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 sight.
“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.