William Harrison Ainsworth.

Old Saint Paul's A Tale of the Plague and the Fire online

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her distrust of Judith would not allow her to use any of them. Resuming
her seat by the couch of the sufferer, and worn out with fatigue and
anxiety, she presently dropped asleep.

She was awakened after awhile by a slight noise near her, and beheld
Judith bending over the apprentice, with a pot of ointment in her hand,
which she was about to apply to the part affected. The poultice had
already been removed. Uttering a loud cry, Nizza started to her feet,
and snatching the ointment from the nurse, threw it away. As soon as the
latter recovered from her surprise, she seized her assailant, and forced
her into the seat she had just quitted.

"Stir not till I give you permission," she cried, fiercely; "I wish to
cure this young man, if you will let me."

"You intend to murder him," replied Nizza; "but while I live you shall
never accomplish your atrocious purpose. Help! help!" And she uttered a
prolonged piercing scream.

"Peace! or I will strangle you," cried Judith, compressing Nizza's
slender throat with a powerful gripe.

And she would, in all probability, have executed her terrible threat, if
a secret door in the wall had not suddenly opened and admitted Solomon
Eagle. A torch supplied the place of his brazier, and he held it aloft,
and threw its ruddy light upon the scene. On seeing him, Judith
relinquished her grasp, and glared at him with a mixture of defiance and
apprehension; while Nizza, half dead with terror, instantly rushed
towards him, and throwing herself at his feet, besought him to save her.

"No harm shall befall you," replied Solomon Eagle, extending his arm
over her. "Tell me what has happened."

Nizza hastily explained the motive of Judith's attack upon her life. The
plague-nurse endeavoured to defend herself, and, in her turn, charged
her accuser with a like attempt. But Solomon Eagle interrupted her.

"Be silent, false woman!" he cried, "and think not to delude me with
these idle fabrications. I fully believe that you would have taken the
life of this poor youth, and, did I not regard you as one of the
necessary agents of Heaven's vengeance, I would instantly deliver you up
to justice. But the measure of your iniquities is not yet filled up.
Your former crimes are not unknown to me. Neither is the last dark deed,
which you imagined concealed from every human eye, hidden from me."

"I know not what you mean," returned Judith, trembling, in spite of
herself.

"I will tell you, then," rejoined Solomon Eagle, catching her hand, and
dragging her into the furthest corner of the vault. "Give ear to me," he
continued, in a low voice, "and doubt, if you can, that I have witnessed
what I relate. I saw you enter a small chamber behind the vestry, in
which Thomas Quatremain, who once filled the place of minor canon in
this cathedral, was laid. No one was there beside yourself and the dying
man. Your first business was to search his vestments, and take away his
keys."

"Ha!" exclaimed Judith, starting.

"While securing his keys," pursued Solomon Eagle, "the owner awakened,
and uttered a low, but angry remonstrance. Better he had been silent.
Dipping a napkin in an ewer of water that stood beside him, you held the
wet cloth over his face, and did not remove it till life was extinct.
All this I saw."

"But you will not reveal it," said Judith, tremblingly.

"I will not," replied Solomon Eagle, "for the reasons I have just
stated; namely, that I look upon you as one of the scourges appointed by
Heaven."

"And so I am," rejoined Judith, with impious exultation; "it is my
mission to destroy and pillage, and I will fulfil it."

"Take heed you do not exceed it," replied Solomon Eagle. "Lift a finger
against either of these young persons, and I will reveal all. Yes," he
continued, menacingly, "I will disclose such dreadful things against
you, that you will assuredly be adjudged to a gibbet higher than the
highest tower of this proud fane."

"I defy you, wretch!" retorted Judith. "You can prove nothing against
me."

"Defy me? - ha!" cried Solomon Eagle, with a terrible laugh. "First," he
added, dashing her backwards against the wall - "first, to prove my
power. Next," he continued, drawing from her pockets a bunch of keys,
"to show that I speak the truth. These were taken from the vest of the
murdered man. No one, as yet, but ourselves, knows that he is dead."

"And who shall say which of the two is the murderer?" cried Judith.
"Villain! I charge you with the deed."

