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During the time that the greater part of the crew of the Henrietta had been occupied with the fire-ship, the enemy had redoubled their efforts, and as the sailors returned to their guns, the mizzen-mast fell with a crash. A minute later, a Dutch man-of-war ran alongside, fired a broadside, and grappled. Then her crew, springing over the bulwarks, poured on to the deck of the Henrietta. They were met boldly by the soldiers, who had hitherto borne no part in the fight, and who, enraged at the loss they had been compelled to suffer, fell upon the enemy with fury. For a moment, however, the weight of numbers of the Dutchmen bore them back, but the sailors, who had at first been taken by surprise, snatched up their boarding pikes and axes.
Prince Rupert, with the other officers and Volunteers, dashed into the thick of the fray, and, step by step, the Dutchmen were driven back, until they suddenly gave way and rushed back to their own ship. The English would have followed them, but the Dutch who remained on board their ship, seeing that the fight was going against their friends, cut the ropes of the grapnels, and the ships drifted apart, some of the last to leave the deck of the Henrietta being forced to jump into the sea. The cannonade was at once renewed on both sides, but the Dutch had had enough of it--having lost very heavily in men--and drew off from the action.
Cyril had joined in the fray. He had risen to his feet and drawn his sword, but he found himself strangely weak. His hands were blistered and swollen, his face was already so puffed that he could scarce see out of his eyes; still, he had staggered down the steps to the waist, and, recovering his strength from the excitement, threw himself into the fray.
Scarce had he done so, when a sailor next to him fell heavily against him, shot through the head by one of the Dutch soldiers. Cyril staggered, and before he could recover himself, a Dutch sailor struck at his head. He threw up his sword to guard the blow, but the guard was beaten down as if it had been a reed. It sufficed, however, slightly to turn the blow, which fell first on the side of the head, and then, glancing down, inflicted a terrible wound on the shoulder.
He fell at once, unconscious, and, when he recovered his senses, found himself laid out on the poop, where Sydney, assisted by two of the other gentlemen, had carried him. His head and shoulder had already been bandaged, the Prince having sent for his doctor to come up from below to attend upon him.
The battle was raging with undiminished fury all round, but, for the moment, the Henrietta was not engaged, and her crew were occupied in cutting away the wreckage of the mizzen-mast, and trying to repair the more important of the damages that she had suffered. Carpenters were lowered over the side, and were nailing pieces of wood over the shot-holes near the water-line. Men swarmed aloft knotting and splicing ropes and fishing damaged spars.
Sydney, who was standing a short distance away, at once came up to him.
"How are you, Cyril?"
"My head sings, and my shoulder aches, but I shall do well enough. Please get me lifted up on to that seat by the bulwark, so that I can look over and see what is going on."
"I don't think you are strong enough to sit up, Cyril."
"Oh, yes I am; besides, I can lean against the bulwark."
Cyril was placed in the position he wanted, and, leaning his arm on the bulwark and resting his head on it, was able to see what was passing.
Suddenly a tremendous explosion was heard a quarter of a mile away.
"The Dutch admiral's ship has blown up," one of the men aloft shouted, and a loud cheer broke from the crew.
It was true. The Duke of York in the Royal Charles, of eighty guns, and the Eendracht, of eighty-four, the flagship of Admiral Obdam, had met and engaged each other fiercely. For a time the Dutchmen had the best of it. A single shot killed the Earl of Falmouth, Lord Muskerry, and Mr. Boyle, three gentlemen Volunteers, who at the moment were standing close to the Duke, and the Royal Charles suffered heavily until a shot from one of her guns struck the Dutchman's magazine, and the Eendracht blew up, only five men being rescued out of the five hundred that were on board of her.
This accident in no small degree decided the issue of the engagement, for the Dutch at once fell into confusion. Four of their ships, a few hundred yards from the Henrietta, fell foul of each other, and while the crews were engaged in trying to separate them an English fire-ship sailed boldly up and laid herself alongside. A moment later the flames shot up high, and the boat with the crew of the fire-ship rowed to the Henrietta. The flames instantly spread to the Dutch men-of-war, and the sailors were seen jumping over in great numbers. Prince Rupert ordered the boats to be lowered, but only one was found to be uninjured. This was manned and pushed off at once, and, with others from British vessels near, rescued a good many of the Dutch sailors.
