The King’s Evil

Edward Marston

Copyright © 1999 Edward Marston

O! lay that hand upon me

Adored Caesar! and my faith is such,

I shall be heal'd, if that my KING but touch.

The Evill is not yours: my sorrow sings,

Mine is the Evill, but the cure, the KINGS.

— Robert Herrick

I was yesterday in many meetings of the principal

Cittizens, whose houses are laid in ashes, who instead of

complaining, discoursed almost of nothing, but of a

survey of London, and a dessein for rebuilding.

—Henry Oldenburg's letter to Robert Boyle 10 September, 1666

To Louis Silverstein and

Monty Montee of Phoenix, Arizona.

Good friends and bibliophiles supreme.


September, 1666.

The month of September had scarcely begun when a new disaster struck an already beleaguered city. London had been savaged without mercy by the Great Plague, frozen to the marrow by a cold winter then blistered in a hot, dry, unrelenting summer which bred drought, discontent and fresh outbreaks of virulent disease. Even the oldest inhabitants of the capital could not recall a more intense period of suffering but they consoled themselves - between weary curses at a malign Fate - with the thought that they had now endured misery enough and that their situation could only improve.

Then came the fire.

It brought Jonathan Bale awake in the middle of the night. He sat bolt upright for a few seconds then clambered unwillingly out of bed.

'What ails you?' asked his wife, stirring in the dark.

'Nothing, Sarah,' he said.

'Then why have you got up?'

'Go back to sleep. I did not mean to wake you.'

'Are you unwell, Jonathan?'

'No,' he said, putting a reassuring hand on her arm. 'I am in good health - thank God - though it is as much your doing as the Almighty's. I am blessed in a wife who cooks and cares for me so wondrously well. You have earned your rest, Sarah. Take it. Sleep on.'

'How can I when you are so disturbed?'

'I am not disturbed.'

'Then why did you wake up with such a start?'

'I must have had a bad dream.'

'You never have dreams of any kind,' she said, sitting up in bed and stifling a yawn. 'I am the dreamer in the family. Every night is filled with them. But not you. Your mind seems to have no fancies. Now tell me what is going on.'

'Nothing that need upset you,' he soothed.

'Tell me.'

'In the morning, perhaps. Not now.'

'Stop trying to fob me off.'


'And I'll not be Sarah'd into silence,' she warned with a tired smile. 'I have not been married to you all these years without learning your ways and your moods. You are a man who sleeps soundly in his bed. Much too soundly at times for I have had to rouse you more than once of a morning. Only something very unusual could have made you wake up of a sudden like that. What was it?'

'I do not know,' he said with a shrug, 'and that is the truth of it, Sarah. I simply do not know.'

Jonathan Bale was a big, solid, serious man whose frame seemed to fill the small bedchamber. Now in his late thirties, he still retained the muscles which he had developed during his years as a shipwright and, despite the excellence of his wife's cooking, there was not a superfluous ounce of fat on his body. The same could not be said of Sarah. Motherhood had rounded her hips and filled out her thighs, buttocks and breasts. A good appetite helped to complete the transformation of a slim, attractive young woman into a plump but still comely matron. Jonathan had marked no change in her. To his loving eye, she was still the same Sarah Teague whom he had met and married nine years earlier.

He sat on the bed and slipped a comforting arm around her.

'There is no point in the two of us losing sleep,' he said.

'Neither of us need lose it. Come back to bed.' 'No, Sarah. Not yet. You lie down again.'

'Not until you tell me what this is all about.'

'I have told you. I honestly do not know.'

'When you came awake, you let out a little yell.'

'Did I?'

'What provoked it?'

'I have no idea.'

'Was it fear? Pain? Foreboding?'

'I wish I knew,' he sighed. 'It was almost as if someone shook me awake. There was a sense of alarm. I felt that I was being summoned.'

'You are not on duty now, Jonathan.'

'A constable is always on duty.'

'Even in the middle of the night?'

'If he is called, Sarah.'

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