"You are, indeed, well fitted for your appointed task," returned Solomon
Eagle, gazing at her with astonishment, "for sometimes Heaven, for its
own wise purpose, will allow the children of hell to execute its
vengeance upon earth. But think not you will always thus escape. No, you
may pursue your evil course for a while - you, and your companion in
crime; but a day of retribution will arrive for both - a day when ye
shall be devoured, living, by flames of fire - when all your sins shall
arise before your eyes, and ye shall have no time for repentance - and
when ye shall pass from one fierce fire to another yet fiercer, and
wholly unquenchable!"

As he concluded, he again dashed her against the wall with such violence
that she fell senseless upon the ground.

"And now," he said, turning to Nizza Macascree, who looked on in alarm
and surprise, "what can I do for you?"

"Bear this youth to a place of safety," was her answer.

Solomon Eagle answered by lifting up the pallet upon which Leonard was
laid, with as much ease as if it had been an infant's cradle, and
calling on Nizza to bring the torch, passed with his burden through the
secret door. Directing her to close it after them, he took his way alone
a narrow stone passage, until he came to a chink in the wall commanding
a small chamber, and desired her to look through it. She obeyed, and
beheld, stretched upon a couch, the corpse of a man.

"It is Mr. Quatremain, the minor canon," she said, retiring.

"It is," returned Solomon Eagle, "and it will be supposed that he died
of the plague. But his end was accelerated by Judith Malmayns."

Without allowing her time for reply, he pursued his course, traversing
another long, narrow passage.

"Where are we?" asked Nizza, as they arrived at the foot of a spiral
stone staircase.

"Beneath the central tower of the cathedral," replied Solomon Eagle. "I
will take you to a cell known only to myself, where this youth will be
in perfect safety."

Ascending the staircase, they passed through an arched door, and entered
the great northern ambulatory. Nizza gazed down for a moment into the
nave, but all was buried in darkness, and no sound reached her to give
her an idea that any one was below. Proceeding towards the west, Solomon
Eagle arrived at a small recess in the wall opposite one of the
broad-arched openings looking into the nave, and entering it, pressed
against a spring at the further extremity, and a stone door flying open,
discovered a secret cell, on the floor of which his brazier was burning.
Depositing his burden on the floor, he said to Nizza, "He is now safe.
Go in search of proper assistance, and I will watch by him till you
return."

Nizza did not require a second exhortation, but quitting the cell, and
noticing its situation, swiftly descended the winding staircase, and
hurrying along the northern aisle, proceeded to a small chamber beneath
the tower at its western extremity, which she knew was occupied by one
of the vergers. Speedily arousing him, she told him her errand, and
implored him to remain on the watch till she returned with Doctor
Hodges. The verger promised compliance; and, opening a wicket in the
great doorway, allowed her to go forth. A few seconds brought her to the
doctor's dwelling, and though it was an hour after midnight, her summons
was promptly answered by the old porter, who conveyed her message to his
master. Doctor Hodges had just retired to rest; but, on learning in
whose behalf his services were required, he sprang out of bed, and
hastily slipped on his clothes.

"I would not, for half I am worth, that that poor youth should perish,"
he cried. "I take a great interest in him - a very great interest. He
must not be neglected. How comes he at Saint Paul's, I wonder? But I can
obtain information on that point as I go thither. No time must be lost."

Ruminating thus, he swallowed a glass of sack, and providing himself
with a case of instruments, and such medicines as he thought he might
require, he descended to Nizza. On the way to the cathedral, she
acquainted him with what had befallen Leonard during the last
four-and-twenty hours, and the only circumstance that she kept back was
Judith's attempt on his life. This she intended to reveal at a more
fitting opportunity. The doctor expressed somewhat emphatically his
disapproval of the conduct of Mr. Bloundel, but promised to set all to
rights without loss of time.

"The only difficulty I foresee," he observed, "is that the poor youth is
attacked by the pestilence; and though I may succeed in curing him, his
master will probably have shut up his house before I can accomplish my
object, in which case, all chance of his union with Amabel will be at an
end."

"So much the better," rejoined Nizza, sharply; "she does not deserve
him."

"There I agree with you," returned Hodges. "But could you point out any
one who does?" he added, with a slight but significant laugh.

No answer was returned; and as they had just reached the portico of the
cathedral, they entered the sacred structure in silence.

As they ascended the winding stairs, loud outcries resounded along the
ambulatory, and echoed by the vaulted roof of the nave, convinced them
that the sufferer was again in a state of frenzy, produced by fever and
the anguish of his sore; and on reaching the cell they found him
struggling violently with Solomon Eagle, who held him down by main
force.

