Page images
PDF
EPUB

hill of Ludgate, towards St. Paul's, the Earl observed that the King stopped short, and fixed his eyes on a certain casement on the right hand side of the way. The gentlemen, turning their heads in the same direction, immediately beheld a young and beautiful woman, in a very rich and fanciful dress, and worthy indeed of the admiration of the monarch; who, with sheer delight, stood as if rooted to the spot. The lady, for a while, did not observe this stoppage, so that the company of courtiers had full time to observe her countenance and dress. She wore upon her head a small cap of black velvet, which fitted very close, and came down with a point upon her forehead, where, at the peak of the velvet, there hung a very large pearl. Her hair, which was of an auburn colour and very abundant, fell down on either side of her face in large ringlets according to the fashion of the time, and clustered daintily about her fair neck and bosom, several of the locks, more

over, being bound together here and there by clusters of fine pearls. As for her boddice, it was of white silk, with a goodly brooch of emeralds in the shape of strawberry leaves, which were held together by stalks of gold. Her sleeves, which were very wide, and hung loose from the elbow, were of the same silk; but there was a short under-sleeve of peachblossom satin, that fastened with clasps of emerald about the mid-arm. Her bracelets were ornamented with the same gem; but the bands were of gold, as well as the girdle that encircled her waist. Thus much the company could perceive, as she leaned upon the edge of the window with one delicate hand: at last—for in the mean while she had been stedfastly looking abroad, as in a reverie—she recollected herself, and, observing that she was gazed at, immediately withdrew.

The King watched a minute or two at the window, after she was gone, like a man in a dream; and then, turning round to Rochester, inquired if he knew any thing of the lady he had seen. The Earl replied instantly, that he knew nothing of her, except she was the loveliest creature that had ever feasted his eyes; whereupon the King commanded him to remain behind, and learn as many particulars as he could. The King, with the gentlemen, then rode on very thoughtfully into the city, where he transacted what he had to do, and then returned with the same company by Cheapside, where they encountered the Earl.

As soon as the King saw Rochester, he asked eagerly, "What news F" Whereupon the latter acquainted him with all he knew. "As for her name," he said, "she is called Alice, but her surname is swallowed up in that of The Fair Maid of Ludgate—for that is her only title in these parts. She is an only child, and her father is a rich jeweller; and so in faith was her mother likewise, to judge by this splendid sample of their workmanship."

"Verily I think so too," returned the Monarch; "she must come to Court," and with that they began to concert together how to prosecute that design.

And doubtless the Fair Maid of Ludgate would have been ensnared by the devices of that profligate courtier, but for an event that turned all thoughts of intrigue and human pleasure into utter despondency and affright. For now broke out that dreadful pestilence which soon raged so awfully throughout the great city, the mortality increasing from hundreds to thousands of deaths in a single week. At the first ravages of the infection, a vast number of families deserted their houses, and fled into the country; the remainder enclosing themselves as rigidly within their own dwellings, as if they had been separately besieged by some invisible foe. In the mean time, the pestilence increased in fury, spreading from house to house, and from street to street, till whole parishes were subjected to its rage. At this point, the father of Alice fell sud

VOL. II. K

denly ill, though not of the pest; however, the terrified domestics could not be persuaded otherwise, than that he was smitten by the plague, and accordingly they all ran off together, leaving him to the sole care of his afflicted child.

On the morning after this desertion, as she sate weeping at the bedside of her father, the Fair Maid heard a great noise of voices in the street; wherefore, looking forth at the front casement, she saw a number of youths, with horses ready saddled and bridled, standing about the door. As soon as she showed herself at the window they all began to call out together, beseeching her to come down, and fly with them from the city of death; which touched the heart of Alice very much: after thanking them, therefore, with her eyes full of tears, she pointed inwards, and told them that her father was unable to rise from his bed.

"Then there is no help for him," cried Hugh Percy. "God receive his soul! The plague is

« PreviousContinue »