Old Saint Paul's
William Harrison Ainsworth
Part 11 out of 12
"I will not ask what the plan is," rejoined the grocer, "because I doubt
its success. Neither will I oppose your design, which is praiseworthy.
Go, and may it prosper. Return in the evening, for I may need your
Leonard then prepared to set forth. Blaize begged hard to accompany him,
but was refused. Forcing his way through the host of carts, coaches,
drays, and other vehicles thronging the streets, Leonard made the best
of his way to Whitehall, where he speedily arrived. A large body of
mounted troopers were stationed before the gates of the palace, and a
regiment of the foot-guards were drawn up in the court. Drums were
beating to arms, and other martial sounds were heard, showing the alarm
that was felt. Leonard was stopped at the gate by a sentinel, and
refused admittance; and he would in all probability have been turned
back, if at that moment the Lords Argentine and Rochester had not come
up. On seeing him, the former frowned, and passed quickly on, but the
"You seem to be in some difficulty," remarked Rochester. "Can I help
Leonard was about to turn away, but he checked himself. "I will not
suffer my resentful feelings to operate injuriously to others," he
muttered. "I desire to see the king, my lord," he added, to the earl. "I
have a proposal to make to him, which I think would be a means of
checking the conflagration."
"Say you so?" cried Rochester. "Come along, then. Heaven grant your plan
may prove successful; in which case, I promise you, you shall be nobly
"I seek no reward, my lord," replied Leonard. "All I desire is to save
"Well, well," rejoined Rochester, "it will be time enough to refuse his
majesty's bounty when offered."
Upon this, he ordered the sentinel to withdraw, and Leonard followed him
into the palace. They found the entrance-hall filled with groups of
officers and attendants, all conversing together, it was evident from
their looks and manner, on the one engrossing topic--the conflagration.
Ascending a magnificent staircase, and traversing part of a grand
gallery, they entered an ante-room, in which a number of courtiers and.
pages--amongst the latter of whom was Chiffinch--were assembled. At the
door of the inner chamber stood a couple of ushers, and as the earl
approached, it was instantly thrown open. As Leonard, however, who
followed close behind his leader, passed Chiffinch, the latter caught
hold of his arm and detained him. Hearing the movement, Rochester
turned, and said quickly to the page, "Let him pass, he is going with
"Old Rowley is in no humour for a jest to-day, my lord," replied
Chiffinch, familiarly. "He is more serious than I have ever before seen
him, and takes this terrible fire sadly to heart, as well he may. Mr.
Secretary Pepys, of the Admiralty, is with him, and is detailing all
particulars of the calamity to him, I believe."
"It is in reference to the fire that I have brought this young man with
me," returned the earl. "Let him pass, I say. State your plan boldly,"
he added, as they entered the audience-chamber.
At the further end of the long apartment, on a chair of state, and
beneath a canopy, sat Charles. He was evidently much disturbed, and
looked eagerly at the new-comers, especially at Leonard, expecting to
find him the bearer of some important intelligence. On the right of the
king, and near an open window, which, looking towards the river,
commanded a view of the fire on the bridge, as well as of part of the
burning city, stood the Duke of York. The duke did not appear much
concerned at the calamity, but was laughing with Lord Argentine, who
stood close beside him. The smile fled from the lips of the latter as he
beheld Leonard, and he looked angrily at Rochester, who did not,
however, appear to notice his displeasure. On the left of the royal
chair was Mr. Pepys, engaged, as Chiffinch had intimated, in detailing
to the king the progress of the conflagration; and next to the secretary
stood the Earl of Craven,--a handsome, commanding, and martial-looking
personage, though somewhat stricken in years. Three other noblemen--
namely, the Lords Hollis, Arlington, and Ashley--were likewise present.
"Who have you with you, Rochester?" demanded Charles, as the earl and
his companion approached him.
"A young man, my liege, who desires to make known to you a plan for
checking this conflagration," replied the earl.
"Ah!" exclaimed the king; "let him accomplish that for us, and he shall
ask what he will in return."
"I ventured to promise him as much," observed Rochester.
"Mine is a very simple and a very obvious plan, sire," said Leonard;
"but I will engage, on the peril of my life, if you will give me
sufficient authority, and means to work withal, to stop the further
progress of this fire."
"In what way?" asked Charles, impatiently;--"in what way?"
"By demolishing the houses around the conflagration with gunpowder, so
as to form a wide gap between those left and the flames," replied
"A short and summary process, truly," replied the king; "but it would
occasion great waste of property, and might be attended with other
"Not half so much property will be destroyed as if the slower and
seemingly safer course of pulling down the houses is pursued," rejoined
Leonard. "That experiment has been tried and failed."
"I am of the young man's opinion," observed the Earl of Craven.
"And I," added Pepys. "Better lose half the city than the whole. As it
is, your majesty is not safe in your palace."
"Why, you do not think it can reach Whitehall?" cried the king, rising,
and walking to the window. "How say you, brother," he added, to the Duke
of York--"shall we act upon this young man's suggestion, and order the
wholesale demolition of the houses which he recommends?"
"I would not advise your majesty to do so--at least, not without
consideration," answered the duke. "This is a terrible fire, no doubt;
but the danger may be greatly exaggerated, and if any ill consequences
should result from the proposed scheme, the blame will be entirely laid
upon your majesty."
"I care not for that," replied the king, "provided I feel assured it is
for the best."
"The plan would do incalculably more mischief than the fire itself,"
observed Lord Argentine, "and would be met by the most determined
opposition on the part of the owners of the habitations condemned to
destruction. Whole streets will have to be blown up, and your majesty
will easily comprehend the confusion and damage that will ensue."
"Lord Argentine has expressed my sentiments exactly," said the Duke of
"There is nothing for it, then, but for your majesty to call for a
fiddle, and amuse yourself, like Nero, while your city is burning,"
remarked Rochester, sarcastically.
"Another such jest, my lord," rejoined the king, sternly, "and it shall
cost you your liberty. I will go upon the river instantly, and view the
fire myself, and then decide what course shall be adopted."
"There are rumours that incendiaries are abroad, your majesty," remarked
Argentine, glancing maliciously at Leonard--"it is not unlikely that he
who lighted the fire should know how to extinguish it."
"His lordship says truly," rejoined Leonard. "There _are_ incendiaries
abroad, and the chief of them was taken by my hand, and lodged in
Newgate, where he lies for examination."
"Ah!" exclaimed the king, eagerly; "did you catch the miscreant in the
"No, my liege," replied Leonard; "but he came to me a few hours before
the outbreak of the fire, intimating that he was in possession of a plot
against the city--a design so monstrous, that your majesty would give
any reward to the discloser of it. He proposed to reveal this plot to me
on certain terms."
"And you accepted them?" cried the king.
"No, my liege," replied Leonard; "I refused them, and would have secured
him, but he escaped me at that time. I afterwards discovered him among
the spectators near the fire, and caused his arrest."
"And who is this villain?" cried the king.
"I must refer your majesty to Lord Argentine," replied Leonard.
"Do you know anything of the transaction, my lord?" said Charles,
appealing to him.
"Not I, your majesty," said Argentine, vainly endeavouring to conceal
his anger and confusion. "The knave has spoken falsely."
"He shall rue it, if he has done so," rejoined the monarch. "What has
the man you speak of to do with Lord Argentine?" he added to Leonard.
"He is his father," was the reply.
Charles looked at Lord Argentine, and became convinced from the altered
expression of his countenance that the truth had been spoken. He,
therefore, arose, and motioning him to follow him, led him into the
recess of a window, where they remained in conversation for some
minutes. While this was passing, the Earl of Rochester observed, in an
undertone to Leonard, "You have made a mortal foe of Lord Argentine, but
I will protect you."
"I require no other protection than I can afford myself, my lord,"
rejoined Leonard, coldly.
Shortly after this, Charles stepped forward with a graver aspect than
before, and said, "Before proceeding to view this conflagration, I must
give some directions in reference to it. To you, my Lord Craven, whose
intrepidity I well know, I intrust the most important post. You will
station yourself at the east of the conflagration, and if you find it
making its way to the Tower, as I hear is the case, check it at all
hazards. The old fortress must be preserved at any risk. But do not
resort to gunpowder unless you receive an order from me accompanied by
my signet-ring. My Lords Hollis and Ashley, you will have the care of
the north-west of the city. Station yourselves near Newgate Market.
Rochester and Arlington, your posts will be at Saint Paul's. Watch over
the august cathedral. I would not have it injured for half my kingdom.
Brother," he added to the Duke of York, "you will accompany me in my
barge--and you, Mr. Pepys. You, young man," to Leonard, "can follow in
"Has your majesty no post for me?" asked Argentine.
"No," replied Charles, turning coldly from him.
"Had not your majesty better let him have the custody of your gaol of
Newgate?" remarked Rochester, sarcastically; "he has an interest in its
Lord Argentine turned deadly pale, but he made no answer. Attended by
the Duke of York and Mr. Pepys, and followed at a respectful distance by
Leonard, the king then passed through the ante-room, and descending the
grand staircase, traversed a variety of passages, until he reached the
private stairs communicating with the river. At the foot lay the royal
barge, in which he embarked with his train. Charles appeared greatly
moved by the sight of the thousands of his houseless subjects, whom he
encountered in his passage down the Thames, and whenever a feeble shout
was raised for him, he returned it with a blessing. When nearly opposite
Queenhithe, he commanded the rowers to pause. The conflagration had made
formidable progress since Leonard' beheld it a few hours back, and had
advanced, nearly as far as the Still-yard on the river-side, while it
was burning upwards through thick ranks of houses, almost as far as
Cannon-street. The roaring of the flames was louder than ever--and the
crash of falling habitations, and the tumult and cries of the affrighted
populace, yet more terrific.
Charles gazed at the appalling spectacle like one who could not believe
his senses, and it was some time before the overwhelming truth could
force itself upon him. Tears then started to his eyes, and, uttering an
ejaculation of despair, he commanded the rowers to make instantly for
HOW LEONARD SAVED THE KING'S LIFE.
The royal barge landed at Queenhithe, and Charles instantly
disembarking, proceeded on foot, and at a pace that compelled, his
attendants to move quickly, to keep up with him, to Thames-street. Here,
however, the confusion was so great, owing to the rush of people, and
the number of vehicles employed in the removal of goods, that he was
obliged to come to a halt. Fortunately, at this moment, a company of the
train-bands rode up, and their leader dismounting, offered his horse to
the king, who instantly sprang into the saddle, and scarcely waiting
till the Duke of York could be similarly accommodated, forced his way
through the crowd as far as Brewer-lane, where his progress was stopped
by the intense heat. A little more than a hundred yards from this point,
the whole street was on fire, and the flames bursting from the windows
and roofs of the houses, with a roar like that which might be supposed
to be produced by the forges of the Cyclops, united in a vast blazing
arch overhead. It chanced, too, that in some places cellars filled with
combustible materials extended under the street, and here the ground
would crack, and jets of fire shoot forth like the eruption of a
volcano. The walls and timbers of the houses at some distance from the
conflagration were scorched and blistered with the heat, and completely
prepared for ignition; overhead being a vast and momentarily increasing
cloud of flame-coloured smoke, which spread all over the city, filling
it as with a thick mist, while the glowing vault above looked, as Evelyn
expresses it, "like the top of a burning oven."
