William Harrison Ainsworth.

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

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awaited her, but wishful for it. He found, too, to his inexpressible
grief, that the sense of the Earl of Rochester's treachery, combined
with her own indiscretion, and the consequences that might have attended
it, had sunk deep in her heart, and produced the present sad result.

Mrs. Bloundel, it will scarcely be supposed, could support herself so
well as her husband, but when any paroxysm of grief approached she
rushed out of the room, and gave vent to her affliction alone. All the
rest of the family were present, and were equally distressed. But what
most strongly affected Amabel was a simple, natural remark of little
Christiana, who, fixing her tearful gaze on her, entreated her "to come
back soon."

Weak as she was, Amabel took the child upon her knee, and said to her,
"I am going a long journey, Christiana, and, perhaps may never come
back. But if you attend to what your father says to you, if you never
omit, morning and evening, to implore the blessing of Heaven, we shall
meet again."

"I understand what you mean, sister," said Christiana. "The place you
are going to is the grave."

"You have guessed rightly, Christiana," rejoined Amabel, solemnly. "Do
not forget my last words to you, and when you are grown into a woman,
think upon the poor sister who loved you tenderly."

"I shall always think of you," said Christiana, clasping her arms round
her sister's neck. "Oh! I wish I could go to the grave instead of you!"

Amabel pressed her to her bosom, and in a broken voice murmured a
blessing over her.

Mr. Bloundel here thought it necessary to interfere, and, taking the
weeping child in his arms, carried her into the adjoining apartment.

Soon after this, the household were summoned to prayers, and as the
grocer poured forth an address to Heaven for the preservation of his
daughter, all earnestly joined in the supplication. Their devotions
ended, Amabel took leave of her brothers, and the parting might have
been painfully prolonged but for the interposition of her father. The
last and severest trial was at hand. She had now to part from her
mother, from whom, except on the occasion of her flight with the Earl of
Rochester, she had never yet been separated. She had now to part with
her, in all probability, for ever. It was a heart-breaking reflection to
both. Knowing it would only renew their affliction, and perhaps unfit
Amabel for the journey, Mr. Bloundel had prevailed upon his wife not to
see her in the morning. The moment had, therefore, arrived when they
were to bid each other farewell. The anguish displayed in his wife's
countenance was too much for the grocer, and he covered his face with
his hands. He heard her approach Amabel - he listened to their mutual
sobs - to their last embrace. It was succeeded by a stifled cry, and
uncovering his face at the sound, he sprang to his feet just in time to
receive his swooning wife in his arms.


VI.

THE DEPARTURE.

It struck four by Saint Paul's as Doctor Hodges, accompanied by Leonard
and Nizza Macascree, issued from his dwelling, and proceeded towards
Wood-street. The party was followed by a man leading a couple of horses,
equipped with pillions, and furnished with saddle-bags, partly filled
with the scanty luggage which the apprentice and the piper's daughter
took with them. A slight haze, indicative of the intense heat about to
follow, hung round the lower part of the cathedral, but its topmost
pinnacles glittered in the beams of the newly-risen sun. As Leonard
gazed at the central tower, he descried Solomon Eagle on its summit, and
pointed him out to Hodges. Motioning the apprentice, in a manner that
could not be misunderstood, to halt, the enthusiast vanished, and in
another moment appeared upon the roof, and descended to the battlements,
overlooking the spot where the little party stood. This was at the
northwest corner of the cathedral, at a short distance from the portico.
The enthusiast had a small sack in his hand, and calling to Nizza
Macascree to take it, flung it to the ground. The ringing sound which it
made on its fall proved that it contained gold or silver, while its size
showed that the amount must be considerable. Nizza looked at it in
astonishment, but did not offer to touch it.

"Take it!" thundered Solomon Eagle; "it is your dowry." And perceiving
she hesitated to comply with the injunction, he shouted to Leonard.
"Give it her. I have no use for gold. May it make you and her happy!"

"I know not where he can have obtained this money," observed Hodges;
"but I am sure in no unlawful manner, and I therefore counsel Nizza to
accept the boon. It may be of the greatest use to her at some future
time."

His scruples being thus overcome, Leonard took the sack, and placed it
in one of the saddle-bags.

"You can examine it at your leisure," remarked Hodges to Nizza. "We have
no more time to lose."