Still the fight was raging all round; but a short time afterwards three other of the finest ships in the Dutch Fleet ran into each other. Another of the English fire-ships hovering near observed the opportunity, and was laid alongside, with the same success as her consort, the three men-of-war being all destroyed.
This took place at some distance from the Henrietta, but the English vessels near them succeeded in saving, in their boats, a portion of the crews. The Dutch ship Orange, of seventy-five guns, was disabled after a sharp fight with the Mary, and was likewise burnt. Two Dutch vice-admirals were killed, and a panic spread through the Dutch Fleet. About eight o'clock in the evening between thirty and forty of their ships made off in a body, and the rest speedily followed. During the fight and the chase eighteen Dutch ships were taken, though some of these afterwards escaped, as the vessels to which they had struck joined the rest in the chase. Fourteen were sunk, besides those burnt and blown up. Only one English ship, the Charity, had struck, having, at the beginning of the fight been attacked by three Dutch vessels, and lost the greater part of her men, and was then compelled to surrender to a Dutch vessel of considerably greater strength that came up and joined the others. The English loss was, considering the duration of the fight, extremely small, amounting to but 250 killed, and 340 wounded. Among the killed were the Earl of Marlborough, the Earl of Portland, who was present as a Volunteer, Rear-Admiral Sampson, and Vice-Admiral Lawson, the latter of whom died after the fight, from his wounds.
The pursuit of the Dutch was continued for some hours, and then terminated abruptly, owing to a Member of Parliament named Brounker, who was in the suite of the Duke of York, giving the captain of the Royal Charles orders, which he falsely stated emanated from the Duke, for the pursuit to be abandoned. For this he was afterwards expelled the House of Commons, and was ordered to be impeached, but after a time the matter was suffered to drop.
As soon as the battle was over Cyril was taken down to a hammock below. He was just dozing off to sleep when Sydney came to him.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Cyril, but an officer tells me that a man who is mortally wounded wishes to speak to you; and from his description I think it is the fellow you call Black Dick. I thought it right to tell you, but I don't think you are fit to go to see him."
"I will go," Cyril said, "if you will lend me your arm. I should like to hear what the poor wretch has to say."
"He lies just below; the hatchway is but a few yards distant."
There had been no attempt to remove Cyril's clothes, and, by the aid of Lord Oliphant and of a sailor he called to his aid, he made his way below, and was led through the line of wounded, until a doctor, turning round, said,--
"This is the man who wishes to see you, Sir Cyril."
Although a line of lanterns hung from the beams, so nearly blind was he that Cyril could scarce distinguish the man's features.
"I have sent for you," the latter said faintly, "to tell you that if it hadn't been for your jumping down on to that fire-ship you would not have lived through this day's fight. I saw that you recognised me, and knew that, as soon as we went back, you would hand us over to the constables. So I made up my mind that I would run you through in the melee if we got hand to hand with the Dutchmen, or would put a musket-ball into you while the firing was going on. But when I saw you standing there with the flames round you, giving your life, as it seemed, to save the ship, I felt that, even if I must be hung for it, I could not bring myself to hurt so brave a lad; so there is an end of that business. Robert Ashford was killed by a gun that was knocked from its carriage, so you have got rid of us both. I thought I should like to tell you before I went that the brave action you did saved your life, and that, bad as I am, I had yet heart enough to feel that I would rather take hanging than kill you."
The last words had been spoken in a scarcely audible whisper. The man closed his eyes; and the doctor, laying his hand on Cyril's arm, said,--
"You had better go back to your hammock now, Sir Cyril. He will never speak again. In a few minutes the end will come."
Cyril spent a restless night. The wind was blowing strongly from the north, and the crews had hard work to keep the vessels off the shore. His wounds did not pain him much, but his hands, arms, face, and legs smarted intolerably, for his clothes had been almost burnt off him, and, refreshing as the sea-bath had been at the moment, it now added to the smarting of the wounds.