Two churches, namely, Allhallows the Great and Allhallows the Less, were
burnt down in the king's sight, and the lofty spire of a third, Saint
Lawrence Poulteney, had just caught fire, and looked like a flame-tipped
spear. After contemplating this spectacle for some time, Charles roused
himself from the state of stupefaction into which he was thrown, and
determined, if possible, to arrest the further progress of the devouring
element along the river-side, commanded all the houses on the west of
Dowgate Dock to be instantly demolished. A large body of men were
therefore set upon this difficult and dangerous, and, as it proved,
futile task. Another party were ordered to the same duty on
Dowgate-hill; and the crash of tumbling walls and beams was soon added
to the general uproar, while clouds of dust darkened the air. It was
with some difficulty that a sufficient space could be kept clear for
carrying these operations into effect; and long before they were
half-completed, Charles had the mortification of finding the fire
gaining ground so rapidly, that they must prove ineffectual. Word was
brought at this juncture that a fresh fire had broken out in Elbow-lane,
and while the monarch was listening to this dreary intelligence, a
fearful cry was heard near the river, followed, the next moment, by a
tumultuous rush of persons from that quarter. The fire, as if in scorn,
had leapt across Dowgate Dock, and seizing upon the half-demolished
houses, instantly made them its prey. The rapidity with which the
conflagration proceeded was astounding, and completely baffled all
attempts to check it. The wind continued blowing as furiously as ever,
nor was there the slightest prospect of its abatement. All the king's
better qualities were called into play by the present terrible crisis.
With a courage and devotion that he seldom displayed, he exposed himself
to the greatest risk, personally assisting at all the operations he
commanded; while his humane attention to the sufferers by the calamity
almost reconciled them to their deplorable situation. His movements were
almost as rapid as those of the fire itself. Riding up Cannon-street,
and from thence by Sweeting's-lane, to Lombard-street, and so on by
Fenchurch-street to Tower-street, he issued directions all the way,
checking every disturbance, and causing a band of depredators, who had
broken into the house of a wealthy goldsmith, to be carried off to
Newgate. Arrived in Tower-street, he found the Earl of Craven and his
party stationed a little beyond Saint Dunstan's in the East.
All immediate apprehensions in this quarter appeared at an end. The
church had been destroyed, as before mentioned, but several houses in
its vicinity having been demolished, the fire had not extended eastward.
Satisfied that the Tower was in no immediate danger, the king retraced
his course, and encountering the lord mayor in Lombard-street, sharply
reproved him for his want of zeal and discretion.
"I do not deserve your majesty's reproaches," replied the lord mayor.
"Ever since the fire broke out I have not rested an instant, and am
almost worn to death with anxiety and fatigue. I am just returned from
Guildhall, where a vast quantity of plate belonging to the city
companies has been deposited. Lord! Lord! what a fire this is!"
"You are chiefly to blame for its getting so much ahead," replied the
king, angrily. "Had you adopted vigorous measures at the outset, it
might have easily been got under. I hear no water was to be obtained.
How was that?"
"It is a damnable plot, your majesty, designed by the Papists, or the
Dutch, or the French--I don't know which--perhaps all three," rejoined
the lord mayor; "and it appears that the cocks of all the pipes at the
waterworks at Islington were turned, while the pipes and conduits in the
city were empty. This is no accidental fire, your majesty."
"So I find," replied the king; "but it will be time enough to inquire
into its origin hereafter. Meantime, we must act, and energetically, or
we shall be equally as much to blame as the incendiaries. Let a
proclamation be made, enjoining all those persons who have been driven
from their homes by the fire to proceed, with such effects as they have
preserved, to Moorfields, where their wants shall be cared for."
"It shall be made instantly, your majesty," replied the lord mayor.
"Your next business will be to see to the removal of all the wealth from
the goldsmiths' houses in this street, and in Gracechurch-street, to
some places of security, Guildhall, or the Royal Exchange, for
instance," continued the king.
"Your majesty's directions shall be implicitly obeyed," replied the lord
"You will then pull down all the houses to the east of the fire,"
pursued the king. "Get all the men you can muster; and never relax your
exertions till you have made a wide and clear breach between the flames
and their prey."
"I will--I will, your majesty," groaned the lord mayor.
"About it, then," rejoined the king; and striking spurs into his horse,
he rode off with his train.
He now penetrated one of the narrow alleys leading to the Three Cranes
in the Vintry, where he ascended to the roof of the habitation, that he
might view the fire. He saw that it was making such rapid advances
towards him, that it must very soon reach the building on which he
stood, and, half suffocated with the smoke, and scorched with the
fire-drops, he descended.
Not long after this, Waterman's Hall was discovered to be on fire; and,
stirred by the sight, Charles made fresh efforts to check the progress
of the conflagration by demolishing more houses. So eagerly did he
occupy himself in the task, that his life had well-nigh fallen a
sacrifice to his zeal. He was standing below a building which the
workmen were unroofing, when all at once the whole of the upper part of
the wall gave way, dragging several heavy beams with it, and would have
infallibly crushed him, if Leonard, who was stationed behind him, had
not noticed the circumstance, and rushing forward with the greatest
promptitude, dragged him out of harm's way. An engineer, with whom the
king was conversing at the time of the accident, was buried in the
ruins, and when taken out was found fearfully mutilated and quite dead.
Both Charles and his preserver were covered with dust and rubbish, and
Leonard received a severe blow on the shoulder from a falling brick.
On recovering from the shock, which for some moments deprived him of the
power of speech, Charles inquired for his deliverer, and, on being shown
him, said, with a look of surprise and pleasure, "What, is it you, young
man? I am glad of it. Depend, upon it, I shall not forget the important
service you have rendered me."
"If he remembers it, it will be the first time he has ever so exercised
his memory," observed Chiffinch, in a loud whisper to Leonard. "I advise
you, as a friend, not to let his gratitude cool."
Undeterred by this late narrow escape, Charles ordered fresh houses to
be demolished, and stimulated the workmen to exertion by his personal
superintendence of their operations. He commanded Leonard to keep
constantly near him, laughingly observing, "I shall feel safe while you
are by. You have a better eye for a falling house than any of my
Worn out at length with fatigue, Charles proceeded, with the Duke of
York and his immediate attendants, to Painters' Hall, in little
Trinity-lane, in quest of refreshment, where a repast was hastily
prepared for him, and he sat down to it with an appetite such as the
most magnificent banquet could not, under other circumstances, have
provoked. His hunger satisfied, he despatched messengers to command the
immediate attendance of the lord mayor, the sheriffs, and aldermen; and
when they arrived, he thus addressed them:--"My lord mayor and
gentlemen, it has been recommended to me by this young man," pointing to
Leonard, "that the sole way of checking the further progress of this
disastrous conflagration, which threatens the total destruction of our
city, will be by blowing up the houses with gunpowder, so as to form a
wide gap between the flames and the habitations yet remaining unseized.
This plan will necessarily involve great destruction of property, and
may, notwithstanding all the care that can be adopted, be attended with
some loss of life; but I conceive it will be effectual. Before ordering
it, however, to be put into execution, I desire to learn your opinion of
it. How say you, my lord mayor and gentlemen? Does the plan meet with
"I pray your majesty to allow me to confer for a moment with my
brethren," replied the lord mayor, cautiously, "before I return an
answer. It is too serious a matter to decide upon at once."
"Be it so," replied the king.
And the civic authorities withdrew with the king. Leonard heard, though
he did not dare to remark upon it, that the Duke of York leaned forward
as the lord mayor passed him, and whispered in his ear, "Take heed what
you do. He only desires to shift the responsibility of the act from his
own shoulders to yours."
"If they assent," said the king to Leonard, "I will place you at the
head of a party of engineers."
"I beseech your majesty neither to regard me nor them," replied Leonard.
"Use the authority it has pleased Heaven to bestow upon you for the
preservation of the city, and think and act for yourself, or you will
assuredly regret your want of decision. It has been my fortune, with the
assistance of God, to be the humble instrument of accomplishing your
majesty's deliverance from peril, and I have your royal word that you
will not forget it."
"Nor will I," cried the king, hastily.
"Then suffer the petition I now make to you to prevail," cried Leonard,
falling on his knees. "Be not influenced by the opinion of the lord
mayor and his brethren, whose own interests may lead them to oppose the
plan; but, if you think well of it, instantly adopt it."
Charles looked irresolute, but might have yielded, if the Duke of York
had not stepped forward. "Your majesty had better not act too
precipitately," said the duke. "Listen to the counsels of your prudent
advisers. A false step in such a case will be irretrievable."
"Nay, brother," rejoined the king, "I see no particular risk in it,
after all, and I incline towards the young man's opinion."
"At least, hear what they have got to say," rejoined the duke. "And here
they come. They have not been long in deliberation."
"The result of it may be easily predicted," said Leonard, rising.
As Leonard had foreseen, the civic authorities were adverse to the plan.
The lord mayor in the name of himself and his brethren, earnestly
solicited the king to postpone the execution of his order till all other
means of checking the progress of the conflagration had been tried, and
till such time, at least, as the property of the owners of the houses to
be destroyed could be removed. He further added, that it was the
unanimous opinion of himself and his brethren, that the plan was fraught
with great peril to the safety of the citizens, and that they could not
bring themselves to assent to it. If, therefore, his majesty chose to
adopt it, they must leave the responsibility with him.
"I told your majesty how it would be," observed the Duke of York,
"I am sorry to find you are right, brother," replied the king, frowning.
"We are overruled, you see, friend," he added to Leonard.
"Your majesty has signed the doom of your city," rejoined Leonard,
"I trust not--I trust not," replied Charles, hastily, and with an uneasy
shrug of the shoulder. "Fail not to remind me when all is over of the
obligation I am under to you."
"Your majesty has refused the sole boon I desired to have granted,"
"And do you not see the reason, friend?" returned the king. "These
worthy and wealthy citizens desire to remove their property. Their
arguments are unanswerable. I _must_ give them time to do it. But we
waste time here," he added, rising. "Remember," to Leonard, "my debt is
not discharged. And I command you, on pain of my sovereign displeasure,
not to omit to claim its payment."
"I will enter it in my memorandum-book, and will put your majesty in
mind of it at the fitting season," observed Chiffinch, who had taken a
great fancy to Leonard.
The king smiled good-humouredly, and quitting the hall with his
attendants, proceeded to superintend the further demolition of houses.
He next visited all the posts, saw that the different noblemen were at
their appointed stations, and by his unremitting exertions, contrived to
restore something like order to the tumultuous streets. Thousands of men
were now employed in different quarters in pulling down houses, and the
most powerful engines of war were employed in the work. The confusion
that attended these proceedings is indescribable. The engineers and
workmen wrought in clouds of dust and smoke, and the crash of falling
timber and walls was deafening. In a short time, the upper part of
Cornhill was rendered wholly impassable, owing to the heaps of rubbish;
and directions were given to the engineers to proceed to the Poultry,
and demolish the houses as far as the Conduit in Cheapside, by which
means it was hoped that the Royal Exchange would be saved.
Meanwhile, all the wealthy goldsmiths and merchants in Lombard-street
and Gracechurch-street had been actively employed in removing all their
money, plate, and goods, to places of security. A vast quantity was
conveyed to Guildhall, as has been stated, and the rest to different
churches and halls remote from the scene of conflagration. But in spite
of all their caution, much property was carried off by the depredators,
and amongst others by Chowles and Judith, who contrived to secure a mass
of plate, gold, and jewels, that satisfied even their rapacious souls.
While this was passing in the heart of the burning city, vast crowds
were streaming out of its gates, and encamping themselves, in pursuance
of the royal injunction, in Finsbury Fields and Spitalfields. Others
crossed the water to Southwark, and took refuge in Saint George's
Fields; and it was a sad and touching sight to see all these families
collected without shelter or food, most of whom a few hours before were
in possession of all the comforts of life, but were now reduced to the
condition of beggars.