"He is in a fearfully excited state, truly," observed Hodges, as he drew
near, "and must not be left for a moment, or he will do himself a
mischief. I must give him a draught to allay the fever, and compose his
nerves - for in this state I dare not have recourse to the lancet."

With this he dressed the tumour; and pouring the contents of a large
phial which he had brought with him in a cup, he held it to the burning
lips of the apprentice, who eagerly quaffed it. It was soon apparent
that the dose produced a salutary effect, and a second was administered.
Still the sufferer, though calmer, continued to ramble as
before - complained that his veins were filled with molten
lead - entreated them to plunge him in a stream, so that he might cool
his intolerable thirst, and appeared to be in great agony. Doctor Hodges
watched by him till daybreak, at which time he sank into a slumber; and
Solomon Eagle, who had never till then relinquished his hold of him, now
ventured to resign his post. The doctor was then about to depart; but at
the urgent solicitation of Nizza, who had stationed herself at the door
of the cell, he agreed to remain a little longer.

Two hours after this, the doors of the cathedral were opened, and a
large crowd soon assembled within the nave, as on the preceding day. The
tumult of voices reached the cell and awakened the sleeper. Before he
could be prevented he started from his bed, and dashing aside the feeble
opposition offered by Nizza and the doctor, ran along the ambulatory,
uttering a loud and fearful cry. Finding the door of the winding
staircase open, he darted through it, and in a few seconds reappeared in
the aisle. Hearing the cries, several persons rushed to meet him; but on
beholding his haggard looks and strange appearance - he was merely
wrapped in a blanket, - they instantly recoiled. Mean-time, Doctor
Hodges, who had run to one of the arched openings looking on the nave,
called out to them to secure the fugitive. But all fled at his approach;
and when he reached the door of the southern transept, the verger,
instead of attempting to stop him, retreated with a cry of alarm. As he
passed through the outlet, one man bolder than the rest caught hold of
him, and endeavoured to detain him. But, leaving the blanket in his
hands, and without other covering than his shirt, the apprentice dashed
across the churchyard - next shaped his course down Saint
Bennet's-hill - then crossed Thames-street, - and finally speeding along
another narrow thoroughfare, reached Paul's Wharf. Gazing for a moment
at the current sweeping past him - it was high-tide, - he plunged head
foremost into it from the high embankment, and on rising to the surface,
being a strong and expert swimmer, struck out for the opposite shore.
Those who beheld him were filled with amazement; but such was the alarm
occasioned by his appearance, that none ventured to interfere with him.
He had not crossed more than a fourth part of the stream when Doctor
Hodges arrived at the wharf; but neither promises of reward nor threats
could induce any of the watermen to follow him. The humane physician
would have sprung into a boat, but feeling he should be wholly unable to
manage it, he most reluctantly abandoned his purpose. Scarcely doubting
what the result of this rash attempt would be, and yet unable to tear
himself away, he lingered on the wharf till he saw Leonard reach the
opposite bank, where an attempt was made by a party of persons to seize
him. But instead of quietly surrendering himself, the apprentice
instantly leapt into the river again, and began to swim back towards the
point whence he had started. Amazed at what he saw, the doctor ordered
his servant, who by this time had joined the group, to bring a blanket,
and descending to the edge of the river, awaited the swimmer's arrival.
In less than ten minutes he had reached the shore, and clambering on the
bank, fell from exhaustion.

"This is a violent effort of nature, which has accomplished more than
science or skill could do," said Hodges, as he gazed on the body, and
saw that the pestilential tumour had wholly disappeared - "he is
completely cured of the plague."

And throwing the blanket over him, he ordered him to be conveyed to his
own house.


X.

THE PEST-HOUSE IN FINSBURY FIELDS.

Not a word passed between the grocer and his daughter, as he took her
home from Saint Paul's. Amabel, in fact, was so overpowered by
conflicting emotions that she could not speak; while her father, who
could not help reproaching himself for the harshness he had displayed
towards Leonard Holt, felt no disposition to break silence. They found
Mrs. Bloundel at the shop-door, drowned in tears, and almost in a state
of distraction. On seeing them, she rushed towards her daughter, and
straining her to her bosom, gave free vent to the impulses of her
affection. Allowing the first transports of joy to subside, Mr. Bloundel
begged, her to retire to her own room with Amabel, and not to leave it
till they had both regained their composure, when he wished to have some
serious conversation with them.