In the morning Prince Rupert came down to see him.
"It was madness of you to have joined in that melee, lad, in the state in which you were. I take the blame on myself in not ordering you to remain behind; but when the Dutchmen poured on board I had no thought of aught but driving them back again. It would have marred our pleasure in the victory we have won had you fallen, for to you we all owe our lives and the safety of the ship. No braver deed was performed yesterday than yours. I fear it will be some time before you are able to fight by my side again; but, at least, you have done your share, and more, were the war to last a lifetime."
Cyril was in less pain now, for the doctor had poured oil over his burns, and had wrapped up his hands in soft bandages.
"It was the thought of a moment, Prince," he said. "I saw the fire-ship had steerage way on her, and if the helm were put down she would drive away from our side, so without stopping to think about it one way or the other, I ran along to the stern, and jumped down to her tiller."
"Yes, lad, it was but a moment's thought, no doubt, but it is one thing to think, and another to execute, and none but the bravest would have ventured that leap on to the fire-ship. By to-morrow morning we shall be anchored in the river. Would you like to be placed in the hospital at Sheerness, or to be taken up to London?"
"I would rather go to London, if I may," Cyril said. "I know that I shall be well nursed at Captain Dave's, and hope, erelong, to be able to rejoin."
"Not for some time, lad--not for some time. Your burns will doubtless heal apace, but the wound in your shoulder is serious. The doctor says that the Dutchman's sword has cleft right through your shoulder-bone. 'Tis well that it is your left, for it may be that you will never have its full use again. You are not afraid of the Plague, are you? for on the day we left town there was a rumour that it had at last entered the City."
"I am not afraid of it," Cyril said; "and if it should come to Captain Dowsett's house, I would rather be there, that I may do what I can to help those who were so kind to me."
"Just as you like, lad. Do not hurry to rejoin. It is not likely there will be any fighting for some time, for it will be long before the Dutch are ready to take the sea again after the hammering we have given them, and all there will be to do will be to blockade their coast and to pick up their ships from foreign ports as prizes."
The next morning Cyril was placed on board a little yacht, called the Fan Fan, belonging to the Prince, and sailed up the river, the ship's company mustering at the side and giving him a hearty cheer. The wind was favourable, and they arrived that afternoon in town. According to the Prince's instructions, the sailors at once placed Cyril on a litter that had been brought for the purpose, and carried him up to Captain Dowsett's.
The City was in a state of agitation. The news of the victory had arrived but a few hours before, and the church bells were all ringing, flags were flying, the shops closed, and the people in the streets. John Wilkes came down in answer to the summons of the bell.
"Hullo!" he said; "whom have we here?"
"Don't you know me, John?" Cyril said.
John gave a start of astonishment.
"By St. Anthony, it is Master Cyril! At least, it is his voice, though it is little I can see of him, and what I see in no way resembles him."
"It is Sir Cyril Shenstone," the captain of the Fan Fan, who had come with the party, said sternly, feeling ruffled at the familiarity with which this rough-looking servitor of a City trader spoke of the gentleman in his charge. "It is Sir Cyril Shenstone, as brave a gentleman as ever drew sword, and who, as I hear, saved Prince Rupert's ship from being burnt by the Dutchmen."
"He knows me," John Wilkes said bluntly, "and he knows no offence is meant. The Captain and his dame, and Mistress Nellie are all out, Sir Cyril, but I will look after you till they return. Bring him up, lads. I am an old sailor myself, and fought the Dutch under Blake and Monk more than once."
He led the way upstairs into the best of the spare rooms. Here Cyril was laid on a bed. He thanked the sailors heartily for the care they had taken of him, and the captain handed a letter to John, saying,--
"The young Lord Oliphant asked me to give this to Captain Dowsett, but as he is not at home I pray you to give it him when he returns."
As soon as they had gone, John returned to the bed.
"This is terrible, Master Cyril. What have they been doing to you? I can see but little of your face for those bandages, but your eyes look mere slits, your flesh is all red and swollen, your eyebrows have gone, your arms and legs are all swathed up in bandages--Have you been blown up with gunpowder?--for surely no wound could have so disfigured you."
