« AnteriorContinua »
THE GREAT PLAGUE.1 It pleased God that I was still spared, and very hearty and sound in health, but very impatient of being pent up within doors without air, as I have been for fourteen days or thereabouts; and I could not restrain myself, but I would go and carry a letter for my brother to the post-house. Then it was, indeed, that I observed a profound silence in the streets. When I came to the post-house, as I went to put in my letter, I saw a man stand in one corner of the yard, and talking to another at a window, and a third had opened a door belonging to the office. In the middle of the yard lay a small leather purse, with two keys hanging at it, with money in it, but nobody would meddle with it. I asked how long it had lain there. The man at the window said it had lain almost an hour, but that they had not meddled with it, because they did not know but the person who dropped it might come back to look for it. I had no such need of money, nor was the sum so big that I had any inclination to meddle with it, or to get the money at the hazard it might be attended with, so I seemed to go away, when the man who had opened the door said he would take it up; but so that if the right owner came for it he should be sure to have it; so he went in and fetched a pail of water, and set it down hard by the purse, then went again and fetched some gunpowder, and cast a good deal of the powder upon the purse, and then made a train from that which he had thrown loose upon the purse—the train reached about two yards; after this, he goes in a third time, and fetches out a pair of tongs red hot, and which he had prepared, I suppose, on purpose; and first setting fire to the train of powder, that singed the purse, and also smoked the air sufficiently; but he was not content with that, but he then takes up the purse with the tongs, holding it so long till the tongs burnt through the purse, and then he shook the money out into the pail of water, so he carried it in. The money, as I remember, was about thirteen shillings, and some smooth groats 2 and brass farthings.
There might perhaps have been several poor people, as I have observed above, that would have been hardy enough to have ventured for the sake of money; but you may easily see, by what I have observed, that the few people who were spared were very careful of themselves at that time when the distress was so exceeding great.
Much about the same time I walked out into the fields towards Bow, for I had a great mind to see how things were managed in the river, and among the ships; and as I had some concern in shipping, I had a notion that it had been one of the best ways of securing one's self from the infection to have retired into a ship; and musing how to satisfy my curiosity on that point, I turned away over the fields from Bow to Bromley, and down to Blackwall, to the stairs which are there for landing or taking water.
Here I saw a poor man walking on the bank, or sea-wall, as they call it, by himself. I walked a while also about, seeing the houses all shut up; at last I fell into some talk, at a distance, with this poor man: first I asked him how people did thereabouts.
Alas! sir,” says he, “almost desolate; all dead or sick.
Here are very few families in this part, or in that village," pointing at Poplar, “where half of them are not dead already, and the rest sick.”
Then he pointed to one house :-“There they are all dead," said he, "and the house stands open ; nobody dares go into it. A poor thief,” says he, "ventured in to steal something, but he paid dear for his theft, for he was carried to the churchyard, too, last night.” Then he pointed to several other houses :-"There," says he, “they are all dead, the man and his wife, and five children. There,” says he, “they are shut up; you see a watchman at the door; and so of other houses."
Why," says I, “what do you here all alone?"
Why," says he, “I am a poor, desolate man; it has pleased God I am not yet visited, though my family is, and one of my children dead.”
"How do you mean, then," said I, " that you are not visited ?"
Why," says he, “that is my house," pointing to a very little, low boarded house," and there my poor wife and two children live," said he; “if they may be said to live, for my wife and one of the children are visited, but I do not come at them.” And with that word I saw the tears run very
plentifully down his face; and so they did down mine too, I assure you.
“But,” said I, “why do you not come at them? How can you abandon your own flesh and blood ?"
“Oh, sir,” says he, “the Lord forbid ; I do not abandon them, I work for them as much as I am able, and blessed be the Lord, I keep them from want;" and with that I observed he lifted up his eyes to heaven with a countenance that presently told me I had happened on a man who was no hypocrite, but a serious, religious, good man, and his ejaculation was an expression of thankfulness that, in such a condition as he was in, he should be able to say his family was not in want.
Well,” says I, “honest man, that is a great mercy as things go now with the poor. But how do you live, then ; and how are you kept from the dreadful calamity that is now upon us all ?” 'Why, sir," says he, “I am a waterman, and there is my boat,” says he; "and the boat serves me for a house; I work in it in the day, and I sleep in it in the night; and what I get I lay down upon that stone," says he, showing me a broad stone on the other side of the street, a good way from his house, “and then," says he, “I halloo and call to them till I make them hear, and they come and fetch it."
“Well, friend,” says I, “but how can you get any money as a waterman? Does anybody go by water these times?” “Yes, sir,” says he, “in the way I am employed there does. Do you see there," says he, "five ships lie at anchor," pointing down the river, “a good way below the town? and do you see," says he, "eight or ten ships lie at the chain there, and at anchor yonder ?" pointing above the town. “All those ships have families on board, of their merchants and owners, and such like, who have locked themselves up, and live on board, close shut in, for fear of the infection; and I tend on them to fetch things for them, carry letters, and do what is absolutely necessary, that they may not be obliged to come on shore; and every night I fasten my boat on board one of the ships' boats, and there I sleep by myself, and, blessed be God, I am preserved hitherto."
“Well,” said I, “friend, but will they let you come on board, after you have been on shore here, when this is such a terrible place, and so infected as it is ?"
"Why, as to that,” says he, “I very seldom go up the ship's side, but deliver what I bring to their boat, or lie by the side, and they hoist it on board; if I did, I think they are in no danger from me, for I never go into any house on shore, or touch anybody, no, not of my own family: but I fetch provisions for them.”
“Nay," says I, "but that may be worse, for you must have those provisions of somebody or other; and since all this part of the town is so infected, it is dangerous so much as to speak with anybody; for the village," said I, "is, as it were, the beginning of London, though it be at some distance from it."
“That is true," added he, “but you do not understand me right. I do not buy provisions for them here. I row up to Greenwich, and buy fresh