Part 9 out of 12
villain," he continued, in a tone so formidable that the coffin-maker
shook with apprehension--"is she here or not?" Chowles gazed from him to
the knight, whose deportment was equally menacing and appeared
bewildered with terror.
"It is needless," said Leonard, "your looks answer for you. She _is_."
"Yes, yes, I confess she is," replied Chowles.
"You hear what he says, Sir Paul," remarked Leonard.
"His fears would make him assert anything," rejoined Parravicin,
disdainfully. "If you do not depart instantly, I will drive you forth."
"Sir Paul Parravicin," rejoined Leonard, in an authoritative tone, "I
command you in the king's name, to deliver up this girl."
Parravicin laughed scornfully. "The king has no authority here," he
"Pardon me, Sir Paul," rejoined Chowles, who began to be seriously
alarmed at his own situation, and eagerly grasped at the opportunity
that offered of extricating himself from it--"pardon me. If it is the
king's pleasure she should be removed, it materially alters the case,
and I can be no party to her detention."
"Both you and your employer will incur his majesty's severest
displeasure, by detaining her after this notice," remarked Leonard.
"Before I listen to the young man's request, let him declare that it is
his intention to deliver her up to the king," rejoined Parravicin,
"It is my intention to deliver her up to one who has the best right to
take charge of her," returned Leonard.
"You mean her father," sneered Parravicin.
"Ay, but not the person you suppose to be her father," replied Leonard.
"An important discovery has been made respecting her parentage."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Parravicin, with a look of surprise. "Who has the
honour to be her father?"
"A gentleman named Thirlby," replied Leonard.
"What!" cried Parravicin, starting, and turning pale. "Did you say
The apprentice reiterated his assertion. Parravicin uttered a deep
groan, and pressed his hand forcibly against his brow for some moments,
during which the apprentice watched him narrowly. He then controlled
himself by a powerful effort, and returned his sword to its scabbard.
"Come into this room, young man," he said to the apprentice, "and let
your companion remain outside with Chowles. Fear nothing. I intend you
"I do not distrust you," replied Leonard, "and if I did, should have no
apprehension." And motioning Rainbird to remain where he was, he entered
the room with the knight, who instantly closed the door.
Parravicin's first proceeding was to question him as to his reasons for
supposing Nizza to be Thirlby's daughter, and clearly perceiving the
deep interest his interrogator took in the matter, and the favourable
change that, from some unknown cause, had been wrought in his
sentiments, the apprentice did not think fit to hide anything from him.
Parravicin's agitation increased as he listened to the recital; and at
last, overcome by emotion, he sank into a chair, and covered his face
with his hands. Recovering himself in a short time, he arose, and began
to pace the chamber to and fro.
"What I have told you seems to have disturbed you, Sir Paul," remarked
Leonard. "May I ask the cause of your agitation?"
"No, man, you may not," replied Parravicin, angrily. And then suddenly
checking himself, he added, with forced calmness, "And so you parted
with Mr. Thirlby on London Bridge, and you think he will return to
Doctor Hodges's residence in Watling-street."
"I am sure of it," replied Leonard.
"I must see him without delay," rejoined Parravicin.
"I will take you to him," remarked Leonard; "but first I must see
Parravicin walked to a table, on which stood a small silver bell, and
ringing it, the summons was immediately answered by an old woman. He was
about to deliver a message to her, when the disturbed expression of her
countenance struck him, and he hastily inquired the cause of it.
"You must not see the young lady to-night, Sir Paul," said the old
"Why not?" demanded the knight, hastily. "Why not?"
"Because--but you frighten me so that I dare not speak," was the answer.
"I will frighten you still more if you keep me in this state of
suspense," rejoined Parravicin, furiously. "Is she ill?"
"I fear she has got the plague," returned the old woman. "Now you can
see her if you think proper."
"_I_ will see her," said Leonard. "I have no fear of infection."
The old woman looked hard at Parravicin, as if awaiting his orders.
"Yes, yes, you can take him to her room," said the knight, who seemed
completely overpowered by the intelligence, "if he chooses to go
thither. But why do you suppose it is the plague?"
"One cannot well be deceived in a seizure of that kind," replied the old
woman, shaking her head.
"I thought the disorder never attacked the same person twice," said
"I myself am an instance to the contrary," replied Leonard.
"And, as you have twice recovered, there may be a chance for Nizza,"
said Parravicin. "This old woman will take you to her. I will hasten to
Doctor Hodges's residence, and if I should fail in meeting him, will not
rest till I procure assistance elsewhere. Do not leave her till I
Leonard readily gave a promise to the desired effect, and accompanying
him to the door, told Rainbird what had happened. The latter agreed to
wait below to render any assistance that might be required, and went
downstairs with Parravicin and Chowles. The two latter instantly quitted
the house together, and hastened to Watling-street.
With a beating heart, Leonard then followed the old woman to Nizza's
chamber. They had to pass through a small anteroom, the door of which
was carefully locked. The suite of apartments occupied by the captive
girl were exquisitely and luxuriously furnished, and formed a striking
contrast to the rest of the house. The air was loaded with perfumes;
choice pictures adorned the walls; and the tables were covered with
books and china ornaments. The windows, however, were strictly barred,
and every precaution appeared to be taken to prevent an attempt at
escape. Leonard cast an anxious look round as he entered the anteroom,
and its luxurious air filled him with anxiety. His conductress, however,
did not allow him time for reflection, but led him into another room,
still more richly furnished than the first, and lighted by a large
coloured lamp, that shed a warm glow around it. An old dwarfed African,
in a fantastic dress, and with a large scimetar stuck in his girdle,
stepped forward on their approach, and shook his head significantly.
"He is dumb," said the old woman, "but his gestures are easy to be
understood. He means that Nizza is worse."
Leonard heaved a deep sigh. Passing into a third room, they perceived
the poor girl stretched on a couch placed in a recess at one side. She
heard their footsteps, and without raising her head, or looking towards
them, said, in a weak but determined voice--"Tell your master I will see
him no more. The plague has again attacked me, and I am glad of it, for
it will deliver me from him. It will be useless to offer me any
remedies, for I will not take them."
"It is not Sir Paul Parravicin," replied the old woman. "I have brought
a stranger, with whose name I am unacquainted, to see you."
"Then you have done very wrong," replied Nizza. "I will see no one."
"Not even me, Nizza?" asked Leonard, advancing. The poor girl started at
the sound of his voice, and raising herself on one arm, looked wildly
towards him. As soon as she was satisfied that her fancy did not deceive
her, she uttered a cry of delight, and falling backwards on the couch,
Leonard and the old woman instantly flew to the poor girl's assistance,
and restoratives being applied, she speedily opened her eyes and fixed
them tenderly and inquiringly on the apprentice. Before replying to her
mute interrogatories, Leonard requested the old woman to leave them--an
order very reluctantly obeyed--and as soon as they were left alone,
proceeded to explain, as briefly as he could, the manner in which he had
discovered her place of captivity. Nizza listened to his recital with
the greatest interest, and though evidently suffering acute pain,
uttered no complaint, but endeavoured to assume an appearance of
composure and tranquillity.
"I must now tell you all that has befallen me since we last met," she
said, as he concluded. "I will not dwell upon the persecution I endured
from the king, whose passion increased in proportion to my resistance--I
will not dwell upon the arts, the infamous arts, used to induce me to
comply with his wishes--neither will I dwell upon the desperate measure
I had determined to resort to, if driven to the last strait--nor would I
mention the subject at all, except to assure you I escaped contamination
where few escaped it."
"You need not give me any such assurance," remarked Leonard.
"While I was thus almost driven to despair," pursued Nizza, "a young
female who attended me, and affected to deplore my situation, offered to
help me to escape. I eagerly embraced the offer; and one night, having
purloined, as she stated, the key of the chamber in which I was lodged,
she conducted me by a back staircase into the palace-gardens. Thinking
myself free, I warmly thanked my supposed deliverer, who hurried me
towards a gate, at which she informed me a man was waiting to guide me
to a cottage about a mile from the city, where I should be in perfect
"I see the device," cried Leonard. "But, why--why did you trust her?"
"What could I do?" rejoined Nizza. "To stay was as bad as to fly, and
might have been worse. At all events, I had no distrust. My companion
opened the gate, and called to some person without. It was profoundly
dark; but I could perceive a carriage, or some other vehicle, at a
little distance. Alarmed at the sight, I whispered my fears to my
companion, and would have retreated; but she laid hold of my hand, and
detained me. The next moment I felt a rude grasp upon my arm. Before I
could cry out, a hand was placed over my mouth so closely as almost to
stifle me; and I was forced into the carriage by two persons, who seated
themselves on either side of me, threatening to put me to death if I
made the slightest noise. The carriage was then driven off at a furious
pace. For some miles it pursued the high road, and then struck into a
lane, where, in consequence of the deep and dangerous ruts, the driver
was obliged to relax his speed. But in spite of all his caution, one of
the wheels sunk into a hole, and in the efforts to extricate it, the
carriage was overturned. No injury was sustained either by me or the
others inside, and the door being forced open without much difficulty,
we were let out. One of my captors kept near me, while the other lent
his assistance to the coachman to set the carriage to rights. It proved,
however, to be so much damaged, that it could not proceed; and, after
considerable delay, my conductors ordered the coachman to remain with it
till further assistance could be sent; and, taking the horses, one of
them, notwithstanding my resistance, placed me beside him, and galloped
off. Having ridden about five miles, we crossed an extensive common, and
passed an avenue of trees, which brought us to the entrance of an old
house. Our arrival seemed to be expected; for the instant we appeared,
the gate was opened, and the old woman you have just seen, and who is
called Mrs. Carteret, together with a dumb African, named Hassan,
appeared at it. Some muttered discourse passed between my conductors and
these persons, which ended in my being committed to the care of Mrs.
Carteret who led me upstairs to a richly-furnished chamber, and urged me
to take some refreshment before I retired to rest, which, however, I
"Still, you saw nothing of Sir Paul Parravicin?" asked Leonard.
"On going downstairs next morning, he was the first person I beheld,"
replied Nizza. "Falling upon his knees, he implored my pardon for the
artifice he had practised, and said he had been compelled to have
recourse to it in order to save me from the king. He then began to plead
his own suit; but finding his protestations of passion of no effect, he
became yet more importunate; when, at this juncture, one of the men who
had acted as my conductor on the previous night suddenly entered the
room, and told him he must return to Oxford without an instant's delay,
as the king's attendants were in search of him. Casting a look at me
that made me tremble, he then departed; and though I remained more than
two months in that house, I saw nothing more of him."
"Did you not attempt to escape during that time?" asked Leonard.
