The Midnight Queen (Chapter 1, page 1 of 15)


 
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Chapter 1

The plague raged in the city of London. The destroying angel had gone
forth, and kindled with its fiery breath the awful pestilence, until all
London became one mighty lazar-house. Thousands were swept away daily;
grass grew in the streets, and the living were scarce able to bury
the dead. Business of all kinds was at an end, except that of the
coffin-makers and drivers of the pest-carte. Whole streets were shut up,
and almost every other house in the city bore the fatal red cross, and
the ominous inscription. "Lord have mercy on us." Few people, save the
watchmen, armed with halberts, keeping guard over the stricken houses,
appeared in the streets; and those who ventured there, shrank from each
other, and passed rapidly on with averted faces. Many even fell dead on
the sidewalk, and lay with their ghastly, discolored faces, upturned to
the mocking sunlight, until the dead-cart came rattling along, and
the drivers hoisted the body with their pitchforks on the top of their
dreadful load.

Few other vehicles besides those same dead-carts appeared
in the city now; and they plied their trade busily, day and night; and
the cry of the drivers echoed dismally through the deserted streets:
"Bring out your dead! bring out your dead!" All who could do so had long
ago fled from the devoted city; and London lay under the burning heat
of the June sunshine, stricken for its sins by the hand of God. The
pest-houses were full, so were the plague-pits, where the dead were
hurled in cartfuls; and no one knew who rose up in health in the morning
but that they might be lying stark and dead in a few hours. The very
churches were forsaken; their pastors fled or lying in the plague-pits;
and it was even resolved to convert the great cathedral of St. Paul into
a vast plague-hospital. Cries and lamentations echoed from one end
of the city to the other, and Death and Charles reigned over London
together.

 
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