To return to the conflagration:--While one party continued to labour
incessantly at the work of demolition, and ineffectually sought to
quench the flames, by bringing a few engines to play upon them,--a
scanty supply of water having now been obtained--the fire, disdaining
such puny opposition, and determined to show its giant strength, leaped
over all the breaches, drove the water-carriers back, compelled them to
relinquish their buckets, and to abandon their engines, which it made
its prey, and seizing upon the heaps of timber and other fragments
occasioned by the demolition, consumed them, and marched onwards with
furious exultation. It was now proceeding up Gracechurch-street, Saint
Clement's-lane, Nicholas-lane, and Abchurch-lane at the same time,
destroying all in its course. The whole of Lombard-street was choked up
with the ruins and rubbish of demolished houses, through which thousands
of persons were toiling to carry off goods, either for the purpose of
assistance or of plunder. The king was at the west end of the street,
near the church of Saint Mary Woolnoth, and the fearful havoc and
destruction going forward drew tears from his eyes. A scene of greater
confusion cannot be imagined. Leonard was in the midst of it, and,
careless of his own safety, toiled amid the tumbling fragments of the
houses to rescue some article of value for its unfortunate owner. While
he was thus employed, he observed a man leap out of a window of a partly
demolished house, disclosing in the action that he had a casket
concealed under his cloak.
A second glance showed him that this individual was Pillichody, and
satisfied that he had been plundering the house, he instantly seized
him. The bully struggled violently, but at last, dropping the casket,
made his escape, vowing to be revenged. Leonard laughed at his threats,
and the next moment had the satisfaction of restoring the casket to its
rightful owner, an old merchant, who issued from the house, and who,
after thanking him, told him it contained jewels of immense value.
Not half an hour after this, the flames poured upon Lombard-street from
the four avenues before mentioned, and the whole neighbourhood was on
fire. With inconceivable rapidity, they then ran up Birchin-lane, and
reaching Cornhill, spread to the right and left in that great
thoroughfare. The conflagration had now reached the highest point of the
city, and presented the grandest and most terrific aspect it had yet
assumed from the river. Thus viewed, it appeared, as Pepys describes it,
"as an entire arch of fire from the Three Cranes to the other side of
the bridge, and in a bow up the hill, for an arch of above a mile long:
_it made me weep to see it_." Vincent also likens its appearance at this
juncture to that of a bow. "A dreadful bow it was," writes this eloquent
nonconformist preacher, "such as mine eyes have never before seen; a bow
which had God's arrow in it with a flaming point; a shining bow, not
like that in the cloud which brings water with it, and withal signifieth
God's covenant not to destroy the world any more with water, but a bow
having fire in it, and signifying God's anger, and his intention to
destroy London with fire."
As the day drew to a close, and it became darker, the spectacle
increased in terror and sublimity. The tall black towers of the churches
assumed ghastly forms, and to some eyes appeared like infernal spirits
plunging in a lake of flame, while even to the most reckless the
conflagration seemed to present a picture of the terrors of the Last
Day. Never before had such a night as that which ensued fallen upon
London. None of its inhabitants thought of retiring to rest, or if they
sought repose after the excessive fatigue they had undergone, it was
only in such manner as would best enable them to rise and renew their
exertions to check the flames, which were continued throughout the
night, but wholly without success. The conflagration appeared to proceed
at the same appalling rapidity. Halls, towers, churches, public and
private buildings, were burning to the number of more than ten thousand,
while clouds of smoke covered the vast expanse of more than fifty miles.
Travellers approaching London from the north-east were enveloped in it
ten miles off, and the fiery reflection in the sky could be discerned at
an equal distance. The "hideous storm," as Evelyn terms the fearful and
astounding noise produced by the roaring of the flames and the falling
of the numerous fabrics, continued without intermission during the whole
of that fatal night.
HOW THE GROCER'S HOUSE WAS BURNT.
It was full ten o'clock before Leonard could obtain permission to quit
the king's party, and he immediately hurried to Wood-street. He had
scarcely entered it, when the cry of "fire" smote his ears, and rushing
forward in an agony of apprehension, he beheld Mr. Bloundel's dwelling
in flames. A large crowd was collected before the burning habitation,
keeping guard over a vast heap of goods and furniture that had been
removed from it.
So much beloved was Mr. Bloundel, and in such high estimation was his
character held, that all his neighbours, on learning that his house was
on fire, flew to his assistance, and bestirred themselves so actively,
that in an extraordinary short space of time they had emptied the house
of every article of value, and placed it out of danger in the street. In
vain the grocer urged them to desist: his entreaties were disregarded by
his zealous friends; and when he told them they were profaning the
Sabbath, they replied that the responsibility of their conduct would
rest entirely on themselves, and they hoped they might never have
anything worse to answer for. In spite of his disapproval of what was
done, the grocer could not but be sensibly touched by their devotion,
and as to his wife, she said, with tears in her eyes, that "it was
almost worth while having a fire to prove what good friends they had."
It was at this juncture that Leonard arrived. Way was instantly made for
him, and leaping over the piles of chests and goods that blocked up the
thoroughfare, he flew to Mr. Bloundel, who was standing in front of his
flaming habitation with as calm and unmoved an expression of countenance
as if nothing was happening, and presently ascertained from him in what
manner the fire had originated. It appeared that while the whole of the
family were assembled at prayers, in the room ordinarily used for that
purpose, they were alarmed at supper by a strong smell of smoke, which
seemed to arise from the lower part of the house, and that as soon as
their devotions were ended, for Mr. Bloundel would not allow them to
stir before, Stephen and Blaize had proceeded to ascertain the cause,
and on going down to the kitchen, found a dense smoke issuing from the
adjoining cellar, the door of which stood ajar. Hearing a noise in the
yard, they darted up the back steps, communicating with the cellar, and
discovered a man trying to make his escape over the wall by a
rope-ladder. Stephen instantly seized him, and the man, drawing a sword,
tried to free himself from his captor. In the struggle, he dropped a
pistol, which Blaize snatching up, discharged with fatal effect against
the wretch, who, on examination, proved to be Pillichody.
Efforts were made to check the fire, but in vain. The villain had
accomplished his diabolical purpose too well. Acquainted with the
premises, and with the habits of the family, he had got into the yard by
means of a rope-ladder, and hiding himself till the servants were
summoned to prayers, stole into the cellar, and placing a fire-ball amid
a heap of fagots and coals, and near several large casks of oil, and
other inflammable matters, struck a light, and set fire to it.
"I shall ever reproach myself that I was away when this calamity
occurred," observed Leonard, as the grocer brought his relation to an
"Then you will do so without reason," replied Mr. Bloundel, "for you
could have rendered no assistance, and you see my good neighbours have
taken the matter entirely out of my hands."
"Whither do you intend removing, sir?" rejoined Leonard. "If I might
suggest, I would advise you to go to Farmer Wingfield's, at Kensal
"You have anticipated my intention," replied the grocer; "but we must
now obtain some vehicles to transport these goods thither."
"Be that my part," replied Leonard. And in a short space of time he had
procured half a dozen large carts, into which the whole of the goods
were speedily packed, and a coach having been likewise fetched by
Blaize, Mrs. Bloundel and the three younger children, together with old
Josyna and Patience, were placed in it.
"I hope your mother has taken care of her money," whispered the latter
to the porter, as he assisted her into the vehicle.
"Never mind whether she has or not," rejoined Blaize, in the same tone;
"we shan't want it. I am now as rich as my master--perhaps richer. On
stripping that rascal Pillichody, I found a large bag of gold, besides
several caskets of jewels, upon him, all of which I consider lawful
spoil, as he fell by my hand."
"To be sure," rejoined Patience. "I dare say he did not come very
honestly by the treasures, but you can't help that, you know."
Blaize made no reply, but pushing her into the coach, shut the door. All
being now in readiness, directions were given to the drivers of the
carts whither to proceed, and they were put in motion. At this moment
the grocer's firmness deserted him. Gazing at the old habitation, which
was now wrapped in a sheet of flame, he cried in a voice broken with
emotion, "In that house I have dwelt nearly thirty years--in that house
all my children were born--in that house I found a safe refuge from the
devouring pestilence. It is hard to quit it thus."
Controlling his emotion, however, the next moment, he turned away. But
his feelings were destined to another trial. His neighbours flocked
round him to bid him farewell, in tones of such sympathy and regard,
that his constancy again deserted him.
"Thank you, thank you," he cried, pressing in turn each hand that was
offered him. "Your kindness will never be effaced from my memory. God
bless you all, and may He watch over you and protect you!" and with
these words he broke from them. So great was the crowd and confusion in
Cheapside, that nearly two hours elapsed before they reached Newgate;
and, indeed, if it had not been for the interference of the Earl of
Rochester, they would not, in all probability, have got out of the city
at all. The earl was stationed near the Old 'Change, at the entrance to
Saint Paul's Churchyard, and learning their distress, ordered a party of
the guard by whom he was attended to force a passage for them. Both Mr.
Bloundel and Leonard would have declined this assistance if they had had
the power of doing so, but there was no help in the present case.
They encountered no further difficulties, but were necessarily compelled
to proceed at a slow pace, and did not reach Paddington for nearly two
hours, being frequently stopped by persons eagerly asking as to the
progress of the fire. One circumstance struck the whole party as
remarkable. Such was the tremendous glare of the conflagration, that
even at this distance the fire seemed close beside them, and if they had
not known the contrary, they would have thought it could not be further
off than Saint Giles's. The whole eastern sky in that direction seemed
on fire, and glowed through the clouds of yellow smoke with which the
air was filled with fearful splendour. After halting for a short time at
the Wheat Sheaf, which they found open,--for, indeed, no house was
closed that night,--to obtain some refreshment, and allay the
intolerable thirst by which they were tormented, the party pursued their
journey along the Harrow-road, and in due time approached Wingfield's
The honest farmer, who, with his wife and two of his men, was standing
in a field at the top of the hill, gazing at the conflagration, hearing
the noise occasioned by the carts, ran to the road-side to see what was
coming, and encountered Mr. Bloundel and Leonard, who had walked up the
ascent a little more quickly than the others.
"I have been thinking of you," he said, after a cordial greeting had
passed between them, "and wondering what would become of you in this
dreadful fire. Nay, I had just told my dame I should go and look after
you, and see whether I could be of any service to you. Well, I should be
better pleased to see you in any way but this, though you could not be
welcomer. I have room in the barn and outhouses for all you have
brought, and hope and trust you have not lost much."
"I have lost nothing except the old house," replied the grocer, heaving
"Another will soon be built," rejoined Wingfield, "and till that is done
you shall not quit mine."
The coach having by this time arrived, Wingfield hastened towards it,
and assisted its occupants to alight. Mrs. Bloundel was warmly welcomed
by Dame Wingfield, and being taken with her children to the house, was
truly happy to find herself under the shelter of its hospitable roof.
The rest of the party, assisted by Wingfield and his men, exerting
themselves to the utmost, the carts were speedily unloaded, and the
goods deposited in the barns and outhouses. This done, the drivers were
liberally rewarded for their trouble by Mr. Bloundel, and after draining
several large jugs of ale brought them by the farmer, made the best of
their way back, certain of obtaining further employment during the
Fatigued as he was, Leonard, before retiring to rest, could not help
lingering on the brow of the hill to gaze at the burning city. The same
effect was observable here as at Paddington, and the conflagration
appeared little more than a mile off. The whole heavens seemed on fire,
and a distant roar was heard like the rush of a high wind through a
mighty forest. Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's could be distinctly
seen in black relief against the sheet of flame, together with
innumerable towers, spires, and other buildings, the whole constituting
a picture unsurpassed for terrific grandeur since the world began, and
only to be equalled by its final destruction.
