(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In 1665, the year of the great plague, Stephen Bloundel, a London grocer, gathered his household together and prayed for salvation. The grocer had a daughter, Amabel, a beauty who attracted attention wherever she went. The grocer’s apprentice, Leonard Holt, was in love with her. Maurice Wyvil, of whom Mr. Bloundel disapproved, was also reputedly in love with her; he and Amabel met secretly. With the help of Lydyard, his companion, Wyvil secretly plotted to dishonor Amabel in order to win a wager. Actually, Wyvil and Lydyard were the infamous philanderers, the Earl of Rochester and Sir George Etherege. Their companions were men of low character, Sir Paul Parravicin and Major Pillichody.

Two people who profited by the pestilence were Chowles, a coffin maker, and Judith Malmayns, a nurse who robbed her patients and hid her plunder in a secret niche in St. Faith Cathedral, where her husband Matthew was a sexton.

Dr. Hodges attended the plague-stricken young Stephen Bloundel and identified Amabel’s pursuer as the Earl of Rochester, who while pressing his suit with Amabel was also wooing an heiress, Mistress Mallet. To soothe the distraught Amabel, Dr. Hodges urged her to accept Leonard Holt. She promised to marry the apprentice a month after Stephen’s disease had passed.

Stephen recovered, and Leonard pressed Amabel to marry him, but the girl could not bring herself to set a date for the wedding. Secretly, she longed for Rochester. After failing in one design to kidnap Amabel, the nobleman succeeded in carrying her off willingly to the vaults of St. Paul’s, with Leonard in pursuit. In the cathedral, Leonard met a blind beggar, Mike Macascree, and his daughter Nizza, a young beauty. Leonard traced Amabel and her captor to Judith Malmayns, who during a search of the cathedral managed to trick Leonard and lock him in a tower. Nizza helped to release him in time to break up the wedding of Amabel and the Earl of Rochester. When Bloundel found his daughter in the cathedral, Leonard received all blame for the mischief.

While Parravicin looked at Nizza with hungry eyes, she nursed Leonard, who had been attacked by the plague. When the girl tried to persuade Judith Malmayns to care for the sick man, the evil woman demanded money. From her bosom, Nizza drew a gold piece that Judith seemed to recognize, but Nizza’s father said she must not give it away because it had belonged to her dead mother. Parravicin recognized that Nizza was in love with Leonard, and he paid Judith to do away with the apprentice.

Bloundel planned to close off his house from the city until the plague had passed. In the meantime, he allowed no one to enter, and anyone who left would not be readmitted. Leonard had returned to the house, but his stay there was...

(The entire section is 1137 words.)