His request complied with, the grocer then retraced his steps to the
cathedral with the intention of seeking an explanation from Leonard,
and, if he saw occasion to do so, of revoking his severe mandate. But
long before he reached the southern transept, the apprentice had
disappeared, nor could he learn what had become of him. While anxiously
pursuing his search among the crowd, and addressing inquiries to all
whom he thought likely to afford him information, he perceived a man
pushing his way towards him. As this person drew near, he recognised
Pillichody, and would have got out of his way had it been possible.

"You are looking for your apprentice, I understand, Mr. Bloundel," said
the bully, raising his hat - "if you desire, it, I will lead you to him."

Unwilling as he was to be obliged to one whom he knew to be leagued with
the Earl of Rochester, the grocer's anxiety overcame his scruples, and,
signifying his acquiescence, Pillichody shouldered his way through the
crowd, and did not stop till they reached the northern aisle, where they
were comparatively alone.

"Your apprentice is a fortunate spark, Mr. Bloundel," he said. "No
sooner does he lose one mistress than he finds another. Tour daughter is
already forgotten, and he is at this moment enjoying a tender
_tête-à-tête_ in Bishop Kempe's chapel with Nizza Macascree, the blind
piper's daughter."

"It is false, sir," replied the grocer, incredulously.

"Unbelieving dog!" cried Pillichody, in a furious tone, and clapping his
hand upon his sword, "it is fortunate for you that the disparity of our
stations prevents me from compelling you to yield me satisfaction for
the insult you have offered me. But I caution you to keep better guard
upon your tongue for the future, especially when addressing one who has
earned his laurels under King Charles the Martyr."

"I have no especial reverence for the monarch you served under," replied
Bloundel; "but he would have blushed to own such a follower."

"You may thank my generosity that I do not crop your ears, base
Roundhead," rejoined Pillichody; "but I will convince you that I speak
the truth, and if you have any shame in your composition, it will be
summoned to your cheeks."

So saying, he proceeded to Bishop Kempe's chapel, the door of which was
slightly ajar, and desired the grocer to look through the chink. This
occurred at the precise time that the apprentice was seized with sudden
faintness, and was leaning for support upon Nizza Macascree's shoulder.

"You see how lovingly they are seated together," observed Pillichody,
with a smile of triumph. "Bowers of Paphos! I would I were as near the
rich widow of Watling-street. Will you speak with him?"

"No," replied Bloundel, turning away; "I have done with him for ever. I
have been greatly deceived."

"True," chuckled Pillichody, as soon as the grocer was out of hearing;
"but not by your apprentice, Mr. Bloundel. I will go and inform
Parravicin and Rochester that I have discovered the girl. The knight
must mind what he is about, or Leonard Holt will prove too much for him.
Either I am greatly out, or the apprentice is already master of Nizza's
heart."

To return to Amabel. As soon as she was alone with her mother, she threw
herself on her knees before her, and, imploring her forgiveness, hastily
related all that had occurred.

"But for Leonard Holt," she said, "I should have been duped into a false
marriage with the earl, and my peace of mind would have been for ever
destroyed. As it is, I shall never be easy till he is restored to my
father's favour. To have done wrong myself is reprehensible enough; but
that another should suffer for my fault is utterly inexcusable."

"I lament that your father should be deceived," rejoined Mrs. Bloundel,
"and I lament still more that Leonard Holt should be so unjustly
treated. Nevertheless, we must act with the utmost caution. I know my
husband too well to doubt for a moment that he will hesitate to fulfil
his threat. And now, my dear child," she continued, "do not the repeated
proofs you have received of this wicked nobleman's perfidy, and of
Leonard's devotion - do they not, I say, open your eyes to the truth, and
show you which of the two really loves you, and merits your regard?"

"I will hide nothing from you, mother," replied Amabel. "In spite of his
perfidy, in spite of my conviction of his unworthiness, I still love the
Earl of Rochester. Nor can I compel myself to feel any regard, stronger
than that of friendship, for Leonard Holt."

"You distress me, sadly, child," cried Mrs. Bloundel. "What will become
of you! I wish my husband would shut up his house. That might put an end
to the difficulty. I am not half so much afraid of the plague as I am of
the Earl of Rochester. But compose yourself, as your father desired,
that when he sends for us we may be ready to meet him with
cheerfulness."