"I was so carefully watched by Mrs. Carteret and Hassan, that it would
have been vain to attempt it," she replied. "About a week ago, the two
men who had conducted me to my place of captivity, again made their
appearance, and told me I must accompany them to London. I attempted no
resistance, well aware it would be useless; and as the journey was made
by by-roads, three days elapsed before we reached the capital. We
arrived at night, and I almost forgot my own alarm in the terrible
sights I beheld at every turn. It would have been useless to call out
for assistance, for there was no one to afford it. I asked my conductors
if they had brought me there to die, and they answered, sternly, 'It
depended on myself.' At Ludgate we met Chowles, the coffin-maker, and he
brought us to this house. Yesterday, Sir Paul Parravicin made his
appearance, and told me he had brought me hither to be out of the king's
way. He then renewed his odious solicitations. I resisted him as firmly
as before; but he was more determined; and I might have been reduced to
the last extremity but for your arrival, or for the terrible disorder
that has seized me. But I have spoken enough of myself. Tell me what has
become of Amabel?"
"She, too, has got the plague," replied Leonard, mournfully.
"Alas! alas!" cried Nizza, bursting into tears; "she is so dear to you,
that I grieve for her far more than for myself."
"I have not seen her since I last beheld you," said Leonard, greatly
touched by the poor girl's devotion. "She was carried off by the Earl of
Rochester on the same night that you were taken from Kingston Lisle by
"And she has been in his power ever since?" demanded Nizza, eagerly.
"Ever since," repeated Leonard.
"The same power that has watched over me, I trust has protected her,"
cried Nizza, fervently.
"I cannot doubt it," replied Leonard. "She would now not be alive were
it otherwise. But I have now something of importance to disclose to you.
You remember the stranger we met near the plague-pit in Finsbury Fields,
and whose child I buried?"
"Perfectly," replied Nizza.
"What if I tell you he is your father?" said Leonard.
"What!" cried Nizza, in the utmost surprise. "Have I, then, been
mistaken all these years in supposing the piper to be my father?"
"You have," replied Leonard. "I cannot explain more to you at present;
but a few hours will reveal all. Thirlby is the name of your father.
Have you ever heard it before?"
"Never," returned Nizza. "It is strange what you tell me. I have often
reproached myself for not feeling a stronger affection for the piper,
who always treated me with the kindness of a parent. But it now seems
the true instinct was wanting. Tell me your reasons for supposing this
person to be my father."
As Leonard was about to reply, the door was opened by Mrs. Carteret, who
said that Sir Paul Parravicin had just returned with Doctor Hodges and
another gentleman. The words were scarcely uttered, when Thirlby rushed
into the room, and, flinging himself on his knees before the couch,
cried, "At last I have found you--my child! my child!" The surprise
which Nizza must have experienced at such an address was materially
lessened by what Leonard had just told her; and, after earnestly
regarding the stranger for some time, she exclaimed, in a gentle voice,
Thirlby sprang to his feet, and would have folded her in his arms, if
Doctor Hodges, who by this time had reached the couch, had not prevented
him. "Touch her not, or you destroy yourself," he cried.
"I care not if I do," rejoined Thirlby. "The gratification would be
cheaply purchased at the price of my life; and if I could preserve hers
by the sacrifice, I would gladly make it."
"No more of this," cried Hodges, impatiently, "or you will defeat any
attempt I may make to cure her. You had better not remain here. Your
presence agitates her."
Gazing wistfully at his daughter, and scarcely able to tear himself
away, Thirlby yielded at last to the doctor's advice, and quitted the
room. He was followed by Leonard, who received a hint to the same
effect. On reaching the adjoining room, they found Sir Paul Parravicin
walking to and fro in an agitated manner. He immediately came up to
Thirlby, and, in an anxious but deferential tone, inquired how he had
found Nizza? The latter shook his head, and, sternly declining any
further conversation, passed on with the apprentice to an outer room. He
then flung himself into a chair, and appeared lost in deep and bitter
reflection. Leonard was unwilling to disturb him; but at last his own
anxieties compelled him to break silence.
"Can you tell me aught of Amabel?" he asked.
"Alas! no," replied Thirlby, rousing himself. "I have had no time to
inquire about her, as you shall hear. After leaving you on the bridge, I
went into Southwark, and hurrying through all the principal streets,
inquired from every watchman I met whether he had seen any person
answering to Doctor Hodges's description, but could hear nothing of him.
At last I gave up the quest, and, retracing my steps, was proceeding
along Cannon-street, when I descried a person a little in advance of me,
whom I thought must be the doctor, and, calling out to him, found I was
not mistaken. I had just reached him, when two other persons turned the
corner of Nicholas-lane. On seeing us, one of them ran up to the doctor,
exclaiming, 'By Heaven, the very person I want!' It was Sir Paul
Parravicin; and he instantly explained his errand. Imagine the feelings
with which I heard his account of the illness of my daughter. Imagine,
also, the horror I must have experienced in recognising in her
The sentence was not completed, for at that moment the door was opened
by Sir Paul Parravicin, who, advancing towards Thirlby, begged, in the
same deferential tone as before, to have a few words with him.
"I might well refuse you," replied Thirlby, sternly, "but it is
necessary we should have some explanation of what has occurred."
"It is," rejoined Parravicin, "and, therefore, I have sought you."
Thirlby arose, and accompanied the knight into the outer room, closing
the door after him. More than a quarter of an hour--it seemed an age to
Leonard--elapsed, and still no one came. Listening intently, he heard
voices in the next room. They were loud and angry, as if in quarrel.
Then all was quiet, and at last Thirlby reappeared, and took his seat
"Have you seen Doctor Hodges?" inquired the apprentice, eagerly.
"I have," replied Thirlby--"and he speaks favourably of my poor child.
He has administered all needful remedies, but as it is necessary to
watch their effect, he will remain with her some time longer."
"And, meanwhile, I shall know nothing of Amabel," cried Leonard, in a
tone of bitter disappointment.
"Your anxiety is natural," returned Thirlby, "but you may rest
satisfied, if Doctor Hodges has seen her, he has done all that human aid
can effect. But as you must perforce wait his coming forth, I will
endeavour to beguile the tedious interval by relating to you so much of
my history as refers to Nizza Macascree."
After a brief pause, he commenced. "You must know, then, that in my
youth I became desperately enamoured of a lady named Isabella Morley.
She was most beautiful--but I need not enlarge upon her attractions,
since you have beheld her very image in Nizza. When I first met her she
was attached to another, but I soon rid myself of my rival. I quarrelled
with him, and slew him in a duel. After a long and urgent suit, for the
successful issue of which I was mainly indebted to my rank and wealth,
which gave great influence with her parents, Isabella became mine. But I
soon found out she did not love me. In consequence of this discovery, I
became madly jealous, and embittered her life and my own by constant,
and, now I know too well, groundless suspicions. She had borne me a son,
and in the excess of my jealous fury, fancying the child was not my own,
I threatened to put it to death. This violence led to the unhappy result
I am about to relate. Another child was born, a daughter--need I say
Nizza, or to give her her proper name, Isabella, for she was so
christened after her mother--and one night--one luckless
night,--maddened by some causeless doubt, I snatched the innocent babe
from her mother's arms, and if I had not been prevented by the
attendants, who rushed into the room on hearing their mistress's
shrieks, should have destroyed her. After awhile, I became pacified, and
on reviewing my conduct more calmly on the morrow, bitterly reproached
myself, and hastened to express my penitence to my wife. 'You will never
have an opportunity of repeating your violence,' she said; 'the object
of your cruel and unfounded suspicions is gone.'--'Gone!' I exclaimed;
'whither?' And as I spoke I looked around the chamber. But the babe was
nowhere to be seen. In answer to my inquiries, my wife admitted that she
had caused her to be removed to a place of safety, but refused, even on
my most urgent entreaties, accompanied by promises of amended conduct,
to tell me where. I next interrogated the servants, but they professed
entire ignorance of the matter. For three whole days I made ineffectual
search for the child, and offered large rewards to any one who would
bring her to me. But they failed to produce her; and repairing to my
wife's chamber, I threatened her with the most terrible consequences if
she persisted in her vindictive project. She defied me, and, transported
with rage, I passed my sword through her body, exclaiming as I dealt the
murderous blow, 'You have sent the brat to her father--to your lover,
madam.' Horror and remorse seized me the moment I had committed the
ruthless act, and I should have turned my sword against myself, if I had
not been stayed by the cry of my poor victim, who implored me to hold my
hand. 'Do not add crime to crime,' she cried; 'you have done me grievous
wrong. I have not, indeed, loved you, because my affections were not
under my control, but I have been ever true to you, and this I declare
with my latest breath. I freely forgive you, and pray God to turn your
heart.' And with these words she expired. I was roused from the
stupefaction into which I was thrown by the appearance of the servants.
Heaping execrations upon me, they strove to seize me; but I broke
through them, and gained a garden at the back of my mansion, which was
situated on the bank of the Thames, not far from Chelsea. This garden
ran down to the river side, and was defended by a low wall, which I
leapt, and plunged into the stream. A boat was instantly sent in pursuit
of me, and a number of persons ran along the banks, all eager for my
capture. But being an excellent swimmer, I tried to elude them, and as I
never appeared again, it was supposed I was drowned."
"And Nizza, or as I ought now to call her, Isabella, was confided, I
suppose, to the piper?" inquired Leonard.
"She was confided to his helpmate," replied Thirlby, "who had been nurse
to my wife. Mike Macascree was one of my father's servants, and was in
his younger days a merry, worthless fellow. The heavy calamity under
which he now labours had not then befallen him. On taking charge of my
daughter, his wife received certain papers substantiating the child's
origin, together with a miniature, and a small golden amulet. The papers
and miniature were delivered by her on her death-bed to the piper, who
showed them to me to-night."
"And the amulet I myself have seen," remarked Leonard.
"To resume my own history," said Thirlby--"after the dreadful
catastrophe I have related, I remained concealed in London for some
months, and was glad to find the report of my death generally believed.
I then passed over into Holland, where I resided for several years, in
the course of which time I married the widow of a rich merchant, who
died soon after our union, leaving me one child." And he covered his
face with his hands to hide his emotion. After awhile he proceeded:
"Having passed many years, as peacefully as one whose conscience was so
heavily burdened as mine could hope to pass them, in Amsterdam, I last
summer brought my daughter, around whom my affections were closely
twined, to London, and took up my abode in the eastern environs of the
city. There again I was happy--too happy!--until at last the plague
came. But why should I relate the rest of my sad story?" he added, in a
voice suffocated with emotion--"you know it as well as I do."
"You said you had a son," observed Leonard, after a pause--"Is he yet
"He is," replied Thirlby, a shade passing over his countenance. "On my
return to England I communicated to him through Judith Malmayns, who is
my foster-sister, that I was still alive, telling him the name I had
adopted, and adding, I should never disturb him in the possession of his
title and estates."
"Title!" exclaimed Leonard.
