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own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon them all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached in rapid impetuosity to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of revelers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpselike mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness untenanted by any tangible form.
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night ; and one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall; and the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay; and the flames of the tripods expired ; and darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
THE PROGRESS OF THE PESTILENCE.
By W. HARRISON AINSWORTH.
(From "Old St. Paul's.")
[For biographical sketch, see page 2474.]
TOWARDS the middle of May, the bills of mortality began to swell greatly in amount, and though but few were put down to the plague, and a large number to the spotted fever (another frightful disorder raging at the period), it is well known that the bulk had died of the former disease. The rigorous measures adopted by the authorities (whether salutary or not has been questioned), in shutting up houses and confining the sick and sound within them for forty days, were found so intolerable, that most persons were disposed to run any risk rather than be subjected to such a grievance, and every artifice was resorted to for concealing a case when it occurred. Hence, it seldom happened, unless by accident, that a discovery was made. Quack doctors were secretly consulted, instead of the regular practitioners; the searchers were bribed to silence; and large fees were given to the undertakers and buriers to lay the deaths to the account of some other disorder. All this, however, did not blind the eyes of the officers to the real state of things. Redoubling their vigilance, they entered houses on mere suspicion ; inflicted punishments where they found their orders disobeyed or neglected ; sent the sound to prison, — the sick to the pesthouse; and replaced the faithless searchers by others upon whom they could place reliance. Many cases were thus detected ; but in spite of every precaution, the majority escaped ; and the vent was no sooner stopped in one quarter than it broke out with additional violence in another.
By this time the alarm had become general. All whose business or pursuits permitted it prepared to leave London, which they regarded as a devoted city, without delay. As many houses were, therefore, closed from the absence of the inhabitants as from the presence of the plague, and this added to the forlorn appearance of the streets, which in some quarters were almost deserted. For a while, nothing was seen at the great outlets of the city but carts, carriages, and other vehicles, filled with goods and movables, on their way to the country ; and, as may be supposed, the departure of their friends did not tend to abate the dejection of those whose affairs compelled them to remain behind.
One circumstance must not be passed unnoticed, namely, the continued fineness and beauty of the weather. No rain had fallen for upwards of three weeks. The sky was bright and cloudless; the atmosphere, apparently, pure and innoxious; while the heat was as great as is generally experienced in the middle of summer. But instead of producing its usual enlivening effect on the spirits, the fine weather added to the general gloom and apprehension, inasmuch as it led to the belief (afterwards fully confirmed) that if the present warmth was so pernicious, the more sultry seasons which were near at hand would aggravate the fury of the pestilence. Sometimes, indeed, when the deaths were less numerous, a hope began to be entertained that the distemper was abating, and confidence was for a moment restored ; but these anticipations were speedily checked by the reappearance of the scourge, which seemed to baffle and deride all human skill and foresight.
London now presented a lamentable spectacle. Not a street but had a house in it marked with a red cross some streets had many such. The bells were continually tolling for burials, and the dead carts went their melancholy rounds at night and were constantly loaded. Fresh directions were issued by the authorities; and as domestic animals were considered to be a medium of conveying the infection, an order, which was immediately carried into effect, was given to destroy all dogs and cats. But this plan proved prejudicial rather than the reverse, as the bodies of the poor animals, most of which were drowned in the Thames, being washed ashore, produced a horrible and noxious effluvium, supposed to contribute materially to the propagation of the distemper.
No precautionary measure was neglected; but it may be doubted whether any human interference could have averted the severity of the scourge, which, though its progress might be checked for a few days by attention, or increased in the same ratio by neglect, would in the end have unquestionably fulfilled its mission. The College of Physicians, by the King's command, issued simple and intelligible directions in the mother tongue, for the sick. Certain of their number, amongst whom was the reader's acquaintance, Doctor Hodges, were appointed to attend the infected ; and two out of the Court of Aldermen were required to see that they duly executed their dangerous office. Public prayers and a genuine fast were likewise enjoined. But Heaven seemed deaf to the supplications of the doomed inhabitants — their prayers being followed by a fearful increase of deaths. A vast crowd was collected within Saint Paul's to hear a sermon preached by Doctor Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, - a prelate greatly distinguished during the whole course of the visitation, by his unremitting charity and attention to the sick; and before the discourse was concluded, several fell down within the sacred walls, and, on being conveyed to their own homes, were found to be infected. On the following day, too, many others who had been present were seized with the disorder.
