just operated upon the sufferer, and he was in the act of wiping it on a cloth. As Leonard entered the vault, the doctor observed to the attendants of the sick man, "He will recover. The tumour has discharged its venom. Keep him as warm as you can, and do not let him leave his bed for two days. All depends upon that. I will send him proper medicines and some blankets shortly. If he takes cold, it will be fatal."
The young man promised to attend to the doctor's injunctions, and the old woman mumbled her thanks.
"Where is Judith Malmayns?" asked Doctor Hodges: "I am surprised not to see her. Is she afraid of the distemper?"
"Afraid of it!—not she," replied the old woman. "Since the plague has raged so dreadfully, she has gone out as a nurse to the sick, and my poor son has seen nothing of her."
Leonard then recollected that he had heard the woman, who called out of the miser's house, addressed as Mother Malmayns by the coffin-maker, and had no doubt that she was the sexton's wife. His entrance having been so noiseless that it passed unnoticed, he now stepped forward, and, addressing Doctor Hodges, acquainted him with his errand.
"What!" exclaimed the doctor, as soon as he concluded, "a son of Stephen Bloundel, the worthy grocer of Wood-street, attacked by the plague! I will go with you instantly, young man. I have a great regard for your master—a very great regard. There is not a better man living. The poor lad must be saved, if possible." And hastily repeating his instructions to the attendants of the sick man, he left the vault with the apprentice.
They found the verger in the charnel, and before quitting it, the doctor drew a small flask of canary from his pocket, and applied it to his lips.
"This is my anti-pestilential drink," he remarked with a smile, "and it has preserved me from contagion hitherto. You must let us out of the south door, friend," he added to the verger, "for I shall be obliged to step home for a moment, and it will save time. Come with me, young man, and tell me what has been done for the grocer's son."
As they traversed the gloomy aisle of Saint Faith, and mounted to the upper structure, Leonard related all that had taken place since poor Stephen's seizure. The doctor strongly expressed his approval of what had been done, and observed, "It could not be better. With Heaven's help, I have no doubt we shall save him, and I am truly glad of it for his father's sake."
By this time they had reached the southern door, and the verger having unlocked it, they issued forth. It was still bright moonlight, and Leonard, whose mind was greatly relieved by the assurances of the physician, felt in some degree reconciled to the delay, and kept up his part in the conversation promoted by his companion. The doctor, who was an extremely kind-hearted man, and appeared to have a great regard for the grocer, made many inquiries as to his family, and spoke in terms of the highest admiration of the beauty of his eldest daughter. The mention of Amabel's name, while it made Leonard's cheek burn, rekindled all his jealousy of Wyvil, and he tried to make some excuse to get away, but his companion would not hear of it.
"I tell you there is no hurry," said the doctor; "all is going on as well as possible. I will make your excuses to your master."
"On reaching the doctor's house they were ushered into a large room, surrounded with bookshelves and cases of anatomical preparations. Hodges seated himself at a table, on which a shaded lamp was placed, and writing out a prescription, desired his servant to get it made up at a neighbouring apothecary's, and to take it, with a couple of blankets, to the sexton of Saint Paul's. He then produced a bottle of medicated canary, and pouring out a large glass for the apprentice, drained another himself.
"I will answer for its virtue," he said: "it is a sure preservative against the plague."
Having furnished himself with several small packets of simples, a few pots of ointment, one or two phials, and a case of surgical instruments, he told Leonard he was ready to attend him.
"We will go round by Warwick-lane," he added. "I must call upon Chowles, the coffin-maker. It will not detain us a moment; and I have an order to give him."
The mention of this name brought to Leonard's mind the hideous attendant on the dead-cart, and he had no doubt he was the person in question. It did not become him, however, to make a remark, and they set out.
Mounting Addle-hill, and threading Ave-Maria-lane, they entered Warwick-lane, and about half-way up the latter thoroughfare, the doctor stopped before a shop, bearing on its immense projecting sign the representation of a coffin lying in state, and covered with scutcheons, underneath which was written, "ANSELM CHOWLES, COFFIN-MAKER."