"Ay, title!" echoed Thirlby. "The title I once bore was that of Lord
"I am glad to hear it," said Leonard, "for I began to fear Sir Paul
Parravicin was your son."
"Sir Paul Parravicin, or, rather, the Lord Argentine, for such is his
rightful title, _is_ my son," returned Thirlby; "and I lament to own I
am his father. When among his worthless associates,--nay, even with the
king--he drops the higher title, and assumes that by which you have
known him; and it is well he does so, for his actions are sufficient to
tarnish a far nobler name than that he bears. Owing to this disguise I
knew not he was the person who carried off my daughter. But, thank
Heaven, another and fouler crime has been spared us. All these things
have been strangely explained to me to-night. And thus, you see, young
man, the poor piper's daughter turns out to be the Lady Isabella
Argentine." Before an answer could be returned, the door was opened by
Hodges, and both starting to their feet, hurried towards him.
THE TRIALS OF AMABEL.
It will now be necessary to return to the period of Amabel's abduction
from Kingston Lisle. The shawl thrown over her head prevented her cries
from being heard; and, notwithstanding her struggles, she was placed on
horseback before a powerful man, who galloped off with her along the
Wantage-road. After proceeding at a rapid pace for about two miles, her
conductor came to a halt, and she could distinguish the sound of other
horsemen approaching. At first she hoped it might prove a rescue; but
she was quickly undeceived. The shawl was removed, and she beheld the
Earl of Rochester, accompanied by Pillichody, and some half-dozen
mounted attendants. The earl would have transferred her to his own
steed, but she offered such determined resistance to the arrangement,
that he was compelled to content himself with riding by her aide. All
his efforts to engage her in conversation were equally unsuccessful. She
made no reply to his remarks, but averted her gaze from him; and,
whenever he approached, shrank from him with abhorrence. The earl,
however, was not easily repulsed, but continued his attentions and
discourse, as if both had been favourably received.
In this way they proceeded for some miles, one of the earl's attendants,
who was well acquainted with the country, being in fact a native of it,
serving as their guide. They had quitted the Wantage-road, and leaving
that ancient town, renowned as the birthplace of the great Alfred, on
the right, had taken the direction of Abingdon and Oxford. It was a
lovely evening, and their course led them through many charming places.
But the dreariest waste would have been as agreeable as the richest
prospect to Amabel. She noted neither the broad meadows, yet white from
the scythe, nor the cornfields waving with their deep and abundant,
though yet immature crops; nor did she cast even a passing glance at any
one of those green spots which every lane offers, and upon which the eye
of the traveller ordinarily delights to linger. She rode beneath a
natural avenue of trees, whose branches met overhead like the arches of
a cathedral, and was scarcely conscious of their pleasant shade. She
heard neither the song of the wooing thrush, nor the cry of the startled
blackbird, nor the evening hymn of the soaring lark. Alike to her was
the gorse-covered common, along which they swiftly speeded, and the
steep hill-side up which they more swiftly mounted. She breathed not the
delicious fragrance of the new-mown hay, nor listened to the distant
lowing herds, the bleating sheep, or the cawing rooks. She thought of
nothing but her perilous situation,--heard nothing but the voice of
Rochester,--felt nothing but the terror inspired by his presence.
As the earl did not desire to pass through any village, if he could help
it, his guide led him along the most unfrequented roads; but in spite of
his caution, an interruption occurred which had nearly resulted in
Amabel's deliverance. While threading a narrow lane, they came suddenly
upon a troop of haymakers, in a field on the right, who, up to that
moment, had been hidden from view by the high hedges. On seeing them,
Amabel screamed loudly for assistance, and was instantly answered by
their shouts. Rochester ordered his men to gallop forward, but the road
winding round the meadow, the haymakers were enabled to take a shorter
cut and intercept them. Leaping the hedge, a stout fellow rushed towards
Amabel's conductor, and seized the bridle of his steed. He was followed
by two others, who would have instantly liberated the captive girl, if
the earl had not, with great presence of mind, cried out, "Touch her
not, as you value your lives! She is ill of the plague!"
At this formidable announcement, which operated like magic upon Amabel's
defenders, and made them fall back more quickly than the weapons of the
earl's attendants could have done, they retreated, and communicating
their fears to their comrades, who were breaking through the hedge in
all directions, and hurrying to their aid, the whole band took to their
heels, and, regardless of Amabel's continued shrieks, never stopped till
they supposed themselves out of the reach of infection. The earl was
thus at liberty to pursue his way unmolested, and laughing heartily at
the success of his stratagem, and at the consternation he had created
among the haymakers, pressed forward.
Nothing further occurred till, in crossing the little river Ock, near
Lyford, the horse ridden by Amabel's conductor missed its footing, and
precipitated them both into the water. No ill consequences followed the
accident. Throwing himself into the shallow stream, Rochester seized
Amabel, and placed her beside him on his own steed. A deathly paleness
overspread her countenance, and a convulsion shook her frame as she was
thus brought into contact with the earl, who, fearing the immersion
might prove dangerous in her present delicate state of health, quickened
his pace to procure assistance. Before he had proceeded a hundred yards,
Amabel fainted. Gazing at her with admiration, and pressing her
inanimate frame to his breast, Rochester imprinted a passionate kiss on
"By my soul!" he mentally ejaculated, "I never thought I could be so
desperately enamoured. I would not part with her for the crown of these
While considering whither he should take her, and much alarmed at her
situation, the man who acted as guide came to his relief. Halting till
the earl came up, he said, "If you want assistance for the young lady,
my lord, I can take you to a good country inn, not far from this, where
she will be well attended to, and where, as it is kept by my father, I
can answer that no questions will be asked."
"Precisely what I wish, Sherborne," replied Rochester. "We will halt
there for the night. Ride on as fast as you can."
Sherborne struck spurs into his steed, and passing Kingston Bagpuze,
reached the high road between Abingdon and Faringdon, at the corner of
which stood the inn in question,--a good-sized habitation, with large
stables and a barn attached to it. Here he halted, and calling out in a
loud and authoritative voice, the landlord instantly answered the
summons; and, on being informed by his son of the rank of his guest,
doffed his cap, and hastened to assist the earl to dismount. But
Rochester declined his services, and bidding him summon his wife, she
shortly afterwards made her appearance in the shape of a stout
middle-aged dame. Committing Amabel to her care, the earl then alighted,
and followed them into the house.
The Plough, for so the inn was denominated, was thrown into the utmost
confusion by the arrival of the earl and his suite. All the ordinary
frequenters of the inn were ejected, while the best parlour was
instantly prepared for the accommodation of his lordship and Pillichody.
But Rochester was far more anxious for Amabel than himself, and could
not rest for a moment till assured by Dame Sherborne that she was
restored to sensibility, and about to retire to rest. He then became
easy, and sat down to supper with Pillichody. So elated was he by his
success, that, yielding to his natural inclination for hard drinking, he
continued to revel so freely and so long with his follower, that
daybreak found them over their wine, the one toasting the grocer's
daughter, and the other Patience, when they both staggered off to bed.
A couple of hours sufficed Rochester to sleep off the effects of his
carouse. At six o'clock he arose, and ordered his attendants to prepare
to set out without delay. When all was ready, he sent for Amabel, but
she refused to come downstairs, and finding his repeated messages of no
avail, he rushed into her room, and bore her, shrieking to his steed.
In an hour after this, they arrived at an old hall, belonging to the
earl, in the neighbourhood of Oxford. Amabel was entrusted to the care
of a female attendant, named Prudence, and towards evening, Rochester,
who was burning with impatience for an interview, learnt, to his
infinite disappointment, that she was so seriously unwell, that if he
forced himself into her presence, her life might be placed in jeopardy.
She continued in the same state for several days, at the end of which
time, the chirurgeon who attended her, and who was a creature of the
earl's, pronounced her out of danger. Rochester then sent her word by
Prudence that he must see her in the course of that day, and a few hours
after the delivery of the message, he sought her room. She was much
enfeebled by illness, but received him with great self-possession.
"I cannot believe, my lord," she said, "that you desire to destroy me,
and when I assure you--solemnly assure you, that if you continue to
persecute me thus, my death, will be the consequence, I am persuaded you
will desist, and suffer me to depart."
"Amabel," rejoined the earl, passionately, "is it possible you can be so
changed towards me? Nothing now interferes to prevent our union."
"Except my own determination to the contrary, my lord," she replied. "I
can never be yours."
"Wherefore not?" asked the earl, half angrily, half reproachfully.
"Because I know and feel that I should condemn myself to wretchedness,"
she replied. "Because--for since your lordship will force the truth from
me, I must speak out--I have learnt to regard your character in its true
light,--and because my heart is wedded to heaven."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed the earl, contemptuously; "you have been listening so
long to your saintly father's discourses, that you fancy them applicable
to yourself. But you are mistaken in me," he added, altering his tone;
"I see where the main difficulty lies. You think I am about to delude
you, as before, into a mock marriage. But I swear to you you are
mistaken. I love you so well that I would risk my temporal and eternal
happiness for you. It will rejoice me to raise you to my own rank--to
place you among the radiant beauties of our sovereign's court, the
brightest of whom you will outshine, and to devote my whole life to your
"It is too late," sighed Amabel.
"Why too late?" cried the earl, imploringly. "We have gone through
severe trials, it is true. I have been constantly baffled in my pursuit
of you, but disappointment has only made me love you more devotedly. Why
too late? What is to prevent our nuptials from taking place
to-day--to-morrow--when you will? The king himself shall be present at
the ceremony, and shall give you away. Will this satisfy your scruples.
I know I have offended you. I know I deserve your anger. But the love
that prompted me to act thus, must also plead my pardon."
"Strengthen me!" she murmured, looking supplicatingly upwards.
"Strengthen me, for my trial is very severe."
"Be not deceived, Amabel," continued Rochester, yet more ardently; "that
you love me I am well assured, however strongly you may at this moment
persuade yourself to the contrary. Be not governed by your father's
strait-laced and puritanical opinions. Men, such as he is, cannot judge
of fiery natures like mine. I myself have had to conquer a stubborn and
rebellious spirit,--the demon pride. But I have conquered. Love has
achieved the victory,--love for you. I offer you my heart, my hand, my
title. A haughty noble makes this offer to a grocer's daughter. Can
you--will you refuse me?"
"I can and do, my lord," she replied. "I have achieved a yet harder
victory. With me, principle has conquered love. I no longer respect you,
no longer love you--and, therefore, cannot wed you."
"Rash and obstinate girl," cried the earl, unable to conceal his
mortification; "you will bitterly repent your inconsiderate conduct. I
offer you devotion such as no other person could offer you, and rank
such as no other is likely to offer you. You are now in my power, and
you _shall_ be mine,--in what way rests with yourself. You shall have a
week to consider the matter. At the end of that time, I will again renew
my proposal. If you accept it, well and good. If not, you know the
alternative." And without waiting for a reply, he quitted the room.