Mr. Bloundel, however, did _not_ send for them. He remained in the shop
all day, except at meal-times, when he said little, and appeared to be
labouring under a great weight of anxiety. As Amabel took leave of him
for the night, he dismissed her with coldness; and though he bestowed
his customary blessing upon her, the look that accompanied it was not
such as it used to be.

On the following day things continued in the same state. The grocer was
cold and inscrutable, and his wife, fearing he was meditating some
severe course against Amabel, and aware of his inflexible nature, if a
resolution was once formed, shook off her habitual awe, and thus
addressed him:

"I fear you have not forgiven our daughter. Be not too hasty in your
judgment. However culpable she may appear, she has been as much deceived
as yourself."

"It may be so," replied Bloundel. "Still she has acted with such
indiscretion that I can never place confidence in her again, and without
confidence affection is as nought. Can I say to him who may seek her in
marriage, and whom I may approve as a husband, - 'Take her! she has never
deceived me, and will never deceive you?' No. She _has_ deceived me, and
will, therefore, deceive others. I do not know the precise truth of the
story of her abduction (if such it was) by Leonard Holt, neither do I
wish to know it, because I might be compelled to act with greater
severity than I desire towards her. But I know enough to satisfy me she
has been excessively imprudent, and has placed herself voluntarily in
situations of the utmost jeopardy."

"Not voluntarily," returned Mrs. Bloundel. "She has been lured into
difficulties by others."

"No more!" interrupted the grocer, sternly. "If you wish to serve her,
keep guard upon your tongue. If you have any preparations to make, they
must not be delayed. I shall shut up my house to-morrow."

"Whether Leonard returns or not?" asked Mrs. Bloundel.

"I shall wait for no one," returned her husband, peremptorily.

They then separated, and Mrs. Bloundel hastened to her daughter to
acquaint her with the result of the interview.

In the afternoon of the same day, the grocer, who began to feel
extremely uneasy about Leonard, again repaired to Saint Paul's to see
whether he could obtain any tidings of him, and learnt, to his great
dismay, from one of the vergers, that a young man, answering to the
description of the apprentice, had been attacked by the pestilence, and
having been taken to the vaults of Saint Faith's, had made his escape
from his attendants, and, it was supposed, had perished. Horror-stricken
by this intelligence, he descended to the subterranean church, where he
met Judith Malmayns and Chowles, who confirmed the verger's statement.

"The poor young man, I am informed," said Chowles, "threw himself into
the Thames, and was picked up by a boat, and afterwards conveyed, in a
dying state, to the pest-house in Finsbury Fields, where you will
probably find him, if he is still alive."

Mr. Bloundel heard no more. Quitting the cathedral, he hastened to
Finsbury Fields, and sought out the building to which he had been
directed. It was a solitary farm-house, of considerable size, surrounded
by an extensive garden, and had only been recently converted to its
present melancholy use. Near it was a barn, also fitted up with beds for
the sick. On approaching the pest-house, Mr. Bloundel was greatly struck
with the contrast presented by its exterior to the misery he knew to be
reigning within. Its situation was charming, - in the midst, as has just
been stated, of a large and, until recently, well-cultivated garden, and
seen under the influence of a bright and genial May day, the whole place
looked the picture of healthfulness and comfort. But a closer view
speedily dispelled the illusion, and showed that it was the abode of
disease and death. Horrid sounds saluted the ears; ghastly figures met
the eyes; and the fragrance of the flowers was overpowered by the
tainted and noisome atmosphere issuing from the open doors and windows.
The grocer had scarcely entered the gate when he was arrested by an
appalling shriek, followed by a succession of cries so horrifying that
he felt half disposed to fly. But mustering up his resolution, and
breathing at a phial of vinegar, he advanced towards the principal door,
which stood wide open, and called to one of the assistants. The man,
however, was too busy to attend to him, and while waiting his leisure,
he saw no fewer than three corpses carried out to an outbuilding in the
yard, where they were left till they could be taken away at night for
interment.

Sickened by the sight, and blaming himself for entering near this
contagious spot, Mr. Bloundel was about to depart, when a young



Online LibraryWilliam Harrison AinsworthOld Saint Paul's A Tale of the Plague and the Fire → online text (page 16 of 46)