"I do not think you will find Mr. Chowles at home," observed Leonard: "for I saw him with the dead-cart not half an hour ago."
"Very likely," returned the doctor; "but I shall see one of his men. The coffin-maker's business is now carried on in the night time," he added, with a sigh; "and he drives a flourishing trade. These sad times will make his fortune."
As he spoke, he rapped with his cane at the door, which, after a little delay, was opened by a young man in a carpenter's dress, with a hammer in his hand. On seeing who it was, this person exhibited great confusion, and would have retired; but the doctor, pushing him aside, asked for his master.
"You cannot see him just now, sir," replied the other, evidently considerably embarrassed. "He is just come home greatly fatigued, and is about to retire to rest."
"No matter," returned the doctor, entering a room, in which three or four other men were at work, hastily finishing coffins; "I must see him."
No further opposition being offered, Hodges, followed by the apprentice, marched towards an inner room. Just as he reached the door, a burst of loud laughter, evidently proceeding from a numerous party, arose from within, and a harsh voice was heard chanting the following strains:
SONG OF THE PLAGUE. To others the Plague a foe may be, To me 'tis a friend—not an enemy; My coffins and coffers alike it fills, And the richer I grow the more it kills. Drink the Plague! Drink the Plague!
For months, for years, may it spend its rage On lusty manhood and trembling age; Though half mankind of the scourge should die, My coffins will sell—so what care I? Drink the Plague! Drink the Plague!
Loud acclamations followed the song, and the doctor, who was filled with disgust and astonishment, opened the door. He absolutely recoiled at the scene presented to his gaze. In the midst of a large room, the sides of which were crowded with coffins, piled to the very ceiling, sat about a dozen personages, with pipes in their mouths, and flasks and glasses before them. Their seats were coffins, and their table was a coffin set upon a bier. Perched on a pyramid of coffins, gradually diminishing in size as the pile approached its apex, Chowles was waving a glass in one hand, and a bottle in the other, when the doctor made his appearance.
A more hideous personage cannot be imagined than the coffin-maker. He was clothed in a suit of rusty black, which made his skeleton limbs look yet more lean and cadaverous. His head was perfectly bald, and its yellow skin, divested of any artificial covering, glistened like polished ivory. His throat was long and scraggy, and supported a head unrivalled for ugliness. His nose had been broken in his youth, and was almost compressed flat with his face. His few remaining teeth were yellow and discoloured with large gaps between them. His eyes were bright, and set in deep cavernous recesses, and, now that he was more than half-intoxicated, gleamed with unnatural lustre. The friends by whom he was surrounded were congenial spirits,—searchers, watchmen, buriers, apothecaries, and other wretches, who, like himself, rejoiced in the pestilence, because it was a source of profit to them.
At one corner of the room, with a part-emptied glass before her, and several articles in her lap, which she hastily pocketed on the entrance of the doctor, sat the plague-nurse, Mother Malmayns; and Leonard thought her, if possible, more villainous-looking than her companions. She was a rough, raw-boned woman, with sandy hair and light brows, a sallow, freckled complexion, a nose with wide nostrils, and a large, thick-lipped mouth. She had, moreover, a look of mingled cunning and ferocity inexpressibly revolting.
Sharply rebuking Chowles, who, in springing from his lofty seat, upset several of the topmost coffins, the doctor gave him some directions, and, turning to the nurse, informed her of her husband's condition, and ordered her to go to him immediately Mother Malmayns arose, and glancing significantly at the coffin-maker, took her departure.
Repeating his injunctions to Chowles in a severe tone, the doctor followed; and seeing her take the way towards Saint Paul's, proceeded at a brisk pace along Paternoster-row with the apprentice. In a few minutes they reached Wood-street, and knocking at the door, were admitted by Blaize.
"Heaven be praised, you are come at last!" exclaimed the porter. "Our master began to think something had happened to you."
"It is all my fault," returned Doctor Hodges; "but how is the young man?"
"Better, much better, as I understand," replied Blaize; "but I have not seen him."
"Come, that's well," rejoined Hodges. "Lead me to his room."