He was as good as his word. During the whole of the week allowed Amabel
for consideration, he never intruded upon her, nor was his name at any
time mentioned by her attendants. If she had been, indeed, Countess of
Rochester, she could not have been treated with greater respect than was
shown her. The apartment allotted her opened upon a large garden,
surrounded by high walls, and she walked within it daily. Her serenity
of mind remained undisturbed; her health visibly improved; and, what was
yet more surprising, she entirely recovered her beauty. The whole of her
time not devoted to exercise, was spent in reading, or in prayer. On the
appointed day, Rochester presented himself. She received him with the
most perfect composure, and with a bland look, from which he augured
favourably. He waved his hand to the attendants, and they were alone.
"I came for your answer, Amabel," he said; "but I scarcely require it,
being convinced from your looks that I have nothing to fear. Oh! why did
you not abridge this tedious interval? Why not inform me you had altered
your mind? But I will not reproach you. I am too happy to complain of
"I must undeceive you, my lord," returned Amabel, gravely. "No change
has taken place in my feelings. I still adhere to the resolution I had
come to when we last parted."
"How!" exclaimed the earl, his countenance darkening, and the evil look
which Amabel had before noticed taking possession of it. "One moment
lured on, and next rebuffed. But no--no!" he added, constraining
himself, "you cannot mean it. It is not in woman's nature to act thus.
You have loved me--you love me still. Make me happy--make yourself
"My lord," she replied, "strange and unnatural as my conduct may appear,
you will find it consistent. You have lost the sway you had once over
me, and, for the reasons I have already given you, I can never be
"Oh, recall your words, Amabel," he cried, in the most moving tones he
could command; "if you have no regard for me--at least have compassion.
I will quit the court if you desire it; will abandon title, rank,
wealth; and live in the humblest station with you. You know not what I
am capable of when under the dominion of passion. I am capable of the
darkest crimes, or of the brightest virtues. The woman who has a man's
heart in her power may mould it to her own purposes, be they good or
ill. Reject me, and you drive me to despair, and plunge me into guilt.
Accept me, and you may lead me into any course, you please."
"Were I assured of this--" cried Amabel.
"Rest assured of it," returned the earl, passionately. "Oh, yield to
impulses of natural affection, and do not suffer a cold and calculating
creed to chill your better feelings. How many a warm and loving heart
has been so frozen! Do not let yours be one of them. Be mine! be mine!"
Amabel looked at him earnestly for a moment; while he, assured that he
had gained his point, could not conceal a slightly triumphant smile.
"Now, your answer!" he cried. "My life hangs upon it."
"I am still unmoved," she replied, coldly, and firmly.
"Ah!" exclaimed the earl with a terrible imprecation, and starting to
his feet. "You refuse me. Be it so. But think not that you shall escape
me. No, you are in my power, and I will use it. You shall be mine and
without the priest's interference. I will not degrade myself by an
alliance with one so lowly born. The strongest love is nearest allied to
hatred, and mine has become hatred--bitter hatred. You shall be mine, I
tell you, and when I am indifferent to you, I will cast you off. Then,
when you are neglected, despised, shunned, you will regret--deeply but
unavailingly--your rejection of my proposals."
"No, my lord, I shall never regret it," replied Amabel, "and I cannot
sufficiently rejoice that I did not yield to the momentary weakness that
inclined me to accept them. I thank you for the insight you have
afforded me into your character."
"You have formed an erroneous opinion of me, Amabel," cried the earl,
seeing his error, and trying to correct it. "I am well nigh distracted
by conflicting emotions. Oh, forgive my violence--forget it."
"Readily," she replied; "but think not I attach the least credit to your
"Away, then, with further disguise," returned the earl, relapsing into
his furious mood, "and recognise in me the person I am--or, rather the
person you would have me be. You say you are immovable. So am I; nor
will I further delay my purpose."
Amabel, who had watched him uneasily during this speech, retreated a
step, and taking a small dagger from a handkerchief in which she kept it
concealed, placed its point against her breast.
"I well know whom I have to deal with, my lord," she said, "and am,
therefore, provided against the last extremity. Attempt to touch me, and I
plunge this dagger into my heart."
"Your sense of religion will not allow you to commit so desperate a
deed," replied the earl, derisively.
"My blood be upon your head, my lord," she rejoined; "for it is your
hand that strikes the blow, and not my own. My honour is dearer to me
than life, and I will unhesitatingly sacrifice the one to preserve the
other. I have no fear but that the action, wrongful though it be, will
be forgiven me."
"Hold!" exclaimed the earl, seeing from her determined look and manner
that she would unquestionably execute her purpose. "I have no desire to
drive you to destruction. Think over what I have said to you, and we
will renew the subject tomorrow."
"Renew it when you please, my lord, my answer will still be the same,"
she replied. "I have but one refuge from you--the grave--and thither, if
need be, I will fly." And as she spoke, she moved slowly towards the
adjoining chamber, the door of which she fastened after her.
"I thought I had some experience of her sex," said Rochester to himself,
"but I find I was mistaken. To-morrow's mood, however, may be unlike
to-day's. At all events, I must take my measures differently."
* * * * *
THE MARRIAGE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Unwilling to believe he had become an object of aversion to Amabel,
Rochester renewed his solicitations on the following day, and calling
into play his utmost fascination of manner, endeavoured to remove any
ill impression produced by his previous violence. She was proof,
however, against his arts; and though he never lost his mastery over
himself, he had some difficulty in concealing his chagrin at the result
of the interview. He now began to adopt a different course, and entering
into long discussions with Amabel, strove by every effort of wit and
ridicule, to shake and subvert her moral and religious principles. But
here again he failed; and once more shifting his ground, affected to be
convinced by her arguments. He entirely altered his demeanour, and
though Amabel could not put much faith in the change, it was a subject
of real rejoicing to her. Though scarcely conscious of it herself, he
sensibly won upon her regards, and she passed many hours of each day in
his society without finding it irksome. Seeing the advantage he had
gained, and well aware that he should lose it by the slightest
indiscretion, Rochester acted with the greatest caution. The more at
ease she felt with him, the more deferential did he become; and before
she was conscious of her danger, the poor girl was once more on the
brink of the precipice.
It was about this time that Leonard Holt, as has been previously
intimated, discovered her retreat, and contrived, by clambering up a
pear-tree which was nailed against the wall of the house, to reach her
chamber-window. Having received her assurance that she had resisted all
Rochester's importunities, the apprentice promised to return on the
following night with means to affect her liberation, and departed. Fully
persuaded that she could now repose confidence in the earl, Amabel
acquainted him, the next morning, with Leonard's visit, adding that he
would now have an opportunity of proving the sincerity of his
professions by delivering her up to her friends.
"Since you desire it," replied the earl, who heard her with an unmoved
countenance, though internally torn with passion, "I will convey you to
your father myself. I had hoped," he added with a sigh, "that we should
never part again."
"I fear I have been mistaken in you, my lord," rejoined Amabel,
half-repenting her frankness.
"Not so," he replied. "I will do anything you require, except deliver
you to this hateful apprentice. If it is your pleasure, I repeat, I will
take you back to your father."
"Promise me this, my lord, and I shall be quite easy," cried Amabel,
"I do promise it," he returned. "But oh! why not stay with me, and
complete the good work you have begun?"
Amabel averted her head, and Rochester sighing deeply, quitted the room.
An attendant shortly afterwards came to inform her that the earl
intended to start for London without delay, and begged her to prepare
for the journey. In an hour's time, a carriage drove to the door, and
Rochester having placed her and Prudence in it, mounted his horse, and
set forth. Late on the second day they arrived in London, and passing
through the silent and deserted streets, the aspect of which struck
terror into all the party, shaped their course towards the city.
Presently they reached Ludgate, but instead of proceeding to
Wood-street, the carriage turned off on the right, and traversing
Thames-street, crossed London Bridge. Amabel could obtain no explanation
of this change from Prudence; and her uneasiness was not diminished when
the vehicle, which was driven down a narrow street on the left
immediately after quitting the bridge, stopped at the entrance of a
large court-yard. Rochester, who had already dismounted, assisted her to
alight, and in answer to her hasty inquiries why he had brought her
thither, told her he thought it better to defer taking her to her father
till the morrow. Obliged to be content with this excuse, she was led
into the house, severely reproaching herself for her indiscretion.
Nothing, however, occurred to alarm her that night. The earl was even
more deferential than before, and assuring her he would fulfil his
promise in the morning, confided her to Prudence.
The house whither she had been brought was large and old-fashioned. The
rooms had once been magnificently fitted up, but the hangings and
furniture were much faded, and had a gloomy and neglected air. This was
especially observable in the sleeping-chamber appointed for her
reception. It was large and lofty, panelled with black and shining oak,
with a highly-polished floor of the same material, and was filled with
cumbrous chests and cabinets, and antique high-backed chairs. But the
most noticeable object was a large state-bed, with a heavy square
canopy, covered, with the richest damask, woven with gold, and hung with
curtains of the same stuff, though now decayed and tarnished. A chill
crept over Amabel as she gazed around.
"I cannot help thinking," she observed to Prudence, "that I shall breathe
my last in this room, and in that bed."
"I hope not, madam," returned the attendant, unable to repress a
Nothing more was said, and Amabel retired to rest. But not being able to
sleep, and having vainly tried to compose herself, she arose and opened
the window. It was a serene and beautiful night, and she could see the
smooth river sparkling in the starlight, and flowing at a hundred yards'
distance at the foot of the garden. Beyond, she could indistinctly
perceive the outline of the mighty city, while nearer, on the left, lay
the bridge. Solemnly across the water came the sound of innumerable
bells, tolling for those who had died of the plague, and were now being
borne to their last home. While listening to these sad sounds, another,
but more doleful and appalling noise, caught her ears. It was the
rumbling of cart-wheels in the adjoining street, accompanied by the
ringing of a hand-bell, while a hoarse-voice cried, "Bring out your
dead! bring out your dead!" On hearing this cry, she closed the window
and retired. Morning broke before sleep visited her weary eyelids, and
then, overcome by fatigue, she dropped into a slumber, from which she
did not awake until the day was far advanced. She found Prudence sitting
by her bedside, and alarmed by the expression of her countenance,
anxiously inquired what was the matter?
"Alas! madam," replied the attendant, "the earl has been taken suddenly
ill. He set out for Wood-street the first thing this morning, and has
seen your father, who refuses to receive you. On his return, he
complained of a slight sickness, which has gradually increased in
violence, and there can be little doubt it is the plague. Advice has
been sent for. He prays you not to disturb yourself on his account, but
to consider yourself sole mistress of this house, whatever may befall
Amabel passed a miserably anxious day. A fresh interest had been
awakened in her heart in behalf of the earl, and the precarious state in
which she conceived him placed did not tend to diminish it. She made
many inquiries after him, and learned that he was worse, while the
fearful nature of the attack could not be questioned. On the following
day Prudence reported that the distemper had made such rapid and
terrible progress, that his recovery was considered almost hopeless.