Solomon Eagle, meanwhile, expressed his satisfaction at the apprentice's
compliance by his gestures, and, waving his staff round his head,
pointed towards the west of the city, as if inquiring whether that was
the route they meant to take. Leonard nodded an affirmative; and, the
enthusiast spreading out his arms and pronouncing an audible benediction
over them, they resumed their course. The streets were silent and
deserted, except by the watchmen stationed at the infected dwellings,
and a few sick persons stretched on the steps of some of the better
habitations. In order to avoid coming in contact with these miserable
creatures, the party, with the exception of Doctor Hodges, kept in the
middle of the road. Attracted by the piteous exclamations of the
sufferers, Doctor Hodges, ever and anon, humanely paused to speak to
them; and he promised one poor woman, who was suckling an infant, to
visit her on his return.

"I have no hopes of saving her," he observed to Leonard, "but I may
preserve her child. There is an establishment in Aldgate for infants
whose mothers have died of the plague, where more than a hundred little
creatures are suckled by she-goats, and it is wonderful how well they
thrive under their nurses. If I can induce this poor woman to part with
her child, I will send it thither."

Just then, their attention was arrested by the sudden opening of a
casement, and a middle-aged woman, wringing her hands, cried, with a
look of unutterable anguish and despair - "Pray for us, good people! pray
for us!"

"We _do_ pray for you, my poor soul!" rejoined Hodges, "as well as for
all who are similarly afflicted. What sick have you within?"

"There were ten yesterday," replied the woman. "Two have died in the
night - my husband and my eldest son - and there are eight others whose
recovery is hopeless. Pray for us! As you hope to be spared yourselves,
pray for us!" And, with a lamentable cry, she closed the casement.

Familiarized as all who heard her were with spectacles of horror and
tales of woe, they could not listen to this sad recital, nor look upon
her distracted countenance, without the deepest commiseration. Other
sights had previously affected them, but not in the same degree. Around
the little conduit standing in front of the Old Change, at the western
extremity of Cheapside, were three lazars laving their sores in the
water; while, in the short space between this spot and Wood-street,
Leonard counted upwards of twenty doors marked with the fatal red cross,
and bearing upon them the sad inscription, "Lord have mercy upon us!"

A few minutes' walking brought them to the grocer's habitation, and on
reaching it, they found that Blaize had already descended. He was
capering about the street with joy at his restoration to freedom.

"Mistress Amabel will make her appearance in a few minutes," he said to
Leonard. "Our master is with her, and is getting all ready for her
departure. I have not come unprovided with medicine," he added to Doctor
Hodges. "I have got a bottle of plague-water in one pocket, and a phial
of vinegar in the other. Besides these, I have a small pot of Mayerne's
electuary in my bag, another of the grand antipestilential confection,
and a fourth of the infallible antidote which I bought of the celebrated
Greek physician, Doctor Constantine Rhodocanaceis, at his shop near the
Three-Kings Inn, in Southampton-buildings. I dare say you have heard of
him?"

"I _have_ heard of the quack," replied Hodges. "His end was a just
retribution for the tricks he practised on his dupes. In spite of his
infallible antidote, he was carried off by the scourge. But what else
have you got?"

"Only a few trifles," replied Blaize, with a chap-fallen look. "Patience
has made me a pomander-ball composed of angelica, rue, zedoary, camphor,
wax, and laudanum, which I have hung round my neck with a string. Then I
have got a good-sized box of rufuses, and have swallowed three of them
preparatory to the journey."

"A proper precaution," observed Hodges, with a smile.

"This is not all," replied Blaize. "By my mother's advice, I have eaten
twenty leaves of rue, two roasted figs, and two pickled walnuts for
breakfast, washing them down with an ale posset, with pimpernel seethed
in it."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Hodges. "You must be in a pretty condition for a
journey. But how could you bear to part with your mother and Patience?"

"The parting from Patience _was_ heart-breaking," replied Blaize, taking
out his handkerchief, and applying it to his eyes. "We sat up half the
night together, and I felt so much overcome that I began to waver in my
resolution of departing. I am glad I did not give way now," he added, in
a more sprightly tone. "Fresh air and bright sunshine are very different
things from the close rooms in that dark house."

"You must not forget that you were there free from the contagion,"
rejoined Hodges; "while you are here exposed to its assaults."