Having gazed at the conflagration for some time, and fancied that he
could even at this distance discern the fearful progress it made,
Leonard retired to the barn, and throwing himself upon a heap of straw,
instantly fell asleep. He was awakened the next morning by Farmer
Wingfield, who came to tell him breakfast was ready, and having
performed his ablutions, they adjourned to the house. Finding Mr.
Bloundel comfortably established in his new quarters, Leonard proposed
as soon as breakfast was over to proceed to town, and Wingfield
volunteered to accompany him. Blaize, also, having placed his treasures,
except a few pieces of gold, in the custody of Patience, begged to make
one of the party, and his request being acceded to, the trio set out on
foot, and gleaning fresh particulars of the fearful progress of the
fire, as they advanced, passed along Oxford-road, and crossing Holborn
Bridge, on the western side of which they were now demolishing the
houses, mounted Snow-hill, and passed through the portal of Newgate.
Here they learnt that the whole of Wood-street was consumed, that the
fire had spread eastward as far as Gutter-lane, and that Saint Michael's
Church, adjoining Wood-street, Goldsmiths' Hall, and the church of Saint
John Zachary, were in flames. They were also told that the greater part
of Cheapside was on fire, and wholly impassable--while the destructive
element was invading at one and the same time Guildhall and the Royal
Exchange. They furthermore learnt that the conflagration had spread
fearfully along the side of the river, had passed Queenhithe, consuming
all the wharves and warehouses in its way, and having just destroyed
Paul's Wharf, was at that time assailing Baynard's Castle. This
intelligence determined them not to attempt to proceed further into the
city, which they saw was wholly impracticable; and they accordingly
turned down Ivy-lane, and approached the cathedral with the intention,
if possible, of ascending the central tower. They found a swarm of
booksellers' porters and assistants at the northern entrance, engaged in
transporting immense bales of books and paper to the vaults in Saint
Faith's, where it was supposed the stock would be in safety, permission
to that effect having been obtained from the dean and chapter.
Forcing their way through this crowd, Leonard and his companions crossed
the transept, and proceeded towards the door of the spiral staircase
leading to the central tower. It was open, and they passed through it.
On reaching the summit of the tower, which they found occupied by some
dozen or twenty persons, a spectacle that far exceeded the utmost
stretch of their imaginations burst upon them. Through clouds of tawny
smoke scarcely distinguishable from flame, so thickly were they charged
with sparks and fire-flakes, they beheld a line of fire spreading along
Cheapside and Cornhill, as far as the Royal Exchange, which was now in
flames, and branching upwards in another line through Lawrence-lane to
Guildhall, which was likewise burning. Nearer to them, on the north, the
fire kindled by the wretched Pillichody, who only, perhaps, anticipated
the work of destruction by a few hours, had, as they had heard,
proceeded to Goldsmiths' Hall, and was rapidly advancing down Saint
Ann's-lane to Aldersgate. But it was on the right, and to the
south-east, that the conflagration assumed its most terrific aspect.
There, from Bow Church to the river-side, beyond the bridge as far as
Billingsgate, and from thence up Mincing-lane, crossing Fenchurch-street
and Lime-street to Gracechurch and Cornhill, describing a space of more
than two miles in length and one in depth, every habitation was on fire.
The appearance of this bed of flame was like an ocean of fire agitated
by a tempest, in which a number of barks were struggling, some of them
being each moment engulfed. The stunning and unearthly roar of the
flames aided this appearance, which was further heightened by the
enormous billows of flame that ever and anon rolled tumultuously onward
as they were caught by some gust of wind of more than usual violence.
The spires of the churches looked like the spars of "tall admirals,"
that had foundered, while the blackening ruins of the halls and larger
buildings well represented the ribs and beams of mighty hulks.
Leaving Leonard and his companions to the contemplation of this
tremendous spectacle, we shall proceed to take a nearer view of its
ravages. Every effort had been used to preserve the Royal Exchange by
the city authorities, and by the engineers, headed by the king in
person. All the buildings in its vicinity were demolished. But in vain.
The irresistible and unrelenting foe drove the defenders back as before,
seized upon their barricades, and used them, like a skilful besieger,
against the fortress they sought to protect. Solomon Eagle, who was
mounted upon a heap of ruins, witnessed this scene of destruction, and
uttered a laugh of exultation as the flames seized upon their prey.
"I told you," he cried, "that the extortioners and usurers who resorted
to that building, and made gold their god, would be driven forth, and
their temple destroyed. And my words have come to pass. It burns--it
burns--and so shall they, if they turn not from their ways."
Hearing this wild speech, and beholding the extraordinary figure of the
enthusiast, whose scorched locks and smoke-begrimed limbs gave him
almost the appearance of an infernal spirit, the king inquired, with
some trepidation, from his attendants, who or what he was, and being
informed, ordered them to seize him. But the enthusiast set their
attempts at naught. Springing with wonderful agility from fragment to
fragment of the ruins, and continuing his vociferations, he at last
plunged through the flame into the Exchange itself, rendering further
pursuit, of course, impossible, unless those who desired to capture him,
were determined to share his fate, which now seemed inevitable. To the
astonishment of all, however, he appeared a few minutes afterwards on
the roof of the blazing pile, and continued his denunciations till
driven away by the flames. He seemed, indeed, to bear a charmed life,
for it was rumoured--though the report was scarcely credited--that he
had escaped from the burning building, and made good his retreat to
Saint Paul's. Soon after this, the Exchange was one mass of flame.
Having gained an entrance to the galleries, the fire ran round them with
inconceivable swiftness, as was the case in the conflagration of this
later structure, and filling every chamber, gushed out of the windows,
and poured down upon the courts and walks below. Fearful and prodigious
was the ruin that ensued. The stone walls cracked with the intense
heat--tottered and fell--the pillars shivered and broke asunder, the
statues dropped from their niches, and were destroyed, one only
surviving the wreck--that of the illustrious founder, Sir Thomas
Deploring the fate of the Royal Exchange, the king and his attendants
proceeded to Guildhall. But here they were too late, nor could they even
rescue a tithe of the plate and valuables lodged within it for security.
The effects of the fire as displayed in this structure, were singularly
grand and surprising. The greater part of the ancient fabric being
composed of oak of the hardest kind, it emitted little flame, but became
after a time red hot, and remained in this glowing state till night,
when it resembled, as an eye-witness describes, "a mighty palace of
gold, or a great building of burnished brass."
The greatest fury of the conflagration was displayed at the Poultry,
where five distinct fires met, and united their forces--one which came
roaring down Cornhill from the Royal Exchange--a second down
Threadneedle-street--a third up Walbrook--a fourth along
Bucklersbury--and a fifth that marched against the wind up Cheapside,
all these uniting, as at a focus, a whirl of flame, an intensity of
heat, and a thundering roar were produced, such as were nowhere else
To return to the party on the central tower of the cathedral:--Stunned
and half stifled by the roar and smoke, Leonard and his companions
descended from their lofty post, and returned to the body of the fane.
They were about to issue forth, when Leonard, glancing down the northern
aisle, perceived the Earl of Rochester and Lord Argentine standing
together at the lower end of it. Their gestures showed that it was not
an amicable meeting, and mindful of what had passed at Whitehall,
Leonard resolved to abide the result. Presently, he saw Lord Argentine
turn sharply round, and strike his companion in the face with his glove.
The clash of swords instantly succeeded, and Leonard and Wingfield
started forward to separate the combatants. Blaize, followed, but more
cautiously, contenting himself with screaming at the top of his voice,
"Murder! murder! sacrilege! a duel! a duel!"
Wingfield was the first to arrive at the scene of strife, but just as he
reached the combatants, who were too much blinded by passion to notice
his approach, Lord Argentine struck his adversary's weapon from his
grasp, and would have followed up the advantage if the farmer had not
withheld his arm. Enraged at the interference, Argentine turned his fury
against the newcomer, and strove to use his sword against him--but in
the terrible struggle that ensued, and at the close of which they fell
together, the weapon, as if directed by the hand of an avenging fate,
passed through his own breast, inflicting a mortal wound.
"Susan Wingfield is avenged!" said the farmer, as he arose, drenched in
the blood of his opponent.
"Susan Wingfield!" exclaimed the wounded man--"what was she to you?"
"Much," replied the farmer. "She was my daughter."
"Ah!" exclaimed Argentine, with an expression of unutterable anguish.
"Let me have your forgiveness," he groaned.
"You have it," replied Wingfield, kneeling beside him, "and may God
pardon us both--you for the wrong you did my daughter, me for being
accidentally the cause of your death. But I trust you are not mortally
"I have not many minutes to live," replied Argentine. "But is not that
"It is," said Rochester, stepping forward.
"I can then do one rightful act before I die," he said, raising himself
on one hand, and holding the other forcibly to his side, so as to stanch
in some degree the effusion of blood. "Leonard Holt," he continued, "my
sister Isabella loves you--deeply, devotedly. I have tried to conquer
the passion, but in vain. You have my consent to wed her."
"I am a witness to your words my lord," said Rochester, "and I call upon
all present to be so likewise."
"Rochester, you were once my friend," groaned Argentine, "and may yet be
a friend to the dead. Remember the king sells titles. Teach this young
man how to purchase one. My sister must not wed one of his degree."
"Make yourself easy on that score," replied Rochester; "he has already
sufficient claim upon the king. He saved his life yesterday."
"He will trust to a broken reed if he trusts to Charles's gratitude,"
replied Argentine. "Buy the title--_buy_ it, I say. My sister left me
yesterday. I visited my anger on her head, and she fled. I believe she
took refuge with Doctor Hodges, but I am sure he can tell you where she
is. One thing more," continued the dying man, fixing his glazing eyes on
Leonard. "Go to Newgate--to--to a prisoner there--an incendiary--and
obtain a document of him. Tell him, with my dying breath I charged you
to do this. It will enable you to act as I have directed. Promise me you
will go. Promise me you will fulfil my injunctions."
"I do," replied Leonard.
"Enough," rejoined Argentine. "May you be happy with Isabella." And
removing his hand from his side, a copious effusion of blood followed,
and, sinking backwards, he expired.
THE BURNING OF SAINT PAUL'S.
Several other persons having by this time come up, the body of Lord
Argentine was conveyed to Bishop Kempe's Chapel, and left there till a
fitting season should arrive for its removal. Confounded by the tragical
event that had taken place, Leonard remained with his eyes fixed upon
the blood-stained pavement, until he was roused by an arm which gently
drew him away, while the voice of the Earl of Rochester breathed in his
ear, "This is a sad occurrence, Leonard; and yet it is most fortunate
for you, for it removes the only obstacle to your union with the Lady
Isabella. You see how fleeting life is, and how easily we may be
deprived of it. I tried to reason Lord Argentine into calmness; but
nothing would satisfy him except my blood; and there he lies, though not
by my hand. Let his fate be a lesson to us, and teach us to live in
charity with each other. I have wronged you--deeply wronged you; but I
will make all the atonement in my power, and let me think I am
The blood rushed tumultuously to Leonard's heart as he listened to what
the earl said, but overcoming his feelings of aversion by a powerful
effort, he took the proffered hand.
"I do forgive you my lord," he said.