A fresh impulse was given to the pestilence from an unlooked-for cause.
It has been mentioned that the shutting up of houses and the seclusion of the sick were regarded as an intolerable grievance, and though most were compelled to submit to it, some few resisted, and tumults and disturbances ensued. As the plague increased, these disturbances became more frequent, and the mob always taking part against the officers, they were frequently interrupted in the execution of their duty.
About this time a more serious affray than usual occurred, attended with loss of life and other unfortunate consequences, which it may be worth while to relate, as illustrative of the peculiar state of the times. The wife of a merchant, named Barcroft, residing in Lothbury, being attacked by the plague, the husband, fearing his house would be shut up, withheld all information from the examiners and searchers. His wife died, and immediately afterwards one of his children was attacked. Still he refused to give notice. The matter, however, got wind. The searchers arrived at night, and being refused admittance, they broke into the house. Finding undoubted evidence of infection, they ordered it to be closed, stationed a watchman at the door, and marked it with the fatal sign. Barcroft remonstrated against their proceedings, but in vain. They told him he might think himself well off that he was not carried before the Lord Mayor, who would undoubtedly send him to Ludgate; and with other threats to the like effect, they departed.
The unfortunate man's wife and child were removed the following night in the dead-cart, and, driven half-mad by grief and terror, he broke open the door of his dwelling, and plunging a sword in the watchman's breast, who opposed his flight, gained the street. A party of the watch happened to be passing at the time, and the fugitive was instantly secured. He made a great clamor, however, - calling to his neighbors and the bystanders to rescue him, and in another moment the watch was beaten off, and Barcroft placed on a post, whence he harangued his preservers on the severe restraints imposed upon the citizens, urging them to assist in throwing open the doors of all infected houses, and allowing free egress to their inmates.
Greedily listening to this insane counsel, the mob resolved to act upon it. Headed by the merchant, they ran down Threadneedle Street, and, crossing Stock's Market, burst open several houses in Bearbinder Lane, and drove away the watchmen. One man, more courageous than the others, tried to maintain his post, and was so severely handled by his assail
ants, that he died a few days afterwards of the injuries he had received. Most of those who had been imprisoned within their dwellings immediately issued forth, and joining the mob, which received fresh recruits each moment, started on the same errand.
Loud shouts were now raised of — “Open the doors! No plague prisoners ! No plague prisoners !” and the mob set off along the Poultry. They halted, however, before the Great Conduit, near the end of Bucklersbury, and opposite Mercer's Hall, because they perceived a company of the Trainbands advancing to meet them. A council of war was held, and many of the rabble were disposed to fly; but Barcroft again urged them to proceed, and they were unexpectedly aided by Solomon Eagle, who, bursting through their ranks, with his brasier on his head, crying, “ Awake! sleepers, awake! the plague is at your doors! awake!” speeded toward the Trainbands, scattering sparks of fire as he pursued his swift career. The mob instantly followed, and, adding their shouts to his outcries, dashed on with such fury that the Train bands did not dare to oppose them, and, after a slight and ineffectual resistance, were put to rout.
Barcroft, who acted as leader, informed them that there was a house in Wood Street shut up, and the crowd accompanied him thither. In a few minutes they had reached Bloundel's shop, but finding no one on guard - for the watchman, guessing their errand, had taken to his heels -- they smeared over the fatal cross and inscription with a pail of mud gathered from the neighboring kennel, and then broke open the door. The grocer and his apprentice hearing the disturbance, and being greatly alarmed at it, hurried to the shop, and found it full of people.
“You are at liberty, Mr. Bloundel,” cried the merchant, who was acquainted with the grocer. “We are determined no longer to let our families be imprisoned at the pleasure of the Lord Mayor and aldermen. We mean to break open all the plague houses, and set free their inmates."
“For Heaven's sake, consider what you are about, Mr. Barcroft," cried the grocer. “My house has been closed for nearly a month. Nay, as my son has entirely recovered, and received his certificate of health from Doctor Hodges, it would have been opened in three days hence by the officers; so that I have suffered all the inconvenience of the confinement, and can speak to it. It is no doubt very irksome, and may be almost intolerable to persons of an impatient temperament: but I firmly be