"True," replied Blaize; "that makes a vast difference. I almost wish I
was back again."

"It is too late to think of returning," said Hodges. "Mount your horse,
and I will assist Nizza into the pillion."

By the time that Blaize, who was but an indifferent horseman, had got
into the saddle, and Nizza had taken her place behind him, the window
opened, and Mr. Bloundel appeared at it.

Amabel had only retired to rest for a few hours during the night. When
left to herself in her chamber, she continued to pray till exhaustion
compelled her to seek some repose. Arising about two o'clock, she
employed herself for more than an hour in further devotion, and then
took a last survey of every object in the room. She had occupied it from
her childhood; and as she opened drawer after drawer, and cupboard after
cupboard, and examined their contents, each article recalled some
circumstance connected with the past, and brought back a train of
long-forgotten emotions. While she was thus engaged, Patience tapped at
the door, and was instantly admitted. The tenderhearted kitchenmaid
assisted her to dress, and to put together some few articles omitted to
be packed by her mother. During this employment she shed abundance of
tears, and Amabel's efforts to console her only made matters worse. Poor
Patience was forced at last to sit down, and indulge a hearty fit of
crying, after which she felt considerably relieved. As soon as she was
sufficiently recovered to be able to speak, she observed to Amabel,
"Pardon what I am about to say to you, my dear young mistress, but I
cannot help thinking that the real seat of your disease is in the
heart."

A slight blush overspread Amabel's pale features, but she made no
answer.

"I see I am right," continued Patience, "and indeed I have long
suspected it. Let me entreat you, therefore, dear young lady, not to
sacrifice yourself. Only say the word, and I will find means of making
your retreat known to the Earl of Rochester. Blaize is devoted to you,
and will do anything you bid him. I cannot wonder you fret after so
handsome, so captivating a man as the earl, especially when you are
worried to death to marry a common apprentice like Leonard Holt, who is
not fit to hold a candle to your noble admirer. Ah! we women can never
blind ourselves to the advantages of rank and appearance. We are too
good judges for that. I hope you will soon be restored to your lover,
and that the happiness you will enjoy will make amends for all the
misery you have endured."

"Patience," said Amabel, whose cheek, as the other spoke, had returned
to its original paleness - "Patience," she said, gravely, but kindly, "I
have suffered you to proceed too far without interruption, and must
correct the very serious error into which you have fallen. I am so far
from pining for an interview with the Earl of Rochester, that nothing in
the world should induce me to see him again. I have loved him deeply,"
she continued in a tremulous tone; "nay, I will not attempt to disguise
that I feel strongly towards him still, while I will also freely confess
that his conduct towards me has so preyed upon my spirits, that it has
impaired, perhaps destroyed, my health. In spite of this, I cannot
sufficiently rejoice that I have escaped the earl's snares - I cannot be
sufficiently thankful to the merciful Being who, while he has thought
fit to chastise me, has preserved me from utter ruin."

"Since you are of this mind," returned Patience, in a tone of
incredulity, "you are more to be rejoiced with than pitied. But we are
not overheard," she added, almost in a whisper, and glancing towards the
door. "You may entirely confide in me. The time is arrived when you can
escape to your lover."

"No more of this," rejoined Amabel, severely, "or I shall command you to
leave the room."

"This is nothing more than pique," thought Patience. "We women are all
hypocrites, even to ourselves. I will serve her whether she will or not.
She _shall_ see the earl. I hope there is no harm in wishing you may be
happy with Leonard Holt," she added aloud. "_He_ will make you a capital
husband."

"That subject is equally disagreeable - equally painful to me," said
Amabel.

"I had better hold my tongue altogether," rejoined Patience, somewhat
pertly. "Whatever I say seems to be wrong. It won't prevent me from
doing as I would be done by," she added to herself.

Amabel's preparations finished, she dismissed Patience, to whom she gave
some few slight remembrances, and was soon afterwards joined by her
father. They passed half an hour together, as on the former night, in
serious and devout conversation, after which Mr. Bloundel left her for a
few minutes to let down Blaize. On his return he tenderly embraced her,
and led her into the passage. They had not advanced many steps when Mrs.
Bloundel rushed forth to meet them. She was in her night-dress, and
seemed overwhelmed with affliction.

"How is this, Honora?" cried her husband, in a severe tone. "You
promised me you would see Amabel no more. You will only distress her."