"Those words have removed a heavy weight from my soul," replied
Rochester; "and if death should trip up my heels as suddenly as he did
his who perished on this spot, I shall be better prepared to meet him.
And now let me advise you to repair to Newgate without delay, and see
the wretched man, and obtain the document from him. The fire will reach
the gaol ere long, and the prisoners must of necessity be removed. Amid
the confusion his escape might be easily accomplished."
"Recollect, my lord, that the direful conflagration now prevailing
without is owing to him," replied Leonard. "I will never be accessory to
"And yet his death by the public executioner," urged Rochester. "Think
of its effect on his daughter."
"Justice must take its course," rejoined Leonard. "I would not aid him
to escape if he were my own father."
"In that case, nothing more is to be said," replied Rochester. "But at
all events, see him as quickly as you can. I would accompany you, but my
duty detains me here. When you return from your errand you will find me
at my post near the entrance of the churchyard in front of Saint
Michael's le Quern; that is, if I am not beaten from it. Having seen the
father, your next business must be to seek out the daughter, and remove
her from this dangerous neighbourhood. You have heard where she is to be
Upon this they separated, Leonard and his companions quitting the
cathedral by the great western entrance, and proceeding towards
Paul's-alley, and the earl betaking himself to the north-east corner of
the churchyard. The former got as far as Ivy-lane, but found it wholly
impassable, in consequence of the goods and furniture with which it was
blocked up. They were, therefore, obliged to return to the precincts of
the cathedral, where Blaize, who was greatly terrified by what he had
seen, expressed his determination of quitting them, and hurried back to
the sacred pile. Leonard and the farmer next essayed to get up Ave
Maria-lane; but, finding that also impassable, they made for Ludgate,
and, after a long delay and severe struggle, got through the portal. The
Old Bailey was entirely filled with persons removing their goods; and
they were here informed, to their great dismay, that the conflagration
had already reached Newgate Market, which was burning with the greatest
fury, and was at that moment seizing upon the gaol. No one, however, in
answer to Leonard's inquiries, could tell him what had become of the
"I suppose they have left them to burn," observed a bystander, who heard
the question with a malicious look; "and it is the best way of getting
rid of them." Paying no attention to the remark, nor to the brutal laugh
accompanying it, Leonard, assisted by Wingfield, fought his way through
the crowd till he reached the prison. The flames were bursting through
its grated windows, and both wings, as well as the massive gate
connecting them, were on fire. Regardless of the risk he ran, Leonard
forced his way to the lodge-door, where two turnkeys were standing,
removing their goods.
"What has become of the prisoners?" he asked.
"The debtors are set free," replied the turnkey addressed, "and all but
one or two of the common felons are removed."
"And where are those poor creatures?" cried Leonard, horror-stricken.
"In the Stone Hold," replied the turnkey.
"And have you left them to perish there?" demanded Leonard.
"We couldn't help it," rejoined the turnkey. "It would have been risking
our lives to venture near them. One is a murderer, taken in the fact;
and the other is quite as bad, for he set the city on fire; so its right
and fair he should perish by his own contrivance."
"Where does the Stone Hold lie?" cried Leonard, in a tone that startled
the turnkey. "I must get these prisoners out."
"You can't, I tell you," rejoined the turnkey, doggedly. "They're burnt
to a cinder by this time."
"Give me your keys, and show me the way to the cell," cried Leonard,
authoritatively. "I will at least attempt to save them."
"Well, if you're determined to put an end to yourself, you may try,"
replied the turnkey; "but I've warned you as to what you may expect.
This way," he added, opening a door, from which a thick volume of smoke
issued; "if any of 'em's alive, you'll soon know by the cries." And, as
if in answer to his remark, a most terrific shriek at that moment burst
on their ears.
"Here are the keys," cried the turnkey, delivering them to Leonard. "You
are not going too?" he added, as Wingfield pushed past him. "A couple of
madmen! I shouldn't wonder if they were incendiaries."
Directed by the cries, Leonard pressed forward through the blinding and
stifling smoke. After proceeding about twenty yards, he arrived at a
cross passage where the smoke was not quite so dense, as it found an
escape through a small grated aperture in the wall. And here a horrible
sight was presented to him. At the further extremity of this passage was
a small cell, from which the cries he had heard issued. Not far from it
the stone roof had fallen in, and from the chasm thus caused the flames
were pouring into the passage. Regardless of the risk he ran, Leonard
dashed forward, and reaching the cell, beheld Grant, still living, but
in such a dreadful state, that it was evident his sufferings must soon
be ended. His hair and beard were singed close to his head and face, and
his flesh was blistered, blackened, and scorched to the bone. On seeing
Leonard, he uttered a hoarse cry, and attempted to speak, but the words
rattled in his throat. He then staggered forward, and, to Leonard's
inexpressible horror, thrust his arms through the bars of the cage,
which were literally red-hot. Seeing he had something in one hand,
though he could not unclose his fingers, Leonard took it from him, and
the wretched man fell backwards. At this moment a loud crack was heard
in the wall behind. Several ponderous stones dropped from their places,
admitting a volume of flame that filled the whole cell, and disclosing
another body on the floor, near which lay that of Grant. Horrified by
the spectacle, Leonard staggered off, and, catching Wingfield's arm,
sought to retrace his steps. This was no easy matter, the smoke being so
dense, that they could not see a foot before them, and was obliged to
feel their way along the wall. On arriving at the cross passage,
Wingfield would fain have turned off to the right, but Leonard drew him
forcibly in the opposite direction; and most fortunate was it that he
did so, or the worthy farmer would inevitably have perished. At last
they reached the lodge, and sank down on a bench from exhaustion.
"So, my masters," observed the turnkey, with a grim smile, "you were not
able to rescue them, I perceive?" But receiving no answer, he added,
"Well, and what did you see?"
"A sight that would have moved even your stony heart to compassion,"
returned Leonard, getting up and quitting the lodge. Followed by
Wingfield, and scarcely knowing where he was going, he forced his way
through the crowd, and dashing down Snow-hill, did not stop till he
reached Holborn Conduit, where, seizing a leathern bucket, he filled it
with water, and plunged his head into it. Refreshed by the immersion, he
now glanced at the document committed to him by Grant. It was a piece of
parchment, and showed by its shrivelled and scorched appearance the
agony which its late possessor must have endured, Leonard did not open
it, but thrust it with a shudder into his doublet.
Meditating on the strange and terrible events that had just occurred,
Leonard's thoughts involuntarily wandered to the Lady Isabella, whose
image appeared to him like a bright star shining on troubled waters, and
for the first time venturing to indulge in a hope that she might indeed
be his, he determined immediately to proceed in search of her.
It was now high noon, but the mid-day sun was scarcely visible, or not
visible at all; as it struggled through the masses of yellow vapour it
looked red as blood. Bands of workmen were demolishing houses on the
western side of Fleet Ditch, and casting the rubbish into the muddy
sluice before them, by which means it was confidently but vainly hoped
that the progress of the fire would be checked. Shaping their course
along the opposite side of the ditch, and crossing to Fleet Bridge,
Leonard and his companion passed through Salisbury-court to Whitefriars,
and taking a boat, directed the waterman to land them at Puddle Dock.
The river was still covered with craft of every description laden with
goods, and Baynard's Castle, an embattled stone structure of great
strength and solidity, built at the beginning of the fifteenth century
on the site of another castle as old as the Conquest, being now wrapped
in flames from foundation to turret, offered a magnificent spectacle.
From this point the four ascents leading to the cathedral, namely,
Addle-hill, Saint Bennet's-hill, Saint Peter's-hill, and Lambert-hill,
with all their throng of habitations, were burning--the black lines of
ruined walls standing in bold relief against the white sheet of flame.
Billows of fire rolled upwards every moment towards Saint Paul's, and
threatened it with destruction.
Landing at the appointed place Leonard and his companion ascended Saint
Andrew's-hill, and, proceeding along Carter-lane, soon gained the
precincts of the cathedral. Here the whole mass of habitations on the
summit of Saint Bennet's-hill extending from the eastern, end of
Carter-lane to Distaff-lane, was on fire, and the flames were dashed by
the fierce wind against the south-east corner of the cathedral. A large
crowd was collected at this point, and great efforts were made to save
the venerable pile, but Leonard saw that its destruction was inevitable.
Forcing a way through the throng with his companion, they reached Doctor
Hodges's residence at the corner of Watling-street, and Leonard, without
waiting to knock, tried the door, which yielded to his touch. The
habitation was empty, and from the various articles scattered about it
was evident its inmates must have fled with the greatest precipitation.
Alarmed at this discovery, Leonard rushed forth with Wingfield, and
sought to ascertain from the crowd without whither Doctor Hodges was
gone, but could learn nothing more than that he had departed with his
whole household a few hours before. At last it occurred to him that he
might obtain some information from the Earl of Rochester, and he was
about to cross to the other side of the churchyard, when he was arrested
by a simultaneous cry of horror from the assemblage. Looking upwards,
for there he saw the general gaze directed, he perceived that the
scaffolding around the roof and tower of the cathedral had kindled, and
was enveloping the whole upper part of the fabric in a network of fire.
Flames were likewise bursting from the belfry, and from the lofty
pointed windows below it, flickering and playing round the hoary
buttresses, and disturbing the numerous jackdaws that built in their
timeworn crevices, and now flew screaming forth. As Leonard gazed at the
summit of the tower, be discerned through the circling eddies of smoke
that enveloped it the figure of Solomon Eagle standing on the top of the
battlements and waving his staff, and almost fancied he could hear his
voice. After remaining in this perilous situation for some minutes, as
if to raise anxiety for his safety to the highest pitch, the enthusiast
sprang upon a portion of the scaffolding that was only partly consumed,
and descended from pole to pole, regardless whether burning or not, with
marvellous swiftness, and apparently without injury. Alighting on the
roof, he speeded to the eastern extremity of the fane, and there
commenced his exhortations to the crowd below.
It now became evident also, from the strange roaring noise proceeding
from the tower, that the flames were descending the spiral staircase,
and forcing their way through some secret doors or passages to the roof.
Determined to take one last survey of the interior of the cathedral
before its destruction, which he now saw was inevitable, Leonard
motioned to Wingfield, and forcing his way through the crowd, which was
now considerably thinned, entered the southern door. He had scarcely
gained the middle of the transept when the door opened behind him, and
two persons, whom, even in the brief glimpse he caught of them, he knew
to be Chowles and Judith, darted towards the steps leading to Saint
Faith's. They appeared to be carrying a large chest, but Leonard was too
much interested in what was occurring to pay much attention to them.
There were but few persons besides himself and his companion within the
cathedral, and these few were chiefly booksellers' porters, who were
hurrying out of Saint Faith's in the utmost trepidation. By-and-by,
these were gone, and they were alone--alone within that vast structure,
and at such a moment. Their situation, though perilous, was one that
awakened thrilling and sublime emotions. The cries of the multitude,
coupled with the roaring of the conflagration, resounded from without,
while the fierce glare of the flames lighted up the painted windows at
the head of the choir with unwonted splendour. Overhead was heard a
hollow rumbling noise like that of distant thunder, which continued for
a short time, while fluid streams of smoke crept through the mighty
rafters of the roof, and gradually filled the whole interior of the
fabric with vapour. Suddenly a tremendous cracking was heard, as if the
whole pile were tumbling in pieces. So appalling was this sound, that
Leonard and his companion would have fled, but they were completely
transfixed by terror.
