« PreviousContinue »
striding hither very fast. I have seen the red crosses in Cheapside. Pray come down, therefore, unto us, dearest Alice, for we will wait on you to the ends of the earth."
The sorrowful Alice wept abundantly at this speech, and it was some minutes before she could make any answer.
"Hugh Percy,1' she said at last, " if it be as you say, the will of God be done; but I will never depart from the help of my dear father;" and with that, waiving her hand to them as a last farewell, she closed the casement, and returned to the sick-chamber.
On the morrow the gentle youths came again to the house on the same errand, but they were fewer than before. They moved Alice by their outcries to come at last to the window, who replied in the same way to their entreaties, notwithstanding the fond youths continued to use their arguments, with many prayers to her, to come down, but she remained constant in her denial; at length, missing some of the number, she inquired for Hugh Percy, and they answered dejectedly, that he had sickened of the plague that very morn.
"Alas! gentle kind friends," she cried, " let this be your warning, and depart hence in good time. It will make me miserable for ever to be answerable for your mischances; as for myself, I am resigned entirely to the dispensation of God." And with these words she closed the window, and the melancholy youths went away slowly, except one, who had neither brought any horse with him, nor joined in the supplications of the rest. The disconsolate Alice, coming afterwards to the window for air, beheld him thus standing with his arms folded against the door.
"How is this, Ralph Seaton, that you still linger about this melancholy place?"
"Gentle Alice," returned Seaton, "I have not come hither like the others, to bid you fly away from hence; neither must you bid me depart against my will."
"Ralph Seaton, my heart is brim-full of thanks to you for this tenderness towards me; but you have a mother and sister for your care."
"They are safe, Alice, and far from this horrible place."
"Would to God you were with them 1 dear Ralph Seaton, begone; and the love you bear towards me set only at a distance in your prayers. I wish you a, thousand farewells, in one word—but pray begone." And with that, turning away, with one hand over her eyes, she closed the casement with the other, as if for ever and ever.
The next morning the young men came for the third time to the house, and there was a red cross but a few doors off. The youths were now but three or four in number, several having betaken themselves to the country in despair, and others had been breathed upon by the life-wasting pestilence. It was a long while before Alice came to the window, so that their hearts began to sink with dread, for they made sure • that she was taken ill. However, she came forth to them at last, in extreme distress, to see them so wilful for her sake.
"For the dear love of God!" she cried, "do not come thus any more, unless you would break my heart! Lo! the dreadful signal of death is at hand, and to-morrow it may be set upon this very door. Do not cause the curses of your friends and parents to be heaped hereafter on my miserable head. If you have any pity for me in your hearts, pray let this be the uttermost farewell between us."
At these words, the sad youths began to shed tears; and some of them, with a broken voice, begged of her to bestow on them some tokens for a remembrance. Thereupon she went for her bracelets, and after kissing them, gave them between two of the young men. To a third she cast her glove, but to Seaton she dropped a ring, which she had pressed sundry times to her lips.
The day after the final departure of the young men, the ominous red cross was marked on the jeweller's door; for, as he was known to be ill, it was supposed, of course, that his malady was the plague. In consequence the door was rigorously nailed up, so that no one could pass in or out, and moreover there were watchmen appointed for the same purpose of blockade. It was the duty of these attendants to see that the people within the suspected houses were duly supplied with provision; whereas, by the negligence of these hard-hearted men, it happened frequently that the persons confined within perished of absolute want. Thus it befel, after some days, that Alice saw her father relapsing again, for the lack of mere necessaries to support him in his weakness, his disorder having considerably abated. In this extremity, seeing a solitary man in the street, she stretched out her arms towards him, and besought him for the love of God to bring a little food;