"I have not been blown up, John, but I was burnt by the flames of a Dutch fire-ship that came alongside. It is a matter that a fortnight will set right, though I doubt not that I am an unpleasant-looking object at present, and it will be some time before my hair grows again."
"And you are not hurt otherwise, Master?" John asked anxiously.
"Yes; I am hurt gravely enough, though not so as to imperil my life. I have a wound on the side of my head, and the same blow, as the doctor says, cleft through my shoulder-bone."
"I had best go and get a surgeon at once," John said; "though it will be no easy matter, for all the world is agog in the streets."
"Leave it for the present, John. There is no need whatever for haste. In that trunk of mine is a bottle of oils for the burns, though most of the sore places are already beginning to heal over, and the doctor said that I need not apply it any more, unless I found that they smarted too much for bearing. As for the other wounds, they are strapped up and bandaged, and he said that unless they inflamed badly, they would be best let alone for a time. So sit down quietly, and let me hear the news."
"The news is bad enough, though the Plague has not yet entered the City."
"The Prince told me that there was a report, before he came on board at Lowestoft, that it had done so."
"No, it is not yet come; but people are as frightened as if it was raging here. For the last fortnight they have been leaving in crowds from the West End, and many of the citizens are also beginning to move. They frighten themselves like a parcel of children. The comet seemed to many a sign of great disaster."
"If it could be seen only in London there might be something in it, but as it can be seen all over Europe, it is hard to say why it should augur evil to London especially. It was shining in the sky three nights ago when we were chasing the Dutch, and they had quite as good reason for thinking it was a sign of misfortune to them as have the Londoners."
"That is true enough," John Wilkes agreed; "though, in truth, I like not to see the' thing in the sky myself. Then people have troubled their heads greatly because, in Master Lilly's Almanack, and other books of prediction, a great pestilence is foretold."
"It needed no great wisdom for that," Cyril said, "seeing that the Plague has been for some time busy in foreign parts, and that it was here, though not so very bad, in the winter, when these books would have been written."
"Then," John Wilkes went on, "there is a man going through the streets, night and day. He speaks to no one, but cries out continually, 'Oh! the great and dreadful God!' This troubles many men's hearts greatly."
"It is a pity, John, that the poor fellow is not taken and shut up in some place where madmen are kept. Doubtless, it is some poor coward whose brain has been turned by fright. People who are frightened by such a thing as that must be poor-witted creatures indeed."
"That may be, Master Cyril, but methinks it is as they say, one fool makes many. People get together and bemoan themselves till their hearts fail them altogether. And yet, methinks they are not altogether without reason, for if the pestilence is so heavy without the walls, where the streets are wider and the people less crowded than here, it may well be that we shall have a terrible time of it in the City when it once passes the walls."
"That may well be, John, but cowardly fear will not make things any better. We knew, when we sailed out against the Dutch the other day, that very many would not see the setting sun, yet I believe there was not one man throughout the Fleet who behaved like a coward."
"No doubt, Master Cyril; but there is a difference. One can fight against men, but one cannot fight against the pestilence, and I do not believe that if the citizens knew that a great Dutch army was marching on London, and that they would have to withstand a dreadful siege, they would be moved with fear as they are now."
"That may be so," Cyril agreed. "Now, John, I think that I could sleep for a bit."
"Do so, Master, and I will go into the kitchen and see what I can do to make you a basin of broth when you awake; for the girl has gone out too. She wanted to see what was going on in the streets; and as I had sooner stay quietly at home I offered to take her place, as the shop was shut and I had nothing to do. Maybe by the time you wake again Captain Dave and the others will be back from their cruise."
It was dark when Cyril woke at the sound of the bell. He heard voices and movements without, and then the door was quietly opened.
"I am awake," he said. "You see I have taken you at your word, and come back to be patched up."
"You are heartily welcome," Mrs. Dowsett said. "Nellie, bring the light. Cyril is awake. We were sorry indeed when John told us that you had come in our absence. It was but a cold welcome for you to find that we were all out."