"Leonard will show you the way," returned the porter, holding back.
Glancing angrily at Blaize, the apprentice conducted the doctor to the inner room, where they found the grocer, with the Bible on his knee, watching by the bedside of his son. He was delighted with their appearance, but looked inquisitively at his apprentice for some explanation of his long absence. This Hodges immediately gave; and, having examined the sufferer, he relieved the anxious father by declaring, that, with due care, he had little doubt of his son's recovery.
"God be praised!" exclaimed Bloundel, falling on his knees.
Hodges then gave minute directions to the grocer as to how he was to proceed, and told him it would be necessary for some time to keep his family separate. To this Bloundel readily agreed. The doctor's next inquiries were, whether notice had been given to the Examiner of Health, and the grocer referring to Leonard, the latter acknowledged that he had forgotten it, but undertook to repair his omission at once.
With this view, he quitted the room, and was hastening towards the shop, when he observed a figure on the back stairs. Quickly mounting them, he overtook on the landing Maurice Wyvil.
* * * * *
THE GAMESTER AND THE BULLY.
Before proceeding further, it will be necessary to retrace our steps for a short time, and see what was done by Maurice Wyvil after the alarming announcement made to him by the apprentice. Of a selfish nature and ungovernable temper, and seeking only in the pursuit of the grocer's daughter the gratification of his lawless desires, he was filled, in the first instance, with furious disappointment at being robbed of the prize, at the very moment he expected it to fall into his hands. But this feeling was quickly effaced by anxiety respecting his mistress, whose charms, now that there was every probability of losing her (for Leonard's insinuation had led him to believe she was assailed by the pestilence), appeared doubly attractive to him; and scarcely under the governance of reason, he hurried towards Wood-street, resolved to force his way into the house, and see her again, at all hazards. His wild design, however, was fortunately prevented. As he passed the end of the court leading to the ancient inn (for it was ancient even at the time of this history), the Swan-with-two-Necks, in Lad-lane, a young man, as richly attired as himself, and about his own age, who had seen him approaching, suddenly darted from it, and grasping his cloak, detained him.
"I thought it must be you, Wyvil," cried this person. "Where are you running so quickly? I see neither angry father, nor jealous apprentice, at your heels. What has become of the girl? Are you tired of her already?"
"Let me go, Lydyard," returned Wyvil, trying to extricate himself from his companion's hold, who was no other than the gallant that had accompanied him on his first visit to the grocer's shop, and had played his part so adroitly in the scheme devised between them to procure an interview with Amabel,—"let me go, I say, I am in no mood for jesting."
"Why, what the plague is the matter?" rejoined Lydyard. "Has your mistress played you false? Have you lost your wager?"
"The plague is the matter," replied Wyvil, sternly. "Amabel is attacked by it. I must see her instantly."
"The devil!" exclaimed Lydyard. "Here is a pretty termination to the affair. But if this is really the case, you must not see her. It is one thing to be run through the arm,—which you must own I managed as dexterously as the best master of fence could have done,—and lose a few drops of blood for a mistress, but it is another to brave the plague on her account."
"I care for nothing," replied Wyvil; "I will see her."
"This is madness!" remonstrated Lydyard, still maintaining his grasp. "What satisfaction will it afford you to witness her sufferings—to see the frightful ravages made upon her charms by this remorseless disease,—to throw her whole family into consternation, and destroy the little chance she may have of recovery, by your presence? What good will this do? No,—you must pay your wager to Sedley, and forget her."
"I cannot forget her," replied Wyvil. "My feelings have undergone a total change. If I am capable of real love, it is for her."
"Real love!" exclaimed Lydyard, in an incredulous tone. "If the subject were not too serious, I should laugh in your face. No doubt you would marry her, and abandon your design upon the rich heiress, pretty Mistress Mallet, whom old Rowley recommended to your attention, and whom the fair Stewart has more than half-won for you?"
"I would," replied the other, energetically.
"Nay, then, you are more insane than I thought you," rejoined Lydyard, relinquishing his hold; "and the sooner you take the plague the better. It may cure your present brain fever. I shall go back to Parravicin, and the others. You will not require my assistance further."