"He raves continually of you, madam," said the attendant, "and I have no
doubt he will expire with your name on his lips."
Amabel was moved to tears by the information, and withdrawing into a
corner of the room, prayed fervently for the supposed sufferer. Prudence
gazed at her earnestly and compassionately, and muttering something to
herself, quitted the room. The next day was the critical one (so it was
said) for the earl, and Amabel awaited, in tearful anxiety, the moment
that was to decide his fate. It came, and he was pronounced out of
danger. When the news was brought the anxious girl, she fainted.
A week passed, and the earl, continued to improve, and all danger of
infection--if any such existed--being at an end, he sent a message to
Amabel, beseeching her to grant him an interview in his own room. She
willingly assented, and, following the attendant, found him stretched
upon a couch. In spite of his paleness and apparent debility, however,
his good looks were but little impaired, and his attire, though
negligent, was studiously arranged for effect. On Amabel's appearance he
made an effort to rise, but she hastened to prevent him. After thanking
her for her kind inquiries, he entered into a long conversation with
her, in the course of which he displayed sentiments so exactly
coinciding with her own, that the good opinion she had already begun to
entertain for him was soon heightened into the liveliest interest. They
parted, to meet again on the following day--and on the day following
that. The bloom returned to the earl's countenance, and he looked
handsomer than ever. A week thus passed, and at the end of it, he
said--"To-morrow I shall be well enough to venture forth again, and my
first business shall be to proceed to your father, and see whether he is
now able to receive you."
"The plague has not yet abated, my lord," she observed, blushingly.
"True," he replied, looking passionately at her. "Oh, forgive me,
Amabel," he added, taking her hand, which she did not attempt to
withdraw. "Forgive me, if I am wrong. But I now think your feelings are
altered towards me, and that I may venture to hope you will be mine?"
Amabel's bosom heaved with emotion. She tried to speak, but could not.
Her head declined upon his shoulder, and her tears flowed fast. "I am
answered," he cried, scarcely able to contain his rapture, and straining
her to his bosom.
"I know not whether I am doing rightly," she murmured, gazing at him
through her tears, "but I believe you mean me truly. God forgive you if
you do not."
"Have no more doubts," cried the earl. "You have wrought an entire
change in me. Our union shall not be delayed an hour. It shall take
place in Saint Saviour's to-night."
"Not to-night," cried Amabel, trembling at his eagerness--"to-morrow."
"To-night, to-night!" reiterated the earl, victoriously. And he rushed
out of the room.
Amabel was no sooner left to herself than she repented what she had
done. "I fear I have made a false step," she mused; "but it is now too
late to retreat, and I will hope for the best. He cannot mean to deceive
Her meditations were interrupted by the entrance of Prudence, who came
towards her with a face full of glee. "My lord has informed me of the
good news," she said. "You are to be wedded to him to-day. I have
expected it all along, but it is somewhat sudden at last. He is gone in
search of the priest, and in the mean time has ordered me to attire you
for the ceremony. I have several rich dresses for your ladyship--for so
I must now call you--to choose from."
"The simplest will suit me best," replied Amabel, "and do not call me
ladyship till I have a right to that title."
"That will be so soon that I am sure there can be no harm in using it
now," returned Prudence. "But pray let me show you the dresses."
Amabel suffered herself to be led into another room, where she saw
several sumptuous female habiliments, and selecting the least showy of
them, was soon arrayed in it by the officious attendant. More than two
hours elapsed before Rochester returned, when he entered Amabel's
chamber, accompanied by Sir George Etherege and Pillichody. A feeling of
misgiving crossed Amabel, as she beheld his companions.
"I have had some difficulty in finding a clergyman," said the earl, "for
the rector of Saint Saviour's has fled from the plague. His curate,
however, will officiate for him, and is now in the church."
Amabel fixed a searching look upon him. "Why are these gentlemen here?"
"I have brought them with me," rejoined Rochester, "because, as they
were aware of the injury I once intended you, I wish them to be present
at its reparation."
"I am satisfied," she replied.
Taking her hand, the earl then led her to a carriage, which conveyed
them to Saint Saviour's. Just as they alighted, the dead-cart passed,
and several bodies were brought towards it. Eager to withdraw her
attention from the spectacle, Rochester hurried her into the old and
beautiful church. In another moment they were joined by Etherege and
Pillichody, and they proceeded to the altar, where the priest, a young
man, was standing. The ceremony was then performed, and the earl led his
bride back to the carriage. On their return they had to undergo another
ill-omened interruption. The dead-cart was stationed near the gateway,
and some delay occurred before it could be moved forward.
Amabel, however, suffered no further misgiving to take possession of
her. Deeming herself wedded to the earl, she put no constraint on her
affection for him, and her happiness, though short-lived, was deep and
full. A month passed away like a dream of delight. Nothing occurred in
the slightest degree to mar her felicity. Rochester seemed only to live
for her--to think only of her. At the end of this time, some
indifference began to manifest itself in his deportment to her, and he
evinced a disposition to return to the court and to its pleasures.
"I thought you had for ever abandoned them, my dear lord," said Amabel,
"For awhile I have," he replied, carelessly.
"You must leave me, if you return to them," she rejoined.
"If I must, I must," said the earl.
"You cannot mean this, my lord," she cried, bursting into tears. "You
cannot be so changed."
"I have never changed since you first knew me," replied Rochester.
"Impossible!" she cried, in a tone of anguish; "you have not the
faults--the vices, you once had."
"I know not what you call faults and vices, madam," replied the earl
sharply, "but I have the same qualities as heretofore.
"Am I to understand, then," cried Amabel, a fearful suspicion of the
truth breaking upon her, "that you never sincerely repented your former
"You are to understand it," replied Rochester.
"And you deceived me when you affirmed the contrary?"
"I deceived you," he replied.
"I begin to suspect," she cried, with a look of horror and doubt, "that
the attack of the plague was feigned."
"You are not far wide of the truth," was the reply.
"And our marriage?" she cried--"our marriage? Was that feigned
"It was," replied Rochester, calmly.
Amabel looked at him fixedly for a few minutes, as if she could not
credit his assertion, and then receiving no contradiction, uttered a
wild scream, and rushed out of the room. Rochester followed, and saw her
dart with lightning swiftness across the court-yard. On gaining the
street, he perceived her flying figure already at some distance; and
greatly alarmed, started in pursuit. The unfortunate girl was not
allowed to proceed far. Two persons who were approaching, and who proved
to be Etherege and Pillichody, caught hold of her, and detained her till
Rochester came up. When the latter attempted to touch her, she uttered
such fearful shrieks, that Etherege entreated him to desist. With some
difficulty she was taken back to the house. But it was evident that the
shock had unsettled her reason. She alternately uttered wild, piercing
screams, or broke into hysterical laughter. The earl's presence so much
increased her frenzy, that he gladly withdrew.
"This is a melancholy business, my lord," observed Etherege, as they
quitted the room together, "and I am sorry for my share in it. We have
both much to answer for."
"Do you think her life in danger?" rejoined Rochester.
"It would be well if it were so," returned the other; "but I fear she
will live to be a perpetual memento to you of the crime you have
Amabel's delirium produced a high fever, which continued for three days.
Her screams were at times so dreadful, that her betrayer shut himself up
in the furthest part of the house, that he might not hear them. When at
last she sank into a sleep like that of death, produced by powerful
opiates, he stole into the room, and gazed at her with feelings which
those who watched his countenance did not envy. It was hoped by the
chirurgeon in attendance, that when the violence of the fever abated,
Amabel's reason would be restored. But it was not so. Her faculties were
completely shaken, and the cause of her affliction being effaced from
her memory, she now spoke of the Earl of Rochester with her former
Her betrayer once ventured into her presence, but he did not repeat the
visit. Her looks and her tenderness were more than even _his_ firmness
could bear, and he hurried away to hide his emotion from the attendants.
Several days passed on, and as no improvement took place, the earl, who
began to find the stings of conscience too sharp for further endurance,
resolved to try to deaden the pangs by again plunging into the
dissipation of the court. Prudence had been seized by the plague, and
removed to the pest-house, and not knowing to whom to entrust Amabel, it
at last occurred to him that Judith Malmayns would be a fitting person,
and he accordingly sent for her from Saint Paul's, and communicated his
wishes to her, offering her a considerable reward for the service.
Judith readily undertook the office, and the earl delayed his departure
for two days, to see how all went on; and finding the arrangements, to
all appearances, answer perfectly, he departed with Etherege and
Ever since the communication of the fatal truth had been made to her by
the earl, his unfortunate victim had occupied the large oak-panelled
chamber, on entering which so sad a presentiment had seized her; and she
had never quitted the bed where she thought she would breathe her last.
On the night of Rochester's departure she made many inquiries concerning
him from Judith Malmayns, who was seated in an old broad-cushioned,
velvet-covered chair, beside her, and was told that the king required
his attendance at Oxford, but that he would soon return. At this answer
the tears gathered thickly in Amabel's dark eyelashes, and she remained
silent. By-and-by she resumed the conversation.
"Do you know, nurse," she said, with a look of extreme anxiety, "I have
forgotten my prayers. Repeat them to me, and I will say them after you."
"My memory is as bad as your ladyship's," replied Judith,
contemptuously. "It is so long since I said mine, that I have quite
"That is wrong in you," returned Amabel, "very wrong. When I lived with
my dear father, we had prayers morning and evening, and I was never so
happy as then. I feel it would do me good if I could pray as I used to
"Well, well, all in good time," replied Judith. "As soon as you are
better, you shall go back to your father, and then you can do as you
"No, no, I cannot go back to him," returned Amabel. "I am the Earl of
Rochester's wife--his wedded wife. Am I not Countess of Rochester?"
"To be sure you are," replied Judith--"to be sure."
"I sometimes think otherwise," rejoined Amabel, mournfully.
"And so my dear lord is gone to Oxford?"
"He is," returned Judith, "but he will be back soon. And now," she
added, with some impatience, "you have talked quite long enough. You
must take your composing draught, and go to sleep."
With this she arose, and stepping to the table which stood by the side
of the bed, filled a wine-glass with the contents of a silver flagon,
and gave it to her. Amabel drank the mixture, and complaining of its
nauseous taste, Judith handed her a plate of fruit from the table to
remove it. Soon after this she dropped asleep, when the nurse arose, and
taking a light from the table, cautiously possessed herself of a bunch
of keys which were placed in a small pocket over Amabel's head, and
proceeded to unlock a large chest that stood near the foot of the bed.
She found it filled with valuables--with chains of gold, necklaces of
precious stones, loops of pearl, diamond crosses, and other ornaments.