"There was nothing I needed, madam. Had there been, John would have done it for me."
Nellie now appeared at the door with the light, and gave an exclamation of horror as she approached the bedside.
"It is not so bad as it looks, Nellie," Cyril said. "Not that I know how it looks, for I have not seen myself in a glass since I left here; but I can guess that I am an unpleasant object to look at."
Mrs. Dowsett made a sign to Nellie to be silent.
"John told us that you were badly burned and were all wrapped up in bandages, but we did not expect to find you so changed. However, that will soon pass off, I hope."
"I expect I shall be all right in another week, save for this wound in my shoulder. As for that on my head, it is but of slight consequence. My skull was thick enough to save my brain."
"Well, Master Cyril," Captain Dave said heartily, as he entered the room with a basin of broth in his hand, and then stopped abruptly.
"Well, Captain Dave, here I am, battered out of all shape, you see, but not seriously damaged in my timbers. There, you see, though I have only been a fortnight at sea, I am getting quite nautical."
"That is right, lad--that is right," Captain Dave said, a little unsteadily. "My dame and Nellie will soon put you into ship-shape trim again. So you got burnt, I hear, by one of those rascally Dutch fire-ships? and John tells me that the captain of the sailors who carried you here said that you had gained mighty credit for yourself."
"I did my best, as everyone did, Captain Dave. There was not a man on board the Fleet who did not do his duty, or we should never have beaten the Dutchmen so soundly."
"You had better not talk any more," Mrs. Dowsett said. "You are in my charge now, and my first order is that you must keep very quiet, or else you will be having fever come on. You had best take a little of this broth now. Nellie will sit with you while I go out to prepare you a cooling drink."
"I will take a few spoonfuls of the soup since John has taken the trouble to prepare it for me," Cyril said; "though, indeed, my lips are so parched and swollen that the cooling drink will be much more to my taste."
"I think it were best first, dame," the Captain said, "that John and I should get him comfortably into bed, instead of lying there wrapped up in the blanket in which they brought him ashore. The broth will be none the worse for cooling a bit."
"That will be best," his wife agreed. "I will fetch some more pillows, so that we can prop him up. He can swallow more comfortably so, and will sleep all the better when he lies down again."
As soon as Cyril was comfortably settled John Wilkes was sent to call in a doctor, who, after examining him, said that the burns were doing well, and that he would send in some cooling lotion to be applied to them frequently. As to the wounds, he said they had been so skilfully bandaged that it were best to leave them alone, unless great pain set in.
Another four days, and Cyril's face had so far recovered its usual condition that the swelling was almost abated, and the bandages could be removed. The peak of the helmet had sheltered it a good deal, and it had suffered less than his hands and arms. Captain Dave and John had sat up with him by turns at night, while the Dame and her daughter had taken care of him during the day. He had slept a great deal, and had not been allowed to talk at all. This prohibition was now removed, as the doctor said that the burns were now all healing fast, and that he no longer had any fear of fever setting in.
"By the way, Captain," John Wilkes said, that day, at dinner, "I have just bethought me of this letter, that was given me by the sailor who brought Cyril here. It is for you, from young Lord Oliphant. It has clean gone out of my mind till now. I put it in the pocket of my doublet, and have forgotten it ever since."
"No harm can have come of the delay, John," Captain Dave said. "It was thoughtful of the lad. He must have been sure that Cyril would not be in a condition to tell us aught of the battle, and he may have sent us some details of it, for the Gazette tells us little enough, beyond the ships taken and the names of gentlemen and officers killed. Here, Nellie, do you read it. It seems a long epistle, and my eyes are not as good as they were."
