“Pray Heaven it have not given us the plague,” observed the fair Stewart, who stood beside him, taking his arm.
“It is to be hoped not,” rejoined Charles; “but, odds fish! it is a most dismal affair.”
“It is so, in more ways than one,” replied Rochester, “for I have just learnt that all my best plate has been carried off from the Convocation House. I shall only be able to offer your majesty and your fair partner a sorry supper.”
On being made acquainted by Leonard, who helped him out of the pest-cart, with the danger he had run, the piper uttered a cry of terror, and swooned away. The buriers, seeing how matters stood, and that their superstitious fears were altogether groundless, now returned, and one of them, producing a phial of vinegar, sprinkled the fainting man with it, and speedily brought him to himself. But though so far recovered, his terror had by no means abated, and he declared his firm conviction that he was infected by the pestilence.
“I have been carried towards the plague-pit by mistake,” he said. “I shall soon be conveyed thither in right earnest, and not have the power of frightening away my conductors on the road.”
“Pooh! pooh!” cried one of the buriers, jestingly. “I hope you will often ride with us, and play us many a merry tune as you go. You shall always be welcome to a seat in the cart.”
“Be of good cheer,” added Leonard, “and all will be well. Come with me to an apothecary’s shop, and I will procure a cordial for you, which shall speedily dispel your qualms.”
The piper shook his head, and replied, with a deep groan, that he was certain all was over with him.
“However, I will not reject your kindness,” he added, “though I feel I am past the help of medicine.”
“With this, he whistled to Bell, who was skipping about Leonard, having recognised him on his first approach, and they proceeded towards the second postern in London-wall, between Moorgate and Cripplegate; while the buriers, laughing heartily at the adventure, took their way towards the plague-pit, and discharged their dreadful load within it. Arrived in Basinghall-street, and looking round, Leonard soon discovered by the links at the door, as well as by the crowd collected before it—for day and night the apothecaries’ dwellings were besieged by the sick—the shop of which he was in search. It was long before they could obtain admittance, and during this time the piper said he felt himself getting rapidly worse; but, imagining he was merely labouring under the effect of fright, Leonard paid little attention to his complaints. The apothecary, however, no sooner set eyes upon him, than he pronounced him infected, and, on examination, it proved that the fatal tokens had already appeared.
“I knew it was so,” cried the piper. “Take me to the pest-house—take me to the pest-house!”