Page images
PDF
EPUB

of its own accord, or rage on till there were no more victims to be destroyed.

The plague, however, abated towards the close of the year, when the King, who had removed with his court to Windsor in the midst of the alarm, felt disposed one day to pay a visit to the metropolis. Accordingly, mounting on horseback, he rode into town, accompanied by the Lord Rochester, and the same gentlemen who had been his attendants on the former occasion.

The monarch was naturally much shocked at the desolate aspect of the place, which, from a great and populous city, had become almost a desert; the sound of the horses' hoofs echoing dismally throughout the solitary streets, but bringing very few persons to look out at the windows, and of those, the chief part were more like lean ghastly ghosts than human living creatures. In consequence he rode along in a very melancholy mood of mind, which the pleasant Earl endeavoured to enliven by various witty jests but without any effect, for they sounded hollow and untimely, even in his own ear.

At last arriving at the Hill of Ludgate, and the image of the Fair Maid coming to his remembrance, the King looked towards the house; and lo! there frowned the horrible red cross, which was still distinct upon the door. Immediately he pointed out this deadly signal to Rochester, who had already noticed it, and then both shook their heads, meaning to say that she was dead; however, to make certain, the Earl alighted, and knocked with all his might at the door. But there was no answer, nor any appearance of a face at any window. Thereupon, with very heavy hearts, they rode onwards for a few doors farther, where there was a young man, like a spectre, sitting at an open casement, with a large book like a bible in his hands. The King, who spied him first, asked of him very eagerly, whether the Fair Maid of Ludgate was alive or dead, but the ghostly man could tell nothing of the matter, except that the Jeweller had been the very first person to be seized by the plague in their quarter. Thereupon the King made up his mind that the fair Alice had perished amongst the many thousand victims of the pest, and with a very sorrowful visage lie rode on, through the city, where he spent some hours in noticing the deplorable consequences of that visitation.

Afterwards, he returned with his company by the same way, and when they came towards the jeweller's house, in Ludgate, there were several young men standing about the door. They had been knocking to obtain tidings of the Fair Maid, but without any better success than before; so that getting very impatient, they began, as the King came up, to cast stones through the windows. The Earl of Rochester, seeing them at this vain work, called out as he passed,

\

"Gentlemen, you are wasting your labour! The divinity of your city is dead; as you may know, by asking of the living skeleton at yonder casement."

At these words, the young men, supposing that the Earl had authority for what he said, desisted from their attempts, and the two companies went each their several ways; the King, with his attendants, to Windsor, and the sad youths to their homes, with grief on all their faces, and very aching hearts, through sorrow for the Fair Maid of Ludgate.

As for the gallant Ralph Seaton, he had ceased to come beneath the window for some time before, since there was no longer any one living within the house to drink from his pitcher, or to eat out of his basket. Notwithstanding, he continued now and then to bring a few pieces of game, and sometimes a flask also, to the father of Alice, who lived under the same roof, for the elder Seaton was a good yeoman of Kent, and thither Ralph had conveyed the old citizen as soon as he was well enough to be removed. The old Jeweller outlived the Plague by a score of years; but the Fair Maid of Ludgate, who had survived the pestilence, was carried off shortly afterwards by marriage, the title which had belonged to her in the city being resolved into that of the Dame Alice Seaton.

« PreviousContinue »