Nellie took the letter and read aloud:--
"'DEAR AND WORTHY SIR,--I did not think when I was so pleasantly entertained at your house that it would befall me to become your correspondent, but so it has happened, for, Sir Cyril being sorely hurt, and in no state to tell you how the matter befell him--if indeed his modesty would allow him, which I greatly doubt--it is right that you should know how the business came about, and what great credit Sir Cyril has gained for himself. In the heat of the fight, when we were briskly engaged in exchanging broadsides with a Dutchman of our own size, one of their fire-ships, coming unnoticed through the smoke, slipped alongside of us, and, the flames breaking out, would speedily have destroyed us, as indeed they went near doing. The grapnels were briskly thrown over, but she had already touched our sides, and the flames were blowing across us when Sir Cyril, perceiving that she had still some way on her, sprang down on to her deck and put over the helm. She was then a pillar of flame, and the decks, which were plentifully besmeared with pitch, were all in a blaze, save just round the tiller where her captain had stood to steer her. It was verily a furnace, and it seemed impossible that one could stand there for only half a minute and live. Everyone on board was filled with astonishment, and the Prince called out loudly that he had never seen a braver deed. As the fire-ship drew away from us, we saw Sir Cyril fasten the helm down with a rope, and then, lowering a bucket over, throw water on to it; then he threw off his helmet and armour--his clothes being, by this time, all in a flame--and sprang into the sea, the fire-ship being now well nigh her own length from us. She had sheered off none too soon, for some of our sails were on fire, and it was with great difficulty that we succeeded in cutting them from the yards and so saving the ship.
"'All, from the Prince down, say that no finer action was ever performed, and acknowledge that we all owe our lives, and His Majesty owes his ship, to it. Then, soon after we had hauled Sir Cyril on board, the Dutchmen boarded us, and there was a stiff fight, all hands doing their best to beat them back, in which we succeeded.
"'Sir Cyril, though scarce able to stand, joined in the fray, unnoticed by us all, who in the confusion had not thought of him, and being, indeed, scarce able to hold his sword, received a heavy wound, of which, however, the doctor has all hopes that he will make a good recovery.
"'It would have done you good to hear how the whole crew cheered Sir Cyril as we dragged him on board. The Prince is mightily taken with him, and is sending him to London in his own yacht, where I feel sure that your good dame and fair daughter will do all that they can to restore him to health. As soon as I get leave--though I do not know when that will be, for we cannot say as yet how matters will turn out, or what ships will keep the sea--I shall do myself the honour of waiting upon you. I pray you give my respectful compliments to Mrs. Dowsett and Mistress Nellie, who are, I hope, enjoying good health.
"'Your servant to command,
The tears were standing in Nellie's eyes, and her voice trembled as she read. When she finished she burst out crying.
"There!" John Wilkes exclaimed, bringing his fist down upon the table. "I knew, by what that skipper said, the lad had been doing something quite out of the way, but when I spoke to him about it before you came in he only said that he had tried his best to do his duty, just as every other man in the Fleet had done. Who would have thought, Captain Dave, that that quiet young chap, who used to sit down below making out your accounts, was going to turn out a hero?"
"Who, indeed?" the Captain said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands. "Why, he wasn't more than fifteen then, and, as you say, such a quiet fellow. He used to sit there and write, and never speak unless I spoke to him. 'Tis scarce two years ago, and look what he has done! Who would have thought it? I can't finish my breakfast," he went on, getting up from his seat, "till I have gone in and shaken him by the hand."
"You had better not, David," Mrs. Dowsett said gently. "We had best say but little to him about it now. We can let him know we have heard how he came by his burns from Lord Oliphant, but do not let us make much of it. Had he wished it he would have told us himself."
Captain Dave sat down again.
"Perhaps you are right, my dear. At any rate, till he is getting strong we will not tell him what we think of him. Anyhow, it can't do any harm to tell him we know it, and may do him good, for it is clear he does not like telling it himself, and may be dreading our questioning about the affair."
Mrs. Dowsett and Nellie went into Cyril's room as soon as they had finished breakfast. Captain Dave followed them a few minutes later.
"We have been hearing how you got burnt," he began. "Your friend, Lord Oliphant, sent a letter about it by the skipper of his yacht. That stupid fellow, John, has been carrying it about ever since, and only remembered it just now, when we were at breakfast. It was a plucky thing to do, lad."
"It turned out a very lucky one," Cyril said hastily, "for it was the means of saving my life."
"Saving your life, lad! What do you mean?"