Besides these, there were shawls and stuffs of the richest description.
While contemplating these treasures, and considering how she should
carry them off without alarming the household, she was startled by a
profound sigh; and looking towards the bed, perceived to her great
alarm, that Amabel had opened her eyes, and was watching her.
"What are you doing there, nurse?" she cried.
"Only looking at these pretty things, your ladyship," replied Judith, in
an embarrassed tone.
"I hope you are not going to steal them?" said Amabel.
"Steal them?" echoed Judith, alarmed. "Oh, no! What should make your
ladyship think so?"
"I don't know," said Amabel; "but put them by, and bring the keys to
Judith feigned compliance, but long before she had restored the things
to the chest, Amabel had again fallen asleep. Apprised by her tranquil
breathing of this circumstance, Judith arose; and shading the candle
with her hand, crept noiselessly towards the bed. Dark thoughts crossed
her as she gazed at the unfortunate sleeper; and moving with the utmost
caution, she set the light on the table behind the curtains, and had
just grasped the pillow, with the intention of plucking it from under
Amabel's head, and of smothering her with it, when she felt herself
restrained by a powerful grasp, and turning in utmost alarm, beheld the
Earl of Rochester.
"Wretch!" cried the earl. "An instinctive dread that you would do your
poor charge some injury brought me back, and I thank Heaven I have
arrived in time to prevent your atrocious purpose."
"Your lordship would have acted more discreetly in staying away,"
replied Judith, recovering her resolution; "and I would recommend you
not to meddle in the matter, but to leave it to me. No suspicion shall
alight on you, nor shall it even be known that her end was hastened.
Leave the house as secretly as you came, and proceed on your journey
with a light heart. She will never trouble you further."
"What!" exclaimed Rochester, who was struck dumb for the moment by
surprise and indignation, "do you imagine I would listen to such a
proposal? Do you think I would sanction her murder?"
"I am sure you would, if you knew as much as I do," replied Judith,
calmly. "Hear me, my lord," she continued, drawing him to a little
distance from the bed, and speaking in a deep low tone. "You cannot
marry Mistress Mallet while this girl lives."
Rochester looked sternly and inquiringly at her. "You think your
marriage was feigned," pursued Judith; "that he was no priest who
performed the ceremony; and that no other witnesses were present except
Sir George Etherege and Pillichody. But you are mistaken. I and Chowles
were present; and he who officiated _was_ a priest. The marriage was a
lawful one; and yon sleeping girl, who, but for your ill-timed
interference, would, ere this, have breathed her last, is to all intents
and purposes Countess of Rochester."
"A lie!" cried the earl, furiously.
"I will soon prove it to be truth," rejoined Judith. "Your retainer and
unscrupulous agent, Major Pillichody, applied to Chowles to find some
one to personate a clergyman in a mock marriage, which your lordship
wished to have performed, and promised a handsome reward for the
service. Chowles mentioned the subject to me, and we speedily contrived
a plan to outwit your lordship, and turn the affair to our advantage."
The earl uttered an ejaculation of rage.
"Being acquainted with one of the minor canons of Saint Paul's, a worthy
and pious young man, named Vincent," pursued Judith, utterly unmoved by
Rochester's anger, "who resided hard by the cathedral, we hastened to
him, and acquainted him with the design, representing ourselves as
anxious to serve the poor girl, and defeat your lordship's wicked
design--for such we termed it. With a little persuasion, Mr. Vincent
consented to the scheme. Pillichody was easily duped by Chowles's
statement, and the ceremony was fully performed."
"The whole story is a fabrication," cried the earl, with affected
"I have a certificate of the marriage," replied Judith, "signed by Mr.
Vincent, and attested by Chowles and myself. If ever woman was wedded to
man, Amabel is wedded to your lordship."
"If this is the case, why seek to destroy her?" demanded the earl. "Her
life must be of more consequence to you than her removal."
"I will deal frankly with you," replied Judith. "She discovered me in
the act of emptying that chest, and an irresistible impulse prompted me
to make away with her. But your lordship is in the right. Her life _is_
valuable to me, and she _shall_ live. But, I repeat, you cannot marry
the rich heiress, Mistress Mallet."
"Temptress!" cried the earl, "you put frightful thoughts into my head."
"Go your ways," replied Judith, "and think no more about her. All shall
be done that you require. I claim as my reward the contents of that
"Your reward shall be the gallows," rejoined the earl, indignantly. "I
reject your proposal at once. Begone, wretch! or I shall forget you are
a woman, and sacrifice you to my fury. Begone!"
"As your lordship pleases," she replied; "but first, the Countess of
Rochester shall be made acquainted with her rights." So saying, she
broke from him, and rushed to the bed.
"What are you about to do?" he cried.
"Waken her," rejoined Judith, slightly shaking the sleeper.
"Ah!" exclaimed Amabel, opening her eyes, and gazing at her with a
terrified and bewildered look.
"His lordship is returned," said Judith.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Amabel, raising herself in the bed. "Where is
he?--Ah, I see him.--Come to me, my dear lord," she added, stretching
out her arms to him, "Come to me."
But evil thoughts kept Rochester motionless. "Oh! come to me, my lord,"
cried Amabel, in a troubled tone, "or I shall begin to think what I have
dreamed is true, and that I am not wedded to you."
"It _was_ merely a dream, your ladyship," observed Judith. "I will bear
witness you are wedded to his lordship, for I was present at the
"I did not see you," remarked Amabel.
"I was there, nevertheless," replied Judith.
"I am sorry to hear it," replied Amabel.
"Your ladyship would rejoice if you knew all," returned Judith,
"Why so?" inquired the other, curiously.
"Because the clergyman who married you is dead of the plague," was the
answer; "and it may chance in these terrible times that the two
gentlemen who were present at the ceremony may die of the same
distemper, and then there will be no one left but me and another person
to prove that your marriage was lawful."
"But its lawfulness will never be questioned, my dear lord, will it?"
asked Amabel, looking beseechingly at Rochester.
"Never," replied Judith, producing a small piece of parchment, "while I
hold this certificate."
"Give me that document," said the earl, in an undertone, to her.
Judith directed her eyes towards the chest. "It is yours," said the
earl, in the same tone as before.
"What are you whispering, my lord?" inquired Amabel, uneasily.
"I am merely telling her to remove that chest, sweetheart," he replied.
"Do not send it away," cried Amabel. "It contains all the ornaments and
trinkets you have given me. Do you know," she added in a whisper, "I
caught her looking into it just now, and I suspect she was about to
"Pshaw!" cried the earl, "she acted by my directions. Take the chest
away," he added to Judith.
"Has your lordship no further orders?" she rejoined, significantly.
"None whatever," he replied, with a frown.
"Before you go, give me the certificate," cried Amabel. "I must have
Judith pretended not to hear her. "Give it her," whispered the earl, "I
will remove it when she falls asleep."
Nodding acquiescence, Judith took the parchment from her bosom, and
returned with it to the bed. While this was passing, the earl walked
towards the chest, and cast his eye over such of its contents as were
scattered upon the floor. Judith watched him carefully, and when his
back was turned, drew a small lancet, and affecting to arrange her
dress, slightly punctured Amabel's neck. The pain was trifling, but the
poor girl uttered a cry.
"What is the matter?" cried the earl, turning suddenly round.
"Nothing--nothing," replied Judith; "a pin in my sleeve pricked her as I
was fastening her cap, that was all. Her death is certain," she added to
herself, "she is inoculated with the plague-venom."
She then went to the chest, and replacing everything within it, removed
it, by the help of the Earl of Rochester, into the adjoining room. "I
will send for it at midnight," she said.
"It shall be delivered to your messenger," rejoined the earl; "but you
will answer for Chowles's secrecy?"
"I will," returned Judith, with a meaning smile. "But you may take my
word for it you will not be troubled long with your wife. If I have any
judgment respecting the plague, she is already infected."
"Indeed!" cried Rochester--"then--" but he checked himself, and added,
"I do not believe it. Begone."
"He _does_ believe it for all that," muttered Judith, as he slunk away.
Rochester returned to Amabel, and sat by her until she fell asleep, when
he took the parchment from beneath the pillow where she had placed it.
Examining it, he found it, as Judith had stated, a certificate of his
marriage, signed by Mark Vincent, the clergyman who had officiated, and
duly attested. Having carefully perused it, he held it towards the
taper, with the intention of destroying it. As he was about to
perpetrate this unworthy action, he looked towards the bed. The soft
sweet smile that played upon the sleeper's features, turned him from his
purpose. Placing the parchment in his doublet, he left the room, and
summoning a female attendant, alleged some reason for his unexpected
return, and ordered her to watch by the bedside of her mistress. Giving
some further directions, he threw himself upon a couch and sought a few
hours' repose. At daybreak, he repaired to Amabel's chamber, and finding
her wrapped in a peaceful slumber, he commended her to the attendant,
On awaking, Amabel complained of an uneasy sensation on her neck, and
the attendant examining the spot, found, to her great alarm, a small red
pustule. Without making a single observation, she left the room, and
despatched a messenger after the Earl of Rochester to acquaint him that
the countess was attacked by the plague. Such was the terror inspired by
this dread disorder, that the moment it was known that Amabel was
attacked by it, the whole household, except an old woman, fled. This old
woman, whose name was Batley, and who acted as the earl's housekeeper,
took upon herself the office of nurse. Before evening, the poor
sufferer, who had endured great agony during the whole of the day,
became so much worse, that Mrs. Batley ran out in search of assistance.
She met with a watchman, who told her that a famous apothecary, from
Clerkenwell, named Sibbald, who was celebrated for the cures he had
effected, had just entered a neighbouring house, and offered to await
his coming forth, and send him to her. Thanking him, Mrs. Batley
returned to the house, and presently afterwards, Sibbald made his
appearance. His looks and person had become even more repulsive than
formerly. He desired to be led to the patient, and on seeing her, shook
his head. He examined the pustule, which had greatly increased in size,
and turning away, muttered, "I can do nothing for her."
"At least make the attempt," implored Mrs. Batley. "She is the Countess
of Rochester. You shall be well rewarded--and if you cure her, the earl
will make your fortune."
"If his lordship would change stations with me, I could not cure her,"
replied Sibbald. "Let me look at her again," he added, examining the
pustule. "There is a strange appearance about this tumour. Has Judith
Malmayns attended her?"
"She was here yesterday," replied Mrs. Batley.
"I thought so," he muttered. "I repeat it is all over with her." And he
turned to depart.
"Do not leave her thus, in pity do not!" cried the old woman, detaining
him. "Make some effort to save her. My lord loves her to distraction,
and will abundantly reward you."
"All I can do is to give her something to allay the pain," returned
Sibbald. And drawing a small phial from his doublet, he poured its
contents into a glass, and administered it to the patient.
