Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

long after the cart had quitted the street, and was beyond his hearing.

After broken and uneasy slumbers, he awoke the next morning feverish and unrefreshed, mortified at the continued debility that rendered flight impossible, and most anxious to see the physician, that he might know the exact nature of his complaint, and what fate he was to expect. Long and eagerly did he listen for the sound of his footsteps, and his heart beat rapidly as he heard him at length ascending the stairs. After having first visited the landlady, he entered Jocelyn's apartment, and standing at some distance from the bed, with a smelling-bottle at his nose, he inquired the symptoms of the complaint, and desired to see the patient's breast. This he had no sooner beheld than, recoiling several steps, he exclaimed, « There are the blue plague-spots! Lord have mercy upon us! you are a dead man! I will send the nurse to you:at which words he hurried out of the chamber.

Our hero, as we have before taken occasion to remark, was constitutionally courageous; his decided and impetuous character rendered him, indeed, impatient of suspense, and sensitive to any impending and undefined danger; but it no sooner assumed a distinct form, than he eyed it undismayed, and prepared himself to encounter it with a manly fortitude. While the attack of the distemper was uncertain, while there was a chance of escaping from the house, his apprehensions were keen, his eagerness for flight incessant; but now that there was no hope of avoiding the one, or effecting the other, the painful excitement of

3

VOL. III.

S

his mind subsided into resignation, and he gave over all thoughts of struggling with his inevitable fate. To the nurse, indeed, his antipathy remained unconquerable ; and, as some hours elapsed without her appearance, he began to hope that he should be suffered to perish without being revolted by her hateful presence.

During this interval his thoughts reverted often and painfully to the beautiful, the vivacious, the fascinating, Julia Strickland, whose joyous soul, diffusing sunshine all around it, contrasted fearfully with the gloom of his present situation, and the character of the sepulchral hag, whose ministerings he was fated to endure. It was as if he looked back

upon

the bright visions of Paradise, from the very depths of doom and despair. That he should think of her at all, at such a moment, proved to him how deeply she was rooted in his heart; while it embittered his regret, to reflect, that if he had followed the dictates of a more generous and world - defying feeling, by making her his wife, he would, in all probability, have ensured his permanent happiness, and would certainly have avoided the loathsome and premature death with which he was now threatened.

While he was lost in these reveries of a felicity, which he reproached himself with having so wantonly thrown away, he was disturbed by the entrance of the nurse, who came to inform him that the landlady had just breathed her last, and that from the appearance of the remaining maid, it was doubtful whether she would hold out through the night; adding, that if his disorder

did not exhibit some favourable turn, of which she saw no symptoms at present, there was likely to be a clear house by the morrow, or the next day at farthest. At the conclusion of this unfeeling speech, she placed a potion by his bed-side, which, she said, had been ordered by the physician, and at his earnest solicitation that she would attend to her patient up stairs, and leave him to his fate, she sullenly quitted his apartment.

Again was the unfortunate Jocelyn doomed to listen to the same sickening sounds, as on the night before ; while the body of the landlady was carried down to the plague-cart, and wheeled away to the undistinguishing receptacles of the dead; and again were his early slumbers broken by the nauseous and revolting creations of a diseased body and a distempered fancy. Towards the morning, however, he obtained some more refreshing sleep; and, although his debility remained unabated, he could not help imagining, when he awoke, that there was some little subsiding in his disorder. A faint ray of hope sprung up in his heart, and he eagerly awaited the arrival of the physician, trusting to receive from him some confirmation of a favourable change having occurred. While he was nourishing these pleasant auguries, the ill-featured and ill-omened nurse came to disperse them, by croaking in his ear that the second maid had just departed; and that, a little before her death, she had experienced exactly similar sensations of imaginary convalescence. « The physician, who will shortly be here,” said Joce

on; and

lyn, « will be enabled to pronounce better than I can myself, and, till his arrival, I will dispense with your attendance.»

Marry, come up!» cried the woman, with a scowling look, “there be many would rather have the room than the company of a fellow in the plague; I have no one else to attend now, and so I shall suit my own eonvenience.» She disappeared, slamming the door after her, and while Jocelyn was waiting the arrival of the physician, with an impatience generated by returning hope, he thought be heard her, at times, opening the closets, and pulling out the drawers in the room above him. Hour after hour dragged heavily

yet the physician came not, a circumstance at which he expressed his surprise to the nurse, when she next made her. appearance.

« There is nothing surprising in the matter, she replied ; « many of the doctors ran away in the first instance; many who had determined to remain are daily taking flight, and following them : some are carried off by the plague, and the few that remain have so many patients to attend, that you are never syre of them. It is quite too late to expect him to-day. Perhaps he may look in tomorrow,

but I doubt whether you will hold out so long.)

During the utterance of this consolatory opinion, she made arrangements in the grate, as if for the purpose of lighting a fire. « Good heavens !» exclaimed Jocelyn, “ you are not surely, going to increase the heat of the room, when I am already suffering from fever.»

“ Your sufferings will soon be over,» said the hag,

and it is better to think of the living than the dead. Fire keeps off infection; and, besides, I may as well dress my supper here, as be running up and down stairs.» Jocelyn declared that he would much rather be without her attendance, and implored her to desist; but argument and expostulation were alike thrown away, and she proceeded in her work, without even deigning to notice his objections. Had her patient been in good health, this was precisely an occasion when he would have been seized with one of those fits of choler, to which he was occasionally liable: he was, indeed, somewhat irate in spirit, but reflecting that submission was his only alternative, in his present helpless state, he suffered her to proceed without farther parley. Spite of her sinister predictions, his sensations fortified him in the belief of some change in his malady, and availing himself of her next absence, from the chamber, he yielded to a drowsy sensation that oppressed him, and fell fast asleep.

After some hours he was awakened by a noise, which he found to be the snoring of his murse. It was now night. On the blazing fire was a saucepan containing some concoction for her supper; two candles, with long unsnuffed wicks were: flaring on a table, upon

which were also placed the preparations for her meal, a large knife and fork, and a flask of spirits. The gaunt and bony hag was stretched in an arm-chair, her head supported by a pillow, and her feet resting on the fender. While he was gazing at the scene before him she awoke, and having ascertained the hour by a watch which she took from her pocket, and which he recollected to have

« ZurückWeiter »