Cyril then told how Robert Ashford and Black Dick had been brought on board as impressed men, how the former had been killed, and the confession that Black Dick had made to him before dying.
"He said he had made up his mind to kill me during the fight, but that, after I had risked my life to save the Henrietta, he was ashamed to kill me, and that, rather than do so, he had resolved to take his chance of my denouncing him when he returned to land."
"There was some good in the knave, then," Captain Dave said. "Yes, it was a fortunate as well as a brave action, as it turned out."
"Fortunate in one respect, but not in another," Cyril put in, anxious to prevent the conversation reverting to the question of his bravery. "I put down this wound in my shoulder to it, for if I had been myself I don't think I should have got hurt. I guarded the blow, but I was so shaky that he broke my guard down as if I had been a child, though I think that it did turn the blow a little, and saved it from falling fair on my skull. Besides, I should have had my helmet and armour on if it had not been for my having to take a swim. So, you see, Captain Dave, things were pretty equally balanced, and there is no occasion to say anything more about them."
"We have one piece of bad news to tell you, Cyril," Mrs. Dowsett remarked, in order to give the conversation the turn which she saw he wished for. "We heard this morning that the Plague has come at last into the City. Dr. Burnet was attacked yesterday."
"That is bad news indeed, Dame, though it was not to be expected that it would spare the City. If you will take my advice, you will go away at once, before matters get worse, for if the Plague gets a hold here the country people will have nothing to do with Londoners, fearing that they will bring the infection among them."
"We shall not go until you are fit to go with us, Cyril," Nellie said indignantly.
"Then you will worry me into a fever," Cyril replied. "I am getting on well now, and as you said, when you were talking of it before, you should leave John in charge of the house and shop, he will be able to do everything that is necessary for me. If you stay here, and the Plague increases, I shall keep on worrying myself at the thought that you are risking your lives needlessly for me, and if it should come into the house, and any of you die, I shall charge myself all my life with having been the cause of your death. I pray you, for my sake as well as your own, to lose no time in going to the sister Captain Dave spoke of, down near Gloucester."
"Do not agitate yourself," Mrs. Dowsett said gently, pressing him quietly back on to the pillows from which he had risen in his excitement. "We will talk it over, and see what is for the best. It is but a solitary case yet, and may spread no further. In a few days we shall see how matters go. Things have not come to a bad pass yet."
Cyril, however, was not to be consoled. Hitherto he had given comparatively small thought to the Plague, but now that it was in the City, and he felt that his presence alone prevented the family from leaving, he worried incessantly over it.
"Your patient is not so well," the doctor said to Mrs. Dowsett, next morning. "Yesterday he was quite free from fever--his hands were cool; now they are dry and hard. If this goes on, I fear that we shall have great trouble."
"He is worrying himself because we do not go out of town. We had, indeed, made up our minds to do so, but we could not leave him here."
"Your nursing would be valuable certainly, but if he goes on as he is he will soon be in a high fever; his wounds will grow angry and fester. While yesterday he seemed in a fair way to recovery, I should be sorry to give any favourable opinion as to what may happen if this goes on. Is there no one who could take care of him if you went?"
"John Wilkes will remain behind, and could certainly be trusted to do everything that you directed; but that is not like women, doctor."
"No, I am well aware of that; but if things go on well he will really not need nursing, while, if fever sets in badly, the best nursing may not save him. Moreover, wounds and all other ailments of this sort do badly at present; the Plague in the air seems to affect all other maladies. If you will take my advice, Dame, you will carry out your intention, and leave at once. I hear there are several new cases of the Plague today in the City, and those who can go should lose no time in doing so; but, even if not for your own sakes, I should say go for that of your patient."
"Will you speak to my husband, doctor? I am ready to do whatever is best for your patient, whom we love dearly, and regard almost as a son."
"If he were a son I should give the same advice. Yes, I will see Captain Dowsett."
Half an hour later, Cyril was told what the doctor's advice had been, and, seeing that he was bent on it, and that if they stayed they would do him more harm than good, they resolved to start the next day for Gloucestershire.
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