While they were in this state, the flames, which had long been burning
in secret, burst through the roof at the other end of the choir, and
instantaneously spread over its whole expanse. At this juncture, a cry
of wild exultation was heard in the great northern gallery, and looking
up, Leonard beheld Solomon Eagle, hurrying with lightning swiftness
around it, and shouting in tones of exultation, "My words have come to
pass--it burns--it burns--and will be utterly consumed!"
The vociferations of the enthusiast were answered by a piercing cry from
below, proceeding from Blaize, who at that moment rushed from the
entrance of Saint Faith's. On seeing the porter, Leonard shouted to him,
and the poor fellow hurried towards him. At this juncture, a strange
hissing sound was heard, as if a heavy shower of rain were descending
upon the roof, and through the yawning gap over the choir there poured a
stream of molten lead of silvery brightness. Nothing can be conceived
more beautiful than this shining yet terrible cascade, which descended
with momentarily increasing fury, sparkling, flashing, hissing, and
consuming all before it. All the elaborately carved woodwork and stalls
upon which it fell were presently in flames. Leonard and his companions
now turned to fly, but they had scarcely moved a few paces when another
fiery cascade burst through the roof near the great western entrance,
for which they were making, flooding the aisles and plashing against the
massive columns. At the same moment, too, a third stream began to fall
over the northern transept, not far from where Blaize stood, and a few
drops of the burning metal reaching him, caused him to utter the most
fearful outcries. Seriously alarmed, Leonard and Wingfield now rushed to
one of the monuments in the northern aisle, and hastily clambering it,
reached a window, which they burst open. Blaize followed them, but not
without receiving a few accidental plashes from the fiery torrents,
which elicited from him the most astounding yells. Having helped him to
climb the monument, Leonard pushed him through the window after
Wingfield, and then cast his eye round the building before he himself
descended. The sight was magnificent in the extreme. Prom the flaming
roof three silvery cascades descended. The choir was in flame, and a
glowing stream like lava was spreading over the floor, and slowly
trickling down the steps leading to the body of the church. The
transepts and the greater part of the nave were similarly flooded. Above
the roar of the flames and the hissing plash of the descending torrents,
was heard the wild laughter of Solomon Eagle. Perceiving him in one of
the arcades of the southern gallery, Leonard shouted to him to descend,
and make good his escape while there was yet time, adding that in a few
moments it would be too late.
"I shall never quit it more," rejoined the enthusiast, in a voice of
thunder, "but shall perish with the fire I have kindled. No monarch on
earth ever lighted a nobler funeral pyre."
And as Leonard passed through the window, he disappeared along the
gallery. Breaking through the crowd collected round Wingfield and
Blaize, and calling to them to follow him, Leonard made his way to the
north-east of the churchyard, where he found a large assemblage of
persons, in the midst of which were the king, the Duke of York,
Rochester, Arlington, and many others. As Leonard advanced, Charles
discerned him amid the crowd, and motioned him to come forward. A
passage was then cleared, for him, through which Wingfield and Blaize,
who kept close beside him, were permitted to pass.
"I am glad to find no harm has happened to you, friend," said Charles,
as he approached. "Rochester informed me you were gone to Newgate, and
as the gaol had been burnt down, I feared you might have met with the
same mishap. I now regret that I did not adopt your plan, but it may not
be yet too late."
"It is not too late to save a portion of your city, sire," replied
Leonard; "but, alas! how much is gone!"
"It is so," replied the king, mournfully.
Further conversation was here interrupted by the sudden breaking out of
the fire from the magnificent rose window of the cathedral, the effect
of which, being extraordinarily fine, attracted the monarch's attention.
By this time Solomon Eagle had again ascended the roof, and making his
way to the eastern extremity, clasped the great stone cross that
terminated it with his left hand, while with his right he menaced the
king and his party, uttering denunciations that were lost in the
terrible roar prevailing around him. The flames now raged with a
fierceness wholly inconceivable, considering the material they had to
work upon. The molten lead poured down in torrents, and not merely
flooded the whole interior of the fabric, but ran down in a wide and
boiling stream almost as far as the Thames, consuming everything in its
way, and rendering the very pavements red-hot. Every stone, spout, and
gutter in the sacred pile, of which there were some hundreds, added to
this fatal shower, and scattered destruction far and wide; nor will this
be wondered at when it is considered that the quantity of lead thus
melted covered a space of no less than six acres. Having burned with
incredible fury and fierceness for some time, the whole roof of the
sacred structure fell in at once, and with a crash heard at an amazing
distance. After an instant's pause, the flames burst forth from every
window in the fabric, producing such an intensity of heat, that the
stone pinnacles, transom beams, and mullions split and cracked with a
sound like volleys of artillery, shivering and flying in every
direction. The whole interior of the pile was now one vast sheet of
flame, which soared upwards, and consumed even the very stones. Not a
vestige of the reverend structure was left untouched--its bells--its
plate--its woodwork--its monuments--its mighty pillars--its
galleries--its chapels--all, all were destroyed. The fire raged
throughout all that night and the next day, till it had consumed all but
the mere shell, and rendered the venerable cathedral--"one of the most
ancient pieces of piety in the Christian world"--to use the words of
Evelyn, a heap of ruin and ashes.
HOW LEONARD RESCUED THE LADY ISABELLA.
The course of events having been somewhat anticipated in the last
chapter, it will now be necessary to return to an earlier stage in the
destruction of the cathedral, namely, soon after the furious bursting
forth of the flames from the great eastern windows. While Leonard, in
common with the rest of the assemblage, was gazing at this magnificent
spectacle, he heard a loud cry of distress behind him, and turning at
the sound, beheld Doctor Hodges rush forth from an adjoining house, the
upper part of which was on fire, almost in a state of distraction. An
elderly man and woman, and two or three female servants, all of whom
were crying as loud as himself, followed him. But their screams fell on
indifferent ears, for the crowd had become by this time too much
accustomed to such appeals to pay any particular attention to them.
Leonard, however, instantly rushed towards the doctor, and anxiously
inquired what was the matter; the latter was so bewildered that he did
not recognise the voice of the speaker, but gazing up at the house with
an indescribable anguish, cried, "Merciful God! the flames have by this
time reached her room--she will be burned--horror!"
"Who will be burned?" cried Leonard, seizing his arm, and gazing at him
with a look of apprehension and anguish equal to his own--"Not the Lady
"Yes, Isabella," replied Hodges, regarding the speaker, and for the
first time perceiving by whom he was addressed. "Not a moment is to be
lost if you would save her from a terrible death. She was left in a
fainting state in one of the upper rooms by a female attendant, who
deserted her mistress to save herself. The staircase is on fire, or I
myself would have saved her."
"A ladder! a ladder!" cried Leonard.
"Here is one," cried Wingfield, pointing to one propped against an
adjoining house. And in another moment, by the combined efforts of the
crowd, the ladder was brought and placed against the burning building.
"Which is the window?" cried Leonard.
"That on the right, on the second floor," replied Hodges. "Gracious
Heaven! the flames are bursting from it."
But Leonard's foot was now on the ladder, and rushing up with
inconceivable swiftness, he plunged through the window regardless of the
flame. All those who witnessed this daring deed, regarded his
destruction as certain, and even Hodges gave him up for lost. But the
next moment he appeared at the window, bearing the fainting female form
in his arms, and with extraordinary dexterity obtaining a firm footing
and hold of the ladder, descended in safety. The shout that burst from
such part of the assemblage as had witnessed this achievement, and its
successful termination, attracted the king's attention, and he inquired
the cause of the clamour.
"I will ascertain it for your majesty," replied Rochester, and
proceeding to the group, he learnt, to his great satisfaction, what had
occurred. Having gained this intelligence, he flew back to the king, and
briefly explained the situation of the parties. Doctor Hodges, it
appeared, had just removed to the house in question, which belonged to
one of his patients, as a temporary asylum, and the Lady Isabella had
accompanied him. She was in the upper part of the house when the fire
broke out, and was so much terrified that she swooned away, in which
condition her attendant left her; nor was the latter so much to blame as
might appear, for the stairs were burning at the time, and a moment's
delay would have endangered her own safety.
"Fate, indeed, seems to have brought these young persons together,"
replied Charles, as he listened to Rochester's recital, who took this
opportunity of acquainting him with Lord Argentine's dying injunctions,
"and it would be a pity to separate them."
"I am sure your majesty has no such intention," said Rochester.
"You will see," rejoined the monarch. And, as he spoke, he turned his
horse's head, and moved towards the spot where Leonard was kneeling
beside Isabella, and supporting her. Some restoratives having been
applied by Doctor Hodges, she had regained her sensibility, and was
murmuring her thanks to her deliverer.
"She has not lost her beauty, I perceive," cried Charles, gazing at her
with admiration, and feeling something of his former passion revive
within his breast.
"Your majesty, I trust, will not mar their happiness," said Rochester,
noticing the monarch's libertine look with uneasiness. "Remember, you
owe your life to that young man."
"And I will pay the debt royally," replied Charles; "I will give him
permission to marry her."
"Your majesty's permission is scarcely needed," muttered Rochester.
"There you are wrong, my lord," replied the king. "She is now my ward,
and I can dispose of her in marriage as I please; nor will I so dispose
of her except to her equal in rank."
"I discern your majesty's gracious intentions," replied Rochester,
gratefully inclining his head.
"I almost forget my deliverer's name," whispered Charles, with a smile,
"but it is of no consequence, since he will so speedily change it."
"His name is Leonard Holt," replied Rochester, in the same tone.
"Ah!--true," returned the king. "What ho! good Master Leonard Holt," he
added, addressing the young man, "commit the Lady Isabella Argentine to
the care of our worthy friend Doctor Hodges for a moment, and stand up
before me." His injunctions being complied with, he continued, "The Lady
Isabella Argentine and I owe our lives to you, and we must both evince
our gratitude--she by devoting that life, which, if I am not
misinformed, she will be right willing to do, to you, and I by putting
you in a position to unite yourself to her. The title of Argentine has
been this day extinguished by most unhappy circumstances; I therefore
confer the title on you, and here in this presence create you Baron
Argentine, of Argentine, in Staffordshire. Your patent shall be made out
with all convenient despatch, and with it you shall receive the hand of
the sole representative of that ancient and noble house."
"Your majesty overwhelms me," replied Leonard, falling on his knee and
pressing the king's hand, which was kindly extended towards him, to his
lips. "I can scarcely persuade myself I am not in a dream."
"You will soon awaken to the sense of the joyful reality," returned the
king. "Have I not now discharged my debt?" he added to Rochester.
"Right royally, indeed, my liege," replied the earl, in a tone of
unaffected emotion. "My lord," he added, grasping Leonard's hand, "I
sincerely congratulate you on your newly-acquired dignities, nor less in
the happiness that awaits you there."
"If I do not answer you fittingly, my lord," replied the new-made peer,
"it is not because I do not feel your kindness. But my brain reels. Pray
Heaven my senses may not desert me."
"You must not forget the document you obtained this morning, my lord,"
replied Rochester, endeavouring to divert his thoughts into a new
channel. "The proper moment for consulting it may have arrived."
Lord Argentine, for we shall henceforth give him his title, thrust his
hand into his doublet, and drew forth the parchment. He opened it, and
endeavoured to read it, but a mist swam before his eyes.
"Let me look at it," said Rochester, taking it from him. "It is a deed
of gift," he said, after glancing at it for a moment, "from the late
Lord Argentine--I mean the elder baron--of a large estate in Yorkshire,
which he possessed in right of his wife, to you, my lord, here described
as Leonard Holt, provided you shall marry the Lady Isabella Argentine.
Another piece of good fortune. Again and again, I congratulate you."