"That will throw her into a slumber," he said, "and when she wakes, she
will be without pain. But her end will be not far off."
Mrs. Batley took a purse from a drawer in one of the cabinets, and gave
it to the apothecary, who bowed and retired. As he had foretold, Amabel
fell into a heavy lethargy, which continued during the whole of the
night. Mrs. Batley, who had never left her, noticed that an
extraordinary and fearful change had taken place in her countenance, and
she could not doubt that the apothecary's prediction would be realized.
The tumour had increased in size, and was surrounded by a dusky brown
circle, which she knew to be a bad sign. The sufferer's eyes, when she
opened them, and gazed around, had a dim and glazed look. But she was
perfectly calm and composed, and, as had been prognosticated, free from
pain. She had, also, fully regained her faculties, and seemed quite
aware of her dangerous situation.
But the return of reason brought with it no solace. On the contrary, the
earl's treachery rushed upon her recollection, and gave her infinitely
more anguish than the bodily pain she had recently endured. She bedewed
the pillow with her tears, and fervently prayed for forgiveness for her
involuntary fault. Mrs. Batley was deeply moved by her affliction, and
offered her every consolation in her power.
"I would the plague had selected me for a victim instead of your
ladyship," she said. "It is hard to leave the world at your age,
possessed of beauty, honours, and wealth. At mine, it would not
"You mistake the cause of my grief," returned Amabel; "I do not lament
that my hour is at hand, but--" and her emotion so overpowered her that
she could not proceed.
"Do not disturb yourself further, dear lady," rejoined the old woman.
"Let the worst happen, I am sure you are well prepared to meet your
"I once was," replied Amabel in a voice of despair, "but now--Oh, Heaven
"Shall I fetch some holy minister to pray beside you, my lady?" said
Mrs. Batley; "one to whom you can pour forth the sorrows of your heart?"
"Do so! oh, do!" cried Amabel, "and do not call me lady. I am not worthy
to be placed in the same rank as yourself."
"Her wits are clean gone," muttered Mrs. Batley, looking at her
"Heed me not," cried Amabel; "but if you have any pity for the
unfortunate, do as you have promised."
"I will--I will," said Mrs. Batley, departing.
Half an hour, which scarcely seemed a moment to the poor sufferer, who
was employed in fervent prayer, elapsed before Mrs. Batley returned. She
was accompanied by a tall man, whom Amabel recognised as Solomon Eagle.
"I have not been able to find a clergyman," said the old woman, "but I
have brought a devout man who is willing to pray with you."
"Ah!" exclaimed the enthusiast, starting as he beheld Amabel. "Can it be
Mr. Bloundel's daughter?"
"It is," returned Amabel with a groan. "Leave us, my good woman," she
added to Mrs. Batley, "I have something to impart to Solomon Eagle which
is for his ear alone." The old woman instantly retired, and Amabel
briefly related her hapless story to the enthusiast.
"May I hope for forgiveness?" she inquired, as she concluded.
"Assuredly," replied Solomon Eagle, "assuredly! You have not erred
wilfully, but through ignorance, and therefore have committed no
offence. _You_ will be forgiven--but woe to your deceiver, here and
"Oh' say not so," she cried. "May Heaven pardon him as I do. While I
have strength left I will pray for him." And she poured forth her
supplications for the earl in terms so earnest and pathetic, that the
tears flowed down Solomon Eagle's rough cheek. At this juncture, hasty
steps were heard in the adjoining passage, and the door opening,
admitted the Earl of Rochester, who rushed towards the bed.
"Back!" cried Solomon Eagle, pushing him forcibly aside. "Back!"
"What do you here?" cried Rochester, fiercely.
"I am watching over the death-bed of your victim," returned Solomon
Eagle. "Retire, my lord. You disturb her."
"Oh, no," returned Amabel, meekly. "Let him come near me." And as
Solomon Eagle drew a little aside, and allowed the earl to approach, she
added, "With my latest breath I forgive you, my lord, for the wrong you
have done me, and bless you."
The earl tried to speak, but his voice was suffocated by emotion. As
soon as he could find words, he said, "Your goodness completely
overpowers me, dearest Amabel. Heaven is my witness, that even now I
would make you all the reparation in my power were it needful. But it is
not so. The wrong I intended you was never committed. I myself was
deceived. I intended a feigned marriage, but it was rightfully
performed. Time will not allow me to enter into further particulars of
the unhappy transaction, but you may credit my assertion when I tell you
you are indeed my wife, and Countess of Rochester."
"If I thought so, I should die happy," replied Amabel.
"Behold this proof!" said Rochester, producing the certificate.
"I cannot read it," replied Amabel. "But you could not have the heart to
deceive me now."
"I will read it, and you well know _I_ would not deceive you," cried
Solomon Eagle, casting his eye over it--"His lordship has avouched the
truth," he continued. "It is a certificate of your marriage with him,
duly signed and attested."
"God be thanked," ejaculated Amabel, fervently. "God be thanked! You
have been spared that guilt, and I shall die content."
"I trust your life will long be spared," rejoined the earl. Amabel shook
"There is but one man in this city who could save her," whispered
Solomon Eagle, and I doubt even his power to do so.'
"Who do you mean?" cried Rochester, eagerly.
"Doctor Hodges," replied the enthusiast.
"I know him well," cried the earl. "I will fly to him instantly. Remain
with her till I return."
"My lord--my dear lord," interposed Amabel, faintly, "you trouble
yourself needlessly. I am past all human aid."
"Do not despair," replied the earl. "Many years of happiness are, I
trust, in store for us. Do not detain me. I go to save you. Farewell for
a short time."
"Farewell, for ever, my lord," she said, gently pressing his hand. "We
shall not meet again. Your name will be coupled with my latest breath."
"I shall be completely unmanned if I stay here a moment longer," cried
the earl, breaking from her, and rushing out of the room.
As soon as he was gone, Amabel addressed herself once more to prayer
with Solomon Eagle, and in this way an hour passed by. The earl not
returning at the end of that time, Solomon Eagle became extremely
uneasy, every moment being of the utmost consequence, and summoning Mrs.
Batley, committed the patient to her care, and set off in search of
Hodges. He hastened to the doctor's house--he was absent--to Saint
Paul's--he was not there, but he learnt that a person answering to the
earl's description had been making similar inquiries after him.
At last, one of the chirurgeon's assistants told him that he thought the
doctor was gone towards Cornhill, and hoping, accidentally, to meet with
him, the enthusiast set off in that direction. While passing near the
Exchange, he encountered Leonard, as before related, but did not think
fit to acquaint him with more than Amabel's dangerous situation; and he
had reason to regret making the communication at all, on finding its
effect upon the poor youth. There was, however, no help for it, and
placing him in what appeared a situation of safety, he left him.
Rochester, meanwhile, had been equally unsuccessful in his search for
Hodges. Hurrying first in one direction and then in another, at the
suggestion of the chirurgeon's assistant, he at last repaired to the
doctor's residence, determined to await his return. In half an hour he
came, and received the earl, as the old porter stated to Thirlby and
Leonard, with angry astonishment. As soon as they were alone, the earl
told him all that had occurred, and besought him to accompany him to the
"I will go to her," said Hodges, who had listened to the recital with
mixed feelings of sorrow and indignation, "on one condition--and one
only--namely, that your lordship does not see her again without my
"Why do you impose this restriction upon, me sir?' demanded Rochester.
"I do not think it necessary to give my reasons, my lord," returned
Hodges; "but I will only go upon such terms."
"Then I must perforce submit," replied the earl; "but I entreat you to
set forth-without a moment's delay, or you will be too late."
"I will follow you instantly," rejoined Hodges. "Your lordship can wait
for me at the Southwark side of the bridge." He then opened the door,
reiterating the terms upon which alone he would attend, and the earl
Shortly afterwards he set out, and making the best of his way, found
Rochester at the appointed place. The latter conducted him to the
entrance of the habitation, and indicating a spot where he would remain
till his return, left him. Hodges soon found his way to the chamber of
the sufferer, and at once perceived that all human aid was vain. She
exhibited much pleasure at seeing him, and looked round, as if in search
of the earl. Guessing her meaning, the physician, who now began to
regret the interdiction he had placed upon him, told her that he was the
cause of his absence.
"It is well," she murmured--"well." She then made some inquiries after
her relatives, and receiving a satisfactory answer, said, "I am glad you
are come. You will be able to tell my father how I died."
"It will be a great comfort to him to learn the tranquil frame in which
I have found you," replied Hodges.
"How long have I to live?" asked Amabel, somewhat quickly. "Do not
"You had better make your preparations without delay," returned Hodges.
"I understand," she replied; and joining her hands upon her breast, she
began to murmur a prayer.
Hodges, who up to this moment had had some difficulty in repressing his
emotion, withdrew to a short distance to hide his fast-falling tears. He
was roused shortly after, by a sudden and startling cry from the old
"Oh, sir, she is going! she is going!" ejaculated Mrs. Batley. He found
the exclamation true. The eyes of the dying girl were closed. There was
a slight quiver of the lips, as if she murmured some name--probably
Rochester's--and then all was over.
Hodges gazed at her sorrowfully for some time. He then roused himself,
and giving some necessary directions to the old woman respecting the
body, quitted the house. Not finding the earl at the place he had
appointed to meet him, after waiting for a short time, he proceeded,
towards his own house. On the way he was net by Thirlby and Parravicin,
as previously related, and conducted to the house in Nicholas-lane. It
will not be necessary to recapitulate what subsequently occurred. We
shall, therefore, proceed to the point of time when he quitted his new
patient, and entered the room where Thirlby and Leonard were waiting for
him. Both, as has been stated, rushed towards him, and the former
eagerly asked his opinion respecting his daughter.
"My opinion is positive," replied Hodges. "With care, she will
"Heaven be thanked!" cried Thirlby, dropping on his knees.
"And now, one word to me, sir," cried Leonard. "What of Amabel?"
"Alas!" exclaimed the doctor, "her troubles are ended."
"Dead!" shrieked Leonard.
"Ay, dead!" repeated the doctor. "She died of the plague to-night."
He then proceeded to detail briefly all that had occurred. Leonard
listened like one stupefied, till he brought his recital to a close, and
then asking where the house in which she had died was situated, rushed
out of the room, and made his way, he knew not how, into the street. His
brain seemed on fire, and he ran so quickly that his feet appeared
scarcely to touch the ground. A few seconds brought him to London
Bridge. He crossed it, and turning down the street on the left, had
nearly reached the house to which he had been directed, when his career
was suddenly checked. The gate of the court-yard was opened, and two
men, evidently, from their apparel, buriers of the dead, issued from it.
They carried a long narrow board between them, with a body wrapped in a
white sheet placed upon it. A freezing horror rooted Leonard to the spot
where he stood. He could neither move nor utter a cry.