"I know not," replied Wyvil, distractedly; "I have not yet given up my intention of carrying off the girl."
"If you carry her oft in this state," rejoined the other, "it must be to the pest-house. But who told you she was attacked by the plague?"
"Her father's apprentice," replied Wyvil.
"And you believed him?" demanded Lydyard, with a derisive laugh.
"Undoubtedly," replied Wyvil. "Why not?"
"Because it is evidently a mere trick to frighten you from the house," rejoined Lydyard. "I am surprised so shallow a device should succeed with you."
"I wish I could persuade myself it was a trick," returned Wyvil. "But the fellow's manner convinced me he was in earnest."
"Well, I will not dispute the point, though I am sure I am right," returned Lydyard. "But be not too precipitate. Since the apprentice has seen you, some alteration may be necessary in your plans. Come with me into the house. A few minutes can make no difference."
Wyvil suffered himself to be led up the court, and passing through a door on the left, they entered a spacious room, across which ran a long table, furnished at one end with wine and refreshments, and at the other with cards and dice.
Three persons were seated at the table, the most noticeable of whom was a dissipated-looking young man, dressed in the extremity of the prevailing mode, with ruffles of the finest colbertine, three inches in depth, at his wrists; a richly-laced cravat round his throat; white silk hose, adorned with gold clocks; velvet shoes of the same colour as the hose, fastened with immense roses; a silver-hilted sword, supported by a broad embroidered silk band; and a cloak and doublet of carnation-coloured velvet, woven with gold, and decorated with innumerable glittering points and ribands. He had a flowing wig of flaxen hair, and a broad-leaved hat, looped with a diamond buckle, and placed negligently on the left side of his head. His figure was slight, but extremely well formed; and his features might have been termed handsome, but for their reckless and licentious expression. He was addressed by his companions as Sir Paul Parravicin.
The person opposite to him, whose name was Disbrowe, and who was likewise a very handsome young man, though his features were flushed and disturbed, partly by the wine he had drunk, and partly by his losses at play, was equipped in the splendid accoutrements of a captain in the king's body-guard. His left hand convulsively clutched an empty purse, and his eyes were fixed upon a large sum of money, which he had just handed over to the knight, and which the latter was carelessly transferring to his pocket.
The last of the three, whose looks betrayed his character—that of a sharper and a bully—called himself Major Pillichody, his pretensions to military rank being grounded upon his service (so ran his own statement, though it was never clearly substantiated) in the king's army during the civil wars. Major Pillichody was a man of remarkably fierce exterior. Seamed with many scars, and destitute of the left eye, the orifice of which was covered, with a huge black patch; his face was of a deep mulberry colour, clearly attesting his devotion to the bottle; while his nose, which was none of the smallest, was covered with "bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames of fire." He was of the middle size, stoutly built, and given to corpulency, though not so much so as to impair his activity. His attire consisted of a cloak and doublet of scarlet cloth, very much stained and tarnished, and edged with gold lace, likewise the worse for wear; jack-boots, with huge funnel tops; spurs, with enormous rowels, and a rapier of preposterous length. He wore his own hair, which was swart and woolly, like that of a negro; and had beard and moustaches to match. His hat was fiercely cocked; his gestures swaggering and insolent; and he was perpetually racking his brain to invent new and extra-ordinary oaths.
"So soon returned!" cried Parravicin, as Wyvil appeared. "Accept my congratulations?"
"And mine!" cried Pillichody. "We wild fellows have but to be seen to conquer. Sugar and spice, and all that's nice!" he added, smacking his lips, as he filled a glass from a long-necked bottle on the table; "May the grocer's daughter prove sweeter than her father's plums, and more melting than his butter! Is she without? Are we to see her?"
Wyvil made no answer, but, walking to the other end of the room, threw himself into a chair, and, covering his face with his hands, appeared wrapped in thought. Lydyard took a seat beside him, and endeavoured to engage him in conversation; but, finding his efforts fruitless, he desisted.