"And now," said Charles, "other and less pleasing matters claim our
attention. Let the Lady Isabella be removed, under the charge of Doctor
Hodges, to Whitehall, where apartments shall be provided for her at
once, together with fitting attendants, and where she can remain till
this terrible conflagration is over which, I trust, soon will be, when I
will no longer delay her happiness, but give her away in person.
Chiffinch," he added to the chief page, "see all this is carried into
"I will, my liege, and right willingly," replied Chiffinch.
"I would send you with her, my lord," pursued Charles to Argentine, "but
I have other duties for you to fulfil. The plan you proposed of
demolishing the houses with gunpowder shall be immediately put into
operation, under your own superintendence."
A chair was now brought, and the Lady Isabella, after a tender parting
with her lover, being placed within it, she was thus transported, under
the charge of Hodges and Chiffinch, to Whitehall, where she arrived in
safety, though not without having sustained some hindrance and
She had not been gone many minutes, when the conflagration of the
cathedral assumed its most terrific character; the whole of the mighty
roof falling in, and the flames soaring upwards, as before related. Up
to this time, Solomon Eagle had maintained his position at the eastern
end of the roof, and still grasped the stone cross. His situation now
attracted universal attention, for it was evident he must speedily
"Poor wretch!" exclaimed the king, shuddering, "I fear there is no way
of saving him."
"None, whatever my liege," replied Rochester, "nor do I believe he would
consent to it if there were. But he is again menacing your majesty."
As Rochester spoke, Solomon Eagle shook his arm menacingly at the royal
party, raising it aloft, as if invoking the vengeance of Heaven. He then
knelt down upon the sloping ridge of the roof, as if in prayer, and his
figure, thus seen relieved against the mighty sheet of flame, might have
been taken for an image of Saint John the Baptist carved in stone. Not
an eye in the vast crowd below but was fixed on him. In a few moments he
rose again, and tossing his arms aloft, and shrieking, in a voice
distinctly heard above the awful roar around him, the single word
"_Resurgam!_" flung himself headlong into the flaming abyss. A
simultaneous cry of horror rose from the whole assemblage on beholding
this desperate action.
"The last exclamation of the poor wretch may apply to the cathedral, as
well as to himself," remarked the monarch, to a middle-aged personage,
with a pleasing and highly intellectual countenance, standing near him:
"for the old building shall rise again, like a phoenix from its fires,
with renewed beauty, and under your superintendence, Doctor Christopher
The great architect bowed. "I cannot hope to erect such another
structure," he said, modestly; "but I will endeavour to design an
edifice that shall not disgrace your majesty's city."
"You must build me another city at the same time, Doctor Wren," sighed
the king. "Ah!" he added, "is not that Mr. Lilly, the almanac-maker,
whom I see among the crowd?"
"It is," replied Rochester.
"Bid him come to me," replied the king. And the order being obeyed, he
said to the astrologer, "Well, Mr. Lilly, your second prediction has
come to pass. We have had the Plague, and now we have the Fire. You may
thank my clemency that I do not order you to be cast into the flames,
like the poor wretch who has just perished before our eyes, as a wizard
and professor of the black art. How did you obtain information of these
"By a careful study of the heavenly bodies, sire," replied Lilly, "and
by long and patient calculations, which, if your majesty or any of your
attendants had had leisure or inclination to make, would have afforded
you the same information. _I_ make no pretence to the gift of prophecy,
but this calamity was predicted in the last century."
"Indeed! by whom?" asked the king.
"By Michael Nostradamus," replied Lilly; "his prediction runs thus:--
'La sang du juste a Londres fera faute,
Bruslez par feu, le vingt et trois, les Six;
La Dame antique cherra de place haute,
De meme secte plusieurs seront occis.'
And thus I venture to explain it. The 'blood of the just' refers to the
impious and execrable murder of your majesty's royal father of blessed
memory. 'Three-and-twenty and six' gives the exact year of the calamity;
and it may likewise give us, as will be seen by computation hereafter,
the amount of habitations to be destroyed. The 'Ancient Dame'
undoubtedly refers to the venerable pile now burning before us, which,
as it stands in the most eminent spot in the city, clearly 'falls from
its high place.' The expression 'of the same sect' refers not to men,
but churches, of which a large number, I grieve to say it, are already
'The blood of the just shall be wanting in London,
Burnt by fire of three-and-twenty, the Six;
The ancient Dame shall fall from her high place,
Of the same sect many shall be killed.']
"The prophecy is a singular one," remarked Charles, musingly "and you
have given it a plausible interpretation." And for some moments he
appeared lost in reflection. Suddenly rousing himself, he took forth his
tablets, and hastily tracing a few lines upon a leaf, tore it out, and
delivered it with his signet-ring to Lord Argentine. "Take this, my
lord," he said, "to Lord Craven. You will find him at his post in
Tower-street. A band of my attendants shall go with you. Embark at the
nearest stairs you can--those at Blackfriars I should conceive the most
accessible. Bid the men row for their lives. As soon as you join Lord
Craven, commence operations. The Tower must be preserved at all hazards.
Mark me!--at all hazards."
"I understand your majesty," replied Argentine--"your commands shall be
implicitly obeyed. And if the conflagration has not gone too far, I will
answer with my life that I preserve the fortress." And he departed on
WHAT BEFEL CHOWLES AND JUDITH IN THE VAULTS OF SAINT FAITH'S.
Having now seen what occurred outside Saint Paul's, we shall proceed to
the vaults beneath it. Chowles and Judith, it has been mentioned, were
descried by Leonard, just before the outbreak of the fire, stealing into
Saint Faith's, and carrying a heavy chest between them. This chest
contained some of the altar-plate, which they had pillaged from the
Convocation House. As they traversed the aisles of Saint Faith's, which
were now filled with books and paper, they could distinctly hear the
raging of the fire without, and Judith, who was far less intimidated
than her companion, observed, "Let it roar on. It cannot injure us."
"I am not so sure of that," replied Chowles, doubtfully, "I wish we had
taken our hoards elsewhere."
"There is no use in wishing that now," rejoined Judith. "And it would
have been wholly impossible to get them out of the city. But have no
fear. The fire, I tell you, cannot reach us. It could as soon burn into
the solid earth as into this place."
"It comforts me to hear you say so," replied Chowles. "And when I think
of those mighty stone floors above us, I feel we are quite safe. No, no,
it can never make its way through them."
Thus discoursing, they reached the charnel at the further end of the
church, where Chowles struck a light, and producing a flask of strong
waters, took a copious draught himself and handed the flask to Judith,
who imitated his example. Their courage being thus stimulated, they
opened the chest, and Chowles was so enraptured with its glittering
contents that he commenced capering round the vault. Recalled to
quietude by a stern reproof from Judith, he opened a secret door in the
wall, and pushed the chest into a narrow passage beyond it. Fearful of
being discovered in their retreat, they took a basket of provisions and
liquor with them, and then closed the door. For some time, they
proceeded along the passage, pushing the chest before them, until they
came to a descent of a few steps, which brought them to a large vault,
half-filled with bags of gold, chests of plate, caskets, and other
plunder. At the further end of this vault was a strong wooden door.
Pushing the chest into the middle of the chamber, Chowles seated himself
upon it, and opening the basket of provisions, took out the bottle of
spirits, and again had recourse to it.
"How comfortable and secure we feel in this quiet place," he said;
"while all above us is burning. I declare I feel quite merry, ha! ha!"
And he forced a harsh and discordant laugh.
"Give me the bottle," rejoined Judith, sternly, "and don't grin like a
death's head. I don't like to see the frightful face you make."
"It's the first time you ever thought my face frightful," replied
Chowles, "and I begin to think you are afraid."
"Afraid!" echoed Judith, forcing a derisive laugh in her turn;
"Nay, I don't know," replied Chowles; "only I feel a little
uncomfortable. What if we should not be able to breathe here? The very
idea gives me a tightness across the chest."
"Silence!" cried Judith, with a fierceness that effectually insured
obedience to her command.
Chowles again had recourse to the bottle, and deriving a false courage
from it, as before, commenced skipping about the chamber in his usual
fantastical manner. Judith, did not attempt to check him, but remained
with her chin resting upon her hand gazing at him.
"Do you remember the Dance of Death, Judith?" he cried, executing some
of the wildest flourishes he had then performed, "and how I surprised
the Earl of Rochester and his crew?"
"I do," replied Judith, sternly, "and I hope we may not soon have to
perform that dance together in reality."
"It was a merry night," rejoined Chowles, who did not hear what she
said, "a right merry night--and so to-night shall be, in spite of what
is occurring overhead. Ha! ha!" And he took another long pull at the
flask. "I breathe freely now." And he continued his wild flourishes
until he was completely exhausted. He then sat down by Judith, and would
have twined his bony arms round her neck, but she roughly repulsed him.
With a growl of displeasure, he then proceeded to open and examine the
various bags, chests, and caskets piled upon the floor, and the sight of
their contents so excited Judith, that shaking off her misgivings, she
joined him, and they continued opening case after case, glutting their
greedy eyes, until Chowles became aware that the vault was filled with
smoke. As soon as he perceived this, he started to his feet in terror.
"We are lost--we shall be suffocated!" he cried! Judith likewise arose,
and her looks showed that she shared in his apprehensions.
"We must not stay here," cried Chowles; "and yet," he added, with an
agonised look at the rich store before him, "the treasure! the
"Ay, let us, at least, take something with us," rejoined Judith,
snatching up two or three of the most valuable caskets.
While Chowles gazed at the heap before him, hesitating what to select,
the smoke grew so dense around them, that Judith seized his arm, and
dragged him away. "I come--I come!" he cried, snatching up a bag of
They then threaded the narrow passage, Judith leading the way and
bearing the light. The smoke grew thicker and thicker as they advanced;
but regardless of this, they hurried to the secret door leading to the
charnel. Judith touched the spring, but as she did so, a sheet of flame
burst in and drove her back. Chowles dashed passed her, and with great
presence of mind shut the door, excluding the flame. They then hastily
retraced their steps, feeling that not a moment was to be lost if they
would escape. The air in the vault, thickened by the smoke, had become
so hot that they could scarcely breathe; added to which, to increase
their terror, they heard the most awful cracking of the walls overhead,
as if the whole fabric were breaking asunder to its foundation.
"The cathedral is tumbling upon us! We shall be buried alive!" exclaimed
Chowles, as he listened with indescribable terror to the noise overhead!
"I owe my death to you, wretch!" cried Judith, fiercely. "You persuaded
me to come hither."
"I!" cried Chowles. "It is a lie! You were the person who proposed it.
But for you I should have left our hoards here, and come for them after
the fire was over."
"It is you who lie!" returned Judith, with increased fury, "that was my
"Hold your tongue, you she-devil," cried Chowles, "it is you who have
brought me into this strait--and if you do not cease taunting me, I will
silence you for ever."
"Coward and fool!" cried Judith, "I will at least have the satisfaction
of seeing you die before me."
And as she spoke, she rushed towards him, and a desperate struggle
commenced. And thus while the walls were cracking overhead, threatening
them with instant destruction, the two wretches continued their strife,
uttering the most horrible blasphemies and execrations. Judith, being
the stronger of the two, had the advantage, and she had seized her
opponent by the throat with the intention of strangling him, when a most
terrific crash was heard causing her to loose her gripe. The air
instantly became as hot as the breath of a furnace, and both started to
their feet. "What has happened?" gasped Chowles.
"I know not," replied Judith, "and I dare not look down the passage."