The men proceeded with their burden towards the adjoining habitation,
which was marked with a fatal red cross and inscription. Before it stood
the dead-cart, partly filled with corpses. The foremost burier carried a
lantern, but he held it so low that its light did not fall upon his
burden. Leonard, however, did not require to see the body to know whose
it was. The moon was at its full, and shed a ghastly light over the
group, and a large bat wheeled in narrow circles round the dead-cart.
On reaching the door of the house, the burier set down the lantern near
the body of a young man which had just been thrust forth. At the same
moment, Chowles, with a lantern in his hand, stepped out upon the
threshold. "Who have you got, Jonas?" he asked.
"I know not," replied the hindmost burier. "We entered yon large house,
the door of which stood open, and in one of the rooms found, an old
woman in a fainting state, and the body of this young girl, wrapped in a
sheet, and ready for the cart. So we clapped it on the board, and
brought it away with us."
"You did right," replied Chowles. "I wonder whose body it is."
As he spoke, he held up his lantern, and unfastening it, threw the light
full upon the face. The features were pale as marble; calm in their
expression, and like those of one wrapped in placid slumber. The long
fair hair hung over the side of the board. It was a sad and touching
"Why, as I am a living man, it is the grocer's daughter,
Amabel,--somewhile Countess of Rochester!" exclaimed Chowles.
"It is, it is!" cried the earl, suddenly rushing from behind a building
where he had hitherto remained concealed. "Whither are you about to take
her? Set her down--set her down."
"Hinder them not, my lord," vociferated another person, also appearing
on the scene with equal suddenness. "Place her in the cart," cried
Solomon Eagle--for he it was--to the bearers. "This is a just punishment
upon you, my lord," he added to Rochester, as his injunctions were
obeyed--"oppose them not in their duty."
It was not in the earl's power to do so. Like Leonard, he was transfixed
with horror. The other bodies were soon placed in the cart, and it was
put in motion. At this juncture, the apprentice's suspended faculties
were for an instant--and an instant only--restored to him. He uttered a
piercing cry, and staggering forward, fell senseless on the ground.
BOOK THE FIFTH.
THE DECLINE OF THE PLAGUE.
More than two months must be passed over in silence. During that time,
the pestilence had so greatly abated as no longer to occasion alarm to
those who had escaped its ravages. It has been mentioned that the
distemper arrived at its height about the 10th of September, and though
for the two following weeks the decline was scarcely perceptible, yet it
had already commenced. On the last week in that fatal month, when all
hope had been abandoned, the bills of mortality suddenly decreased in
number to one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four. And this fortunate
change could not be attributed to the want of materials to act upon, for
the sick continued as numerous as before, while the deaths were less
frequent. In the next week there was a further decrease of six hundred;
in the next after that of six hundred; and so on till the end of
October, when, the cold weather setting in, the amount was reduced to
nearly one thousand.
At first, when the distemper began to lose somewhat of its malignancy, a
few scared individuals appeared in the streets, but carefully shunned
each other. In a few days, however, considerable numbers joined them,
and for the first time for nearly three months there was something like
life abroad. It is astonishing how soon hope and confidence are revived.
Now that it could no longer be doubted that the plague was on the
decline, it seemed as if a miracle had been performed in favour of the
city. Houses were opened--shopkeepers resumed their business--and it was
a marvel to every one that so many persons were left alive. Dejection
and despair of the darkest kind were succeeded by frenzied delight, and
no bound was put to the public satisfaction. Strangers stopped each
other in the streets, and conversed together like old friends. The
bells, that had grown hoarse with tolling funerals, were now cracked
with joyous peals. The general joy extended even to the sick, and many,
buoyed up by hope, recovered, when in the former season of despondency
they would inevitably have perished. All fear of the plague seemed to
vanish with the flying disorder. Those who were scarcely out of danger
joined in the throng, and it was no uncommon sight to see men with
bandages round their necks, or supported by staves and crutches, shaking
hands with their friends, and even embracing them.
The consequence of this incautious conduct may be easily foreseen. The
plague had received too severe a check to burst forth anew; but it
spread further than it otherwise would have done, and attacked many
persons, who but for their own imprudence would have escaped. Amongst
others, a barber in Saint Martin's-le-Grand, who had fled into the
country in August, returned to his shop in the middle of October, and,
catching the disorder from one of his customers, perished with the whole
of his family.
But these, and several other equally fatal instances, produced no effect
on the multitude. Fully persuaded that the virulence of the disorder was
exhausted--as, indeed, appeared to be the case--they gave free scope to
their satisfaction, which was greater than was ever experienced by the
inhabitants of a besieged city reduced by famine to the last strait of
despair, and suddenly restored to freedom and plenty. The more pious
part of the community thronged to the churches, from which they had been
so long absent, and returned thanks for their unexpected deliverance.
Others, who had been terrified into seriousness and devotion, speedily
forgot their former terrors, and resumed their old habits. Profaneness
and debauchery again prevailed, and the taverns were as well filled as
the churches. Solomon Eagle continued his midnight courses through the
streets; but he could no longer find an audience as before. Those who
listened to him only laughed at his denunciations of a new judgment, and
told him his preachings and prophesyings were now completely out of
By this time numbers of those who had quitted London having returned to
it, the streets began to resume their wonted appearance. The utmost care
was taken by the authorities to cleanse and purify the houses, in order
to remove all chance of keeping alive the infection. Every room in every
habitation where a person had died of the plague--and there were few
that had escaped the visitation--was ordered to be whitewashed, and the
strongest fumigations were employed to remove the pestilential effluvia.
Brimstone, resin, and pitch were burnt in the houses of the poor;
benjamin, myrrh, and other more expensive perfumes in those of the
rich; while vast quantities of powder were consumed in creating blasts
to carry off the foul air. Large and constant fires were kept in all the
houses, and several were burnt down in consequence of the negligence of
All goods, clothes, and bedding, capable of harbouring infection, were
condemned to be publicly burned, and vast bonfires were lighted in
Finsbury Fields and elsewhere, into which many hundred cart-loads of
such articles were thrown. The whole of Chowles's hoard, except the
plate, which he managed, with Judith's aid, to carry off and conceal in
certain hiding-places in the vaults of Saint Faith's, was taken from the
house in Nicholas-lane, and cast into the fire.
The cathedral was one of the first places ordered to be purified. The
pallets of the sick were removed and burned, and all the stains and
impurities with which its floor and columns were polluted were cleansed.
Nothing was left untried to free it from infection. It was washed
throughout with vinegar, fumigated with the strongest scents, and
several large barrels of pitch were set fire to in the aisles."
"It shall undergo another species of purification," said Solomon Eagle,
who was present during these proceedings; "one that shall search every
nook within it--shall embrace all those columns, and pierce every crack
and crevice in those sculptured ornaments; and then, and not till then,
will it be thoroughly cleansed."
During all this time the grocer had not opened his dwelling. The wisdom
of this plan was now made fully apparent. The plague was declining fast,
and not an inmate of his house had been attacked by it. Soon after the
melancholy occurrence, he had been informed by Doctor Hodges of Amabel's
death; but the humane physician concealed from him the painful
circumstances under which it occurred. It required all Mr. Bloundel's
fortitude to support him under the shock of this intelligence, and he
did not communicate the afflicting tidings to his wife until he had
prepared her for their reception. But she bore them better than he had
anticipated; and though she mourned her daughter deeply and truly, she
appeared completely resigned to the loss. Sorrow pervaded the whole
household for some weeks; and the grocer, who never relaxed his system,
shrouded his sufferings under the appearance of additional austerity of
manner. It would have been a great consolation to him to see Leonard
Holt; but the apprentice had disappeared; and even Doctor Hodges could
give no account of him.
One night, in the middle of November, Mr. Bloundel signified to his wife
his intention of going forth, early on the following morning, to satisfy
himself that the plague was really abating. Accordingly, after he had
finished his devotions, and broken his fast, he put his design into
execution. His first act, after locking the door behind him, which he
did as a measure of precaution, was to fall on his knees and offer up
prayers to Heaven for his signal preservation. He then arose, and,
stepping into the middle of the street, gazed at the habitation which
had formed his prison and refuge for nearly six months. There it was,
with its shutters closed and barred--a secure asylum, with all alive
within it, while every other dwelling in the street was desolate.
The grocer's sensations were novel and extraordinary. His first impulse
was to enjoy his newly-recovered freedom, and to put himself into active
motion. But he checked the feeling as sinful, and proceeded along the
street at a slow pace. He did not meet a single person, until he reached
Cheapside, where he found matters completely changed. Several shops were
already opened, and there were a few carts and other vehicles tracking
their way through the broad and yet grass-grown street. It was a clear,
frosty morning, and there was a healthful feel in the bracing atmosphere
that produced an exhilarating effect on the spirits. The grocer pursued
his course through the middle of the street, carefully avoiding all
contact with such persons as he encountered, though he cordially
returned their greetings, and wandered on, scarcely knowing whither he
was going, but deeply interested in all he beheld.
The aspect of the city was indeed most curious. The houses were for the
most part unoccupied--the streets overgrown with grass--while every
object, animate and inanimate, bore some marks of the recent visitation.
Still, all looked hopeful, and the grocer could not doubt that the worst
was past. The different demeanour of the various individuals he met
struck him. Now he passed a young man whistling cheerily, who saluted
him, and said, "I have lost my sweetheart by the plague, but I shall
soon get another." The next was a grave man, who muttered, "I have lost
all," and walked pensively on. Then came others in different moods; but
all concurred in thinking that the plague was at an end; and the grocer
derived additional confirmation of the fact from meeting numerous carts
and other vehicles bringing families back to their houses from the
After roaming about for several hours, and pondering on all he saw, he
found himself before the great western entrance of Saint Paul's. It
chanced to be the morning on which the pallets and bedding were brought
forth, and he watched the proceeding at a distance. All had been
removed, and he was about to depart, when he perceived a person seated
on a block of stone, not far from him, whom he instantly recognised.
"Leonard," he cried--"Leonard Holt, is it you?"
Thus addressed, and in these familiar tones, the apprentice looked up,
and Mr. Bloundel started at the change that had taken place in him.
Profound grief was written in every line of his thin and haggard
countenance; his eyes were hollow, and had the most melancholy
expression imaginable; and his flesh was wasted away from the bone. He
looked the very image of hopeless affliction.
"I am sorry to find you in this state, Leonard," said the grocer, in a
tone of deep commiseration; "but I am well aware of the cause. I myself
have suffered severely; but I deem it my duty to control my affliction."
"I _would_ control it, if it were possible, Mr. Bloundel," replied
Leonard. "But hope is dead in my breast. I shall never be happy again."
"I trust otherwise," replied the grocer, kindly. "Your trials have been
very great, and so were those of the poor creature we both of us
deplore. But she is at peace, and therefore we need not lament her."