"Something is wrong," observed Parravicin, to the major. "He has been foiled in his attempt to carry off the girl. Sedley has won his wager, and it is a heavy sum. Shall we resume our play?" he added, to Disbrowe.
"I have nothing more to lose," observed the young man, filling a large goblet to the brim, and emptying it at a draught. "You are master of every farthing I possess."
"Hum!" exclaimed Parravicin, taking up a pack of cards, and snapping them between his finger and thumb. "You are married, Captain Disbrowe?"
"What if I am?" cried the young man, becoming suddenly pale; "what if I am?" he repeated.
"I am told your wife is beautiful," replied Parravicin.
"Beautiful!" ejaculated Pillichody; "by the well-filled coffers of the widow of Watling-street! she is an angel. Beautiful is not the word: Mrs. Disbrowe is divine!"
"You have never seen her," said the young man, sternly.
"Ha!—fire and fury! my word doubted," cried the major, fiercely. "I have seen her at the play-houses, at the Mulberry-garden, at court, and at church. Not seen her! By the one eye of a Cyclops, but I have! You shall hear my description of her, and judge of its correctness. Imprimis, she has a tall and majestic figure, and might be a queen for her dignity."
"Go on," said Disbrowe, by no means displeased with the commencement.
"Secondly," pursued Pillichody, "she has a clear olive complexion, bright black eyes, hair and brows to match, a small foot, a pretty turn-up nose, a dimpling cheek, a mole upon her throat, the rosiest lips imaginable, an alluring look—"
"No more," interrupted Disbrowe. "It is plain you have never seen her."
"Unbelieving pagan!" exclaimed the major, clapping his hand furiously upon his sword. "I have done more—I have spoken with her."
"A lie!" replied Disbrowe, hurling a dice-box at his head.
"Ha!" roared Pillichody, in a voice of thunder, and pushing back his chair till it was stopped by the wall. "Death and fiends! I will make mincemeat of your heart, and send it as a love-offering to your wife."
And, whipping out his long rapier, he would have assaulted Disbrowe, if Sir Paul had not interposed, and commanded him authoritatively to put up his blade.
"You shall have your revenge in a safer way," he whispered.
"Well, Sir Paul," rejoined the bully, with affected reluctance, "as you desire it, I will spare the young man's life. I must wash away the insult in burgundy, since I cannot do so in blood."
With this, he emptied the flask next him, and called to a drawer, who was in attendance, in an imperious tone, to bring two more bottles.
Parravicin, meanwhile, picked up the dice-box, and, seating himself, spread a large heap of gold on the table.
"I mentioned your wife, Captain Disbrowe," he said, addressing the young officer, who anxiously watched his movements, "not with any intention of giving you offence, but to show you that, although you have lost your money, you have still a valuable stake left."
"I do not understand you, Sir Paul," returned Disbrowe, with a look of indignant surprise.
"To be plain, then," replied Parravicin, "I have won from you two hundred pounds—all you possess. You are a ruined man, and, as such, will run any hazard to retrieve your losses. I give you a last chance. I will stake all my winnings, nay, double the amount, against your wife. You have a key of the house you inhabit, by which you admit yourself at all hours; so at least the major informs me. If I win, that key shall be mine. I will take my chance for the rest. Do you understand me now?"
"I do," replied the young man, with concentrated fury. "I understand that you are a villain. You have robbed me of my money, and would rob me of my honour."
"These are harsh words, sir," replied the knight, calmly; "but let them pass. We will play first, and fight afterwards. But you refuse my challenge ?"
"It is false!" replied Disbrowe, fiercely, "I accept it." And producing a key, he threw it on the table. "My life is, in truth, set on the die," he added, with a desperate look—"for if I lose, I will not survive my shame."
"You will not forget our terms," observed Parravicin. "I am to be your representative to-night. You can return home to-morrow."
"Throw, sir—throw," cried the young man, fiercely.
"Pardon, me," replied the knight; "the first cast is with you. A single main decides it."
"Be it so," returned Disbrowe, seizing the box. And as he shook the dice with a frenzied air, the major and Lydyard drew near the table, and even Wyvil roused himself to watch the result.
