The Midnight Queen (Chapter 10, page 2 of 11)


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Chapter 10

Sir Norman just glanced at the magnificent pile--for the old St. Paul's
was even more magnificent than the new,--and then followed after the
rest, through many a gallery, tower, and spiral staircase till the dome
was reached. And there a grand and mighty spectacle was before him--the
whole of London swaying and heaving in one great sea of fire. From one
end to the other, the city seemed wrapped in sheets of flame, and every
street, and alley, and lane within it shone in a lurid radiance far
brighter than noonday. All along the river fires were gleaming, too; and
the whole sky had turned from black to blood-red crimson. The streets
were alive and swarming--it could scarcely be believed that the
plague-infested city contained half so many people, and all were
unusually hopeful and animated; for it was popularly believed that these
fires would effectually check the pestilence. But the angry fiat of a
Mighty Judge had gone forth, and the tremendous arm of the destroying
angel was not to be stopped by the puny hand of man.

It has been said the weather for weeks was unusually brilliant, days of
cloudless sunshine, nights of cloudless moonlight, and the air was warm
and sultry enough for the month of August in the tropics. But now,
while they looked, a vivid flash of lightning, from what quarter of
the heavens no man knew, shot athwart the sky, followed by another and
another, quick, sharp, and blinding. Then one great drop of rain fell
like molten lead on the pavement, then a second and a third quicker,
faster, and thicker, until down it crashed in a perfect deluge. It did
not wait to rain; it fell in floods--in great, slanting sheets of water,
an if the very floodgates of heaven had opened for a second deluge. No
one ever remembered to have seen such torrents fall, and the populace
fled before it in wildest dismay. In five minutes, every fire, from one
extremity of London to the other, was quenched in the very blackness
of darkness, and on that night the deepest gloom and terror reigned
throughout the city. It was clear the hand of an avenging Deity was in
this, and He who had rained down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah had not lost
His might. In fifteen minutes the terrific flood was over; the dismal
clouds cleared away, a pale, fair, silver moon shone serenely out, and
looked down on the black, charred heaps of ashes strewn through the
streets of London. One by one, the stars that all night had been
obscured, glanced and sparkled over the sky, and lit up with their soft,
pale light the doomed and stricken town. Everybody had quitted the dome
in terror and consternation; and now Sir Norman, who had been lost in
awe, suddenly bethought him of his ride to the ruin, and hastened to
follow their example. Walking rapidly, not to say recklessly, along, he
abruptly knocked against some one sauntering leisurely before him,
and nearly pitched headlong on the pavement. Recovering his centre
of gravity by a violent effort, he turned to see the cause of the
collision, and found himself accosted by a musical and foreign-accented
voice.

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