"I could not let her go thus," cried Mrs. Bloundel. "I was listening at
my chamber door to hear her depart, and when I caught the sound of her
footsteps, I could no longer control myself." So saying, she rushed to
her daughter, and clasped her in her arms.

Affectionately returning her mother's embrace, Amabel gave her hand to
her father, who conducted her to the little room overlooking the street.
Nothing more, except a deep and passionate look, was exchanged between
them. Both repressed their emotion, and though the heart of each was
bursting, neither shed a tear. At that moment, and for the first time,
they greatly resembled each other; and this was not surprising, for
intense emotion, whether of grief or joy, will bring out lines in the
features that lie hidden at other times. Without a word, Mr. Bloundel
busied himself in arranging the pulley; and calling to those below to
prepare for Amabel's descent, again embraced her, kissed her pale brow,
and, placing her carefully in the basket, lowered her slowly to the
ground. She was received in safety by Leonard, who carried her in his
arms, and placed her on the pillion. The pulley was then drawn up, and
her luggage lowered by Mr. Bloundel, and placed in the saddle-bags by
the apprentice. Every one saw the necessity of terminating this painful
scene. A kindly farewell was taken of Hodges. Amabel waved her hand to
her father, when at this moment Patience appeared at the window, and,
calling to Blaize, threw a little package tied in a handkerchief to him.
Doctor Hodges took up the parcel, and gave it to the porter, who,
untying the handkerchief, glanced at a note it enclosed, and, striking
his horse with his stick, dashed off towards Cheapside.

"Pursue him!" cried Amabel to Leonard; "he is flying to the Earl of
Rochester."

The intimation was sufficient for the apprentice. Urging his horse into
a quick pace, he came up with the fugitive, just as he had reached
Cheapside. Blaize's mad career had been checked by Nizza Macascree, who,
seizing the bridle, stopped the steed. Leonard, who was armed with a
heavy riding-whip, applied it unsparingly to Blaize's shoulders.

"Entreat him to hold his hand, dear, good Mistress Amabel," cried the
porter; "it was for your sake alone I made this rash attempt. Patience
told me you were dying to see the Earl of Rochester, and made me promise
I would ride to Whitehall to acquaint his lordship whither you were
going. Here is her letter which I was about to deliver." And as he
spoke, he handed her the note, which was tied with a piece of
packthread, and directed in strange and almost illegible characters.

"Do not hurt him more," said Amabel; "he was not aware of the mischief
he was about to commit. And learn from me, Blaize, that, so far from
desiring to see the Earl of Rochester, all my anxiety is to avoid him."

"If I had known that," returned the porter, "I would not have stirred a
step. But Patience assured me the contrary."

By this time, Doctor Hodges had come up, and an explanation ensued. It
was agreed, however, that it would be better not to alarm Mr. Bloundel,
but to attribute the porter's sudden flight to mismanagement of his
steed. Accordingly, they returned to the residence of the grocer, who
was anxiously looking out for them; and after a brief delay, during
which the saddlebags were again examined and secured, they departed. Mr.
Bloundel looked wistfully after his daughter, and she returned his gaze
as long as her blinding eyes would permit her. So unwonted was the sound
of horses' feet at this period, that many a melancholy face appeared at
the window to gaze at them as they rode by, and Nizza Macascree
shuddered as she witnessed the envious glances cast after them by these
poor captives. As to Blaize, when they got into Cheapside, he was so
terrified by the dismal evidences of the pestilence that met him at
every turn, that he could scarcely keep his seat, and it was not until
he had drenched himself and his companion with vinegar, and stuffed his
mouth with myrrh and zedoary, that he felt anything like composure.

On approaching Newgate Market, they found it entirely deserted. Most of
the stalls were removed, the shops closed, and the window-shutters
nailed up. It was never, in fact, used at all, except by a few
countrymen and higglers, who ventured thither on certain days of the
week to sell fresh eggs, butter, poultry, and such commodities. The
manner of sale was this. The article disposed of was placed on a flag on
one side of the market, near which stood a pump and a trough of water.
The vendor then retired, while the purchaser approached, took the
article, and put its price into the water, whence it was removed when
supposed to be sufficiently purified.