"Then I will," replied Chowles, and he advanced a few paces up it, and
then hastily returned, shrieking, "it is filled with boiling lead, and
the stream is flowing towards us."
Scarcely able to credit the extent of the danger, Judith gazed down the
passage, and there beheld a glowing silvery stream trickling slowly
onwards. She saw too well, that if they could not effect their retreat
instantly, their fate was sealed.
"The door of the vault!" she cried, pointing towards it, "where is the
key? where is the key?"
"I have not got it," replied Chowles, distractedly, "I cannot tell where
to find it."
"Then we are lost!" cried Judith, with a terrible execration.
"Not so," replied Chowles, snatching up a pickaxe, "if I cannot unlock
the door, I can break it open."
With this, he commenced furiously striking against it, while Judith, who
was completely horror-stricken, and filled with the conviction that her
last moments were at hand, fell on her knees beside him, and gazing down
the passage, along which she could see the stream of molten lead, now
nearly a foot in depth, gradually advancing, and hissing as it came,
shrieked to Chowles to increase his exertions. He needed no incitement
to do so, but nerved by fear, continued to deal blow after blow against
the door, until at last he effected a small breach just above the lock.
But this only showed him how vain were his hopes, for a stream of fire
and smoke poured through the aperture. Notwithstanding this, he
continued his exertions, Judith shrieking all the time, until the lock
at last yielded. He then threw open the door, but finding the whole
passage involved in flame, was obliged to close it. Judith had now
risen, and their looks at each other at this fearful moment were
terrible in the extreme. Retreating to either side of the cell, they
glared at each other like wild beasts. Suddenly, Judith casting her eyes
to the entrance of the vault, uttered a yell of terror, that caused her
companion to look in that direction, and he perceived that the stream of
molten lead had gained it, and was descending the steps. He made a rush
towards the door at the same time with Judith, and another struggle
ensued, in which he succeeded in dashing her upon the floor. He again
opened the door, but was again driven backwards by the terrific flame,
and perceived that the fiery current had reached Judith, who was
writhing and shrieking in its embrace. Before Chowles could again stir,
it was upon him. With a yell of anguish, he fell forward, and was
instantly stifled in the glowing torrent, which in a short time flooded
the whole chamber, burying the two partners in iniquity, and the whole
of their ill-gotten gains, in its burning waves.
Lord Argentine proceeded, as directed by the king, to the eastern end of
Tower-street, where he found Lord Craven, and having delivered him the
king's missive, and shown him the signet, they proceeded to the western
side of the Tower Dock, and having procured a sufficient number of
miners and engineers, together with a supply of powder from the
fortress, commenced undermining the whole of the row of habitations
called Tower-bank, on the edge of the dock, having first, it is scarcely
necessary to state, taken care to clear them of their inhabitants. The
powder deposited, the trains were fired, and the buildings blown into
the air. At this time the whole of the western side of the Tower Moat
was covered with low wooden houses and sheds, and, mindful of the king's
instructions, Lord Argentine suggested to Lord Craven that they should
be destroyed. The latter acquiescing, they proceeded to their task, and
in a short time the whole of the buildings of whatever description, from
the bulwark-gate to the city postern, at the north of the Tower, and
nearly opposite the Bowyer Tower, were destroyed. Long before this was
accomplished they were joined by the Duke of York, who lent his utmost
assistance to the task, and when night came on, a clear space of at
least a hundred yards in depth, had been formed between the ancient
fortress and the danger with which it was threatened.
Meantime the conflagration continued to rage with unabated fury. It
burnt throughout the whole of Monday night, and having destroyed Saint
Paul's, as before related, poured down Ludgate-hill, consuming all in
its way, and, crossing Fleet Bridge, commenced its ravages upon the
great thoroughfare adjoining it. On Tuesday an immense tract was on
fire. All Fleet-street, as far as the Inner Temple, Ludgate-hill, and
the whole of the city eastwards, along the banks of the Thames, up to
the Tower Dock, where the devastation was checked by the vast gap of
houses demolished, were in flames. From thence the boundary of the fire
extended to the end of Mark-lane, Lime-street, and Leadenhall, the
strong walls of which resisted its fury. Ascending again by the Standard
on Cornhill, Threadneedle-street, and Austin Friars, it embraced
Drapers' Hall, and the whole mass of buildings to the west of
Throgmorton-street. It next proceeded to the then new buildings behind
Saint Margaret's, Lothbury, and so on westward to the upper end of
Cateaton-street, whence it spread to the second postern in London Wall,
and destroying the ramparts and suburbs as far as Cripplegate, consumed
Little Wood-street, Mungwell-street, and the whole of the city wall on
the west as far as Aldersgate. Passing a little to the north of Saint
Sepulchre's, which it destroyed, it crossed Holborn Bridge, and
ascending Saint Andrew's-hill, passed the end of Shoe-lane, and so on to
the end of Fetter-lane. The whole of the buildings contained within this
boundary were now on fire, and burning with terrific fury. And so they
continued till the middle of Wednesday, when the wind abating, and an
immense quantity of houses being demolished according to Lord
Argentine's plan, the conflagration was got under; and though it broke
out in several places after that time, little mischief was done, and it
may be said to have ceased on the middle of that day.
On Saturday morning in that week, soon after daybreak, a young man,
plainly yet richly attired in the habiliments then worn by persons of
high rank, took his way over the smouldering heaps of rubbish, and along
the ranks of ruined and blackened walls denoting the habitations that
had once constituted Fleet-street. It was with no little risk, and some
difficulty, that he could force his way, now clambering over heaps of
smouldering ashes, now passing by some toppling wall, which fell with a
terrific crash after he had just passed it--now creeping under an
immense pile of blackened rafters; but he at length reached Fleet
Bridge, where he paused to gaze at the scene of devastation around him.
It was indeed a melancholy sight, and drew tears to his eyes. The
ravages of the fire were almost inconceivable. Great beams were burnt to
charcoal--stones calcined, and as white as snow, and such walls and
towers as were left standing were so damaged that their instant fall was
to be expected. The very water in the wells and fountains was boiling,
and even the muddy Fleet sent forth a hot steam. The fire still lingered
in the lower parts of many habitations, especially where wine, spirits,
or inflammable goods had been kept; and these "voragos of subterranean
cellars," as Evelyn terms them, still emitted flames, together with a
prodigious smoke and stench. Undismayed by the dangers of the path he
had to traverse, the young man ascended Ludgate-hill, still encountering
the same devastation, and passing through the ruined gateway, the end of
which remained perfect, approached what had once been Saint Paul's
Cathedral. Mounting a heap of rubbish at the end of Ludgate street, he
gazed at the mighty ruin, which looked more like the remains of a city
than those of a single edifice.
The solid walls and buttresses were split and rent asunder; enormous
stones were splintered and calcined by the heat; and vast flakes having
scaled from off the pillars, gave them a hoary and almost ghostly
appearance. Its enormous extent was now for the first time clearly seen,
and, strange to say it looked twice as large in ruins as when entire.
The central tower was still standing, but chipped, broken, and calcined,
like the rest of the structure, by the vehement heat of the flames. Part
of the roof, in its fall, broke through the solid floor of the choir,
which was of immense thickness, into Saint Faith's, and destroyed the
magazine of books and paper deposited there by the booksellers. The
portico, erected by Inigo Jones, and which found so much favour in
Evelyn's eyes, that he describes it as "comparable to any in Europe,"
and particularly deplores its loss, shared the fate of the rest of the
building--the only part left uninjured being the architrave, the
inscription on which was undefaced.
Having satiated himself with this sad but striking prospect, the young
man, with some toil and trouble, crossed the churchyard, and gained
Cheapside, where a yet more terrific scene of devastation than that
which he had previously witnessed burst upon him. On the right of London
Bridge, which he could discern through the chasms of the houses, and
almost to the Tower, were nothing but ruins, while a similar waste lay
on the left. Such was the terrible change that had been wrought in the
aspect of the ruined city, that if the young man had not had some marks
to guide him, he would not have known where he was. The tower and ruined
walls of Saint Peter's Church pointed out to him the entrance to
Wood-street, and, entering it, he traversed it with considerable
difficulty--for the narrow thoroughfares were much fuller of rubbish,
and much less freed from smoke and fiery vapour, than the wider--until
he reached a part of it with which he had once been well acquainted.
But, alas! how changed was that familiar spot. The house he sought was a
mere heap of ruins. While gazing at them, he heard a voice behind him,
and turning, beheld Mr. Bloundel and his son Stephen, forcing their way
through what had once been Maiden-lane. A warm greeting passed between
them, and Mr. Bloundel gazed for some time in silence upon the wreck of
his dwelling. Tears forced themselves into his eyes, and his companions
were no less moved. As he turned to depart, he observed to the young man
with some severity:
"How is it, Leonard, that I see you in this gay apparel? Surely, the
present is not a fitting season for such idle display."
Lord Argentine, for such it was, now explained to the wonder-stricken
grocer all that had occurred to him, adding that he had intended coming
to him that very day, if he had not been thus anticipated, to give him
the present explanation.
"And where are Farmer Wingfield and Blaize?" asked Mr. Bloundel. "We
have been extremely uneasy at your prolonged absence."
"They are both at the palace," replied Lord Argentine, "and have both
been laid up with slight injuries received during the conflagration; but
I believe--nay, I am sure--they will get out to-day."
"That is well," replied Mr. Bloundel; "and now let me congratulate you,
Leonard--that is, my lord--how strange such a title sounds!--on your new
"And accept my congratulations, too, my lord," said Stephen.
"Oh! do not style me thus," said Argentine. "With you, at least, let me
be ever Leonard Holt."
"You are still my old apprentice, I see," cried the grocer, warmly
grasping his hand.
"And such I shall ever continue in feeling," returned the other,
cordially returning the pressure.
Three days after this, Lord Argentine was united to the Lady
Isabella.--the king, as he had promised, giving away the bride. The Earl
of Rochester was present, together with the grocer and his wife, and the
whole of their family. Another marriage also took place on the same day
between Blaize and Patience. Both unions, it is satisfactory to be able
to state, were extremely happy, though it would be uncandid not to
mention, that in the latter case, to use a homely but expressive phrase,
"the grey mare proved the better horse." Blaize, however, was
exceedingly content under his government. He settled at Willesden with
his wife, where they lived to a good old age, and where some of his
descendants may still be found.
Mr. Bloundel sustained only a trifling loss by the fire. Another house
was erected on the site of the old habitation, where he carried on his
business as respectably and as profitably as before, until, in the
course of nature, he was gathered to his fathers, and succeeded by his
son Stephen, leaving an unblemished character behind him as a legacy to
his family. Nor was it his only legacy, in a worldly sense, for his time
had not been misspent, and he had well-husbanded his money. All his
family turned out well, and were successful in the world. Stephen rose
to the highest civic dignities, and the younger obtained great
distinction. Their daughter Christiana became Lady Argentine, being
wedded to the eldest son of the baron and baroness.
Mike Macascree, the piper, and Bell, found a happy asylum with the same
As to Lord and Lady Argentine, theirs was a life of uninterrupted
happiness. Devotedly attached to her lord, the Lady Isabella seemed only
to live for him, and he well repaid her affection. By sedulously
cultivating his talents and powers, which were considerable, he was
enabled to reflect credit upon the high rank to which it had pleased a
grateful sovereign to elevate him. He lived to see the new cathedral
completed by Sir Christopher Wren, and often visited it with feelings of
admiration, but never with the same sentiments of veneration and awe
that he had experienced when, in times long gone by, he had repaired to
OLD SAINT PAUL'S.
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