"Twelve!" cried Disbrowe, as he removed the box. "My honour is saved! My fortune retrieved—Huzza!"
"Not so fast," returned Parravicin, shaking the box in his turn. "You were a little too hasty," he added, uncovering the dice. "I am twelve, too. We must throw again."
"This to decide," cried the young officer, again rattling the dice. "Six!"
Parravicin smiled, took the box, and threw ten.
"Perdition!" ejaculated Disbrowe, striking his brow with his clenched hand. "What devil tempted me to my undoing?—My wife trusted to this profligate! Horror!—it must not be!"
"It is too late to retract," replied Parravicin, taking up the key, and turning with a triumphant look to his friends.
Disbrowe noticed the smile, and stung beyond endurance, drew his sword, and called to the knight to defend himself.
In an instant, passes were exchanged. But the conflict was brief. Fortune, as before, declared herself in favour of Parravicin. He disarmed his assailant, who rushed out of the room, uttering the wildest ejaculations of rage and despair.
"I told you you should have your revenge," observed the knight to Pillichody, as soon as Disbrowe was gone. "Is his wife really as beautiful as you represent her?"
"Words are too feeble to paint her charms," replied the major. "Shafts of Cupid! she must be seen to be appreciated."
"Enough!" returned Parravicin. "I have not made a bad night's work of it, so far. I'faith, Wyvil, I pity you. To lose a heavy wager is provoking enough—but to lose a pretty mistress is the devil."
"I have lost neither yet," replied Wyvil, who had completely recovered his spirits, and joined in the general merriment occasioned by the foregoing occurrence. "I have been baffled, not defeated. What say you to an exchange of mistresses? I am so diverted with your adventure, that I am half inclined to give you the grocer's daughter for Disbrowe's wife. She is a superb creature—languid as a Circassian, and passionate as an Andalusian."
"I can't agree to the exchange, especially after your rapturous description," returned Parravicin, "but I'll stake Mrs. Disbrowe against Amabel. The winner shall have both. A single cast shall decide, as before."
"No," replied Wyvil, "I could not resign Amabel, if I lost. And the luck is all on your side to-night."
"As you please," rejoined the knight, sweeping the glittering pile into his pocket. "Drawer, another bottle of burgundy. A health to our mistresses!" he added, quaffing a brimmer.
"A health to the grocer's daughter!" cried Wyvil, with difficulty repressing a shudder, as he uttered the pledge.
"A health to the rich widow of Watling-street," cried Pillichody, draining a bumper, "and may I soon call her mine!"
"I have no mistress to toast," said Lydyard; "and I have drunk wine enough. Do not forget, gentlemen, that the plague is abroad."
"You are the death's-head at the feast, Lydyard," rejoined Parravicin, setting down his glass. "I hate the idea of the plague. It poisons all our pleasures. We must meet at noon to-morrow, at the Smyrna, to compare notes as to our successes. Before we separate, can I be of any further service to you, Wyvil? I came here to enjoy your triumph; but, egad, I have found so admirable a bubble in that hot-headed Disbrowe, whom I met at the Smyrna, and brought here to while away the time, that I must demand your congratulations upon mine."
"You have certainly achieved an easy victory over the husband," returned Wyvil; "and I trust your success with the wife will be commensurate. I require no further assistance. What I have to do must be done alone. Lydyard will accompany me to the house, and then I must shift for myself."
"Nay, we will all see you safe inside," returned Parravicin, "We shall pass by the grocer's shop. I know it well, having passed it a hundred times, in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of its lovely inmate."
"I am glad it was a vain hope," replied Wyvil. "But I must scale a wall to surprise the garrison."
"In that case you will need the rope-ladder," replied Lydyard; "it is in readiness."
"I will carry it," said Pillichody, picking up the ladder which was lying in a corner of the room, and throwing it over his shoulders. "Bombs and batteries! I like to be an escalader when the forts of love are stormed."
The party then set out. As they proceeded, Parravicin ascertained from the major that Disbrowe's house was situated in a small street leading out of Piccadilly, but as he could not be quite sure that he understood his informant aright, he engaged him to accompany him and point it out.