As the party passed Grey Friars, the tramp of their horses was mistaken
for the dead-cart, and a door was suddenly opened and a corpse brought
forth. Leonard would have avoided the spectacle had it been possible,
but they were now too close to Newgate, where they were detained for a
few minutes at the gate, while their bills of health were examined and
countersigned by the officer stationed there. During this pause Leonard
glanced at the grated windows of the prison, the debtors' side of which
fronted the street. But not a single face was to be seen. In fact, as
has already been stated, the prison was shut up.

The gate was now opened to them, and descending Snow Hill they entered a
region completely devastated by the pestilence. So saddening was the
sight, that Leonard involuntarily quickened his horse's pace, resolved
to get out of this forlorn district as speedily as possible. He was,
however, stopped by an unexpected and fearful impediment. When within a
short distance of Holborn Bridge, he observed on the further side of it
a large black vehicle, and, unable to make out what it was, though a
fearful suspicion crossed him, slackened his pace. A nearer approach
showed him that it was the pest-cart, filled with its charnel load. The
horse was in the shafts, and was standing quite still. Rising in his
stirrups to obtain a better view, Leonard perceived that the driver was
lying on the ground at a little distance from the cart, in an attitude
that proclaimed he had been suddenly seized by the pestilence, and had
probably just expired.

Not choosing to incur the risk of passing this contagious load, Leonard
retraced his course as far as Holborn Conduit, then turning into
Seacole-lane, and making the best of his way to Fleet Bridge, crossed
it, and entered the great thoroughfare with which it communicated. He
had not proceeded far when he encountered a small party of the watch, to
whom he showed his certificate, and recounted the fate of the driver of
the dead-cart. At Temple Bar he was again obliged to exhibit his
passports; and while there detained, he observed three other horsemen
riding towards them from the further end of Fleet-street.

Though much alarmed by the sight, Leonard did not communicate his
apprehensions to his companions, but as soon as the guard allowed him to
pass, called out to Blaize to follow him, and urging his horse to a
quick pace, dashed up Drury-lane. A few minutes' hard riding, during
which nothing occurred to give the apprentice further uneasiness,
brought them to a road skirting the open fields, in which a pest-house
had just been built by the chivalrous nobleman whose habitation in
Berkshire they were about to visit. With a courage and devotion that
redound more to his honour than the brilliant qualities that won him so
high a reputation in the court and in the field, Lord Craven not merely
provided the present receptacle for the sick, but remained in London
during the whole continuance of the dreadful visitation; "braving," says
Pennant, "the fury of the pestilence with the same coolness that he
fought the battles of his beloved mistress, Elizabeth, titular Queen of
Bohemia, or mounted the tremendous breach of Creutznach." The spot where
this asylum was built, and which is the present site of Golden-square,
retained nearly half a century afterwards, the name of the Pest-house
Fields. Leonard had already been made acquainted by Doctor Hodges with
the earl's generous devotion to the public welfare, and warmly
commenting upon it, he pointed out the structure to Amabel. But the
speed at which she was borne along did not allow her time to bestow more
than a hasty glance at it. On gaining Hyde-park Corner, the apprentice
cast a look backwards, and his apprehensions were revived by perceiving
the three horsemen again in view, and evidently using their utmost
exertions to come up with them.

While Leonard was hesitating whether he should make known their danger
to Amabel, he perceived Solomon Eagle dart from behind a wall on the
left of the road, and plant himself in the direct course of their
pursuers, and he involuntarily drew in the rein to see what would ensue.
In another moment, the horsemen, who were advancing at full gallop, and
whom Leonard now recognised as the Earl of Rochester, Pillichody, and
Sir Paul Parravicin, had approached within a few yards of the
enthusiast, and threatened to ride over him if he did not get of the
way. Seeing, however, that he did not offer to move, they opened on
either side of him, and were passing swiftly by, when, with infinite
dexterity, he caught hold of the bridle of Rochester's steed, and
checking him, seized the earl by the leg, and threw him to the ground.

Sir Paul Parravicin pulled up as soon as he could, and, drawing his
sword, rode back to assist his friend, and punish the aggressor; but the
enthusiast, nothing daunted, met him in full career, and suddenly
lifting up his arms, uttered a loud cry, which so startled the knight's



Online LibraryWilliam Harrison AinsworthOld Saint Paul's A Tale of the Plague and the Fire → online text (page 25 of 46)