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- The Midnight Queen - 1/55 -


The Midnight Queen

by May Agnes Fleming

CONTENTS.

I. The Sorceress

II. The Dead Bride

III. The Court Page

IV. The Stranger

V. The Dwarf and the Ruin

VI. La Masque

VII. The Earl's Barge.

VIII. The Midnight Queen.

IX. Leoline.

X. The Page, the Fires, and the Fall

XI. The Execution

XII. The Doom

XIII. Escaped

XIV. In the Dungeon

XV. Leoline's Visitors

XVI. The Third Vision

XVII. The Hidden Face

XVIII. The Interview.

XIX. Hubert's Whisper

XX. At the Plague-pit

XXI. What was Behind the Mask

XXII. Day-dawn

XXIII. Finis

THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN,

CHAPTER I.

THE SORCERESS.

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.

Yet in the midst of all this, many scenes of wild orgies and debauchery still went on within its gates - as, in our own day, when the cholera ravaged Paris, the inhabitants of that facetious city made it a carnival, so now, in London, they were many who, feeling they had but a few days to live at the most, resolved to defy death, and indulge in the revelry while they yet existed. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow you die!" was their motto; and if in the midst of the frantic dance or debauched revel one of them dropped dead, the others only shrieked with laughter, hurled the livid body out to the street, and the demoniac mirth grew twice as fast and furious as before. Robbers and cut-purses paraded the streets at noonday, entered boldly closed and deserted houses, and bore off with impunity, whatever they pleased. Highwaymen infested Hounslow Heath, and all the roads leading from the city, levying a toll on all who passed, and plundering fearlessly the flying citizens. In fact, far-famed London town, in the year of grace 1665, would have given one a good idea of Pandemonium broke loose.

It was drawing to the close of an almost tropical June day, that the crowd who had thronged the precincts of St. Paul's since early morning, began to disperse. The sun, that had throbbed the livelong day like a great heart of fire in a sea of brass, was sinking from sight in clouds of crimson, purple and gold, yet Paul's Walk was crowded. There were court-gallants in ruffles and plumes; ballad-singers chanting the not over-delicate ditties of the Earl of Rochester; usurers exchanging gold for bonds worth three times what they gave for them; quack-doctors reading in dolorous tones the bills of mortality of the preceding day, and selling plague-waters and anti-pestilential abominations, whose merit they loudly extolled; ladies too, richly dressed, and many of them masked; and booksellers who always made St. Paul's a favorite haunt, and even to this day patronize its precincts, and flourish in the regions of Paternoster Row and Ave Maria Lane; court pages in rich liveries, pert and flippant; serving-men out of place, and pickpockets with a keen eye to business; all clashed and jostled together, raising a din to which the Plain of Shinar, with its confusion of tongues and Babylonish workmen, were as nothing.

Moving serenely through this discordant sea of his fellow- creatures came a young man booted and spurred, whose rich doublet of cherry colored velvet, edged and spangled with gold, and jaunty hat set slightly on one side of his head, with its long black plume and diamond clasp, proclaimed him to be somebody. A profusion of snowy shirt-frill rushed impetuously out of his doublet; a black-velvet cloak, lined with amber-satin, fell picturesquely from his shoulders; a sword with a jeweled hilt clanked on the pavement as he walked. One hand was covered with a gauntlet of canary-colored kid, perfumed to a degree that would shame any belle of to-day, the other, which rested lightly on his sword-hilt, flashed with a splendid opal, splendidly set. He was a handsome fellow too, with fair waving hair (for he had the good taste to discard the ugly wigs then in vogue), dark, bright, handsome eyes, a thick blonde moustache, a tall and remarkably graceful figure, and an expression of countenance wherein easy good-nature and fiery impetuosity had a hard struggle for mastery. That he was a courtier of rank, was apparent from his rich attire and rather aristocratic bearing and a crowd of hangers-on followed him as he went, loudly demanding spur-money. A group of timbril-girls, singing shrilly the songs of the day, called boldly to him as he passed; and one of them, more free and easy than the rest, danced up to him striking her timbrel, and shouting rather than singing the chorus of the then popular ditty

"What care I for pest or plague? We can die but once, God wot, Kiss me darling - stay with me: Love me - love me, leave me not!"

The darling in question turned his bright blue eyes on that dashing street-singer with a cool glance of recognition.

"Very sorry, Nell," he said, in a nonchalant tone, "but I'm afraid I must. How long have you been here, may I ask?"

"A full hour by St. Paul's; and where has Sir Norman Kingsley been, may I ask? I thought you were dead of the plague."

"Not exactly. Have you seen - ah! there he is. The very man I want."

With which Sir Norman Kingsley dropped a gold piece into the girl's extended palm, and pushed on through the crowd up Paul's Walk. A tall, dark figure was leaning moodily with folded arms, looking fixedly at the ground, and taking no notice of the busy scene around him until Sir Norman laid his ungloved and jeweled hand lightly on his shoulder.

"Good morning, Ormiston. I had an idea I would find you here, and - but what's the matter with you, man? Have you got the plague? or has your mysterious inamorata jilted you? or what other annoyance has happened to make you look as woebegone as old King Lear, sent adrift by his tender daughters to take care of himself?"

The individual addressed lifted his head, disclosing a dark and rather handsome face, settled now into a look of gloomy


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