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Reluctant as they were to leave Cyril, Mrs. Dowsett and her daughter speedily saw that the doctor's advice was good. Cyril did not say much, but an expression of restful satisfaction came over his face, and it was not long before he fell into a quiet sleep that contrasted strongly with the restless and fretful state in which he had passed the night.
"You see I was right, madam," the doctor said that evening. "The fever has not quite left him, but he is a different man to what he was this morning; another quiet night's rest, and he will regain the ground he has lost. I think you can go in perfect comfort so far as he is concerned. Another week and he will be up, if nothing occurs to throw him back again; but of course it will be weeks before he can use his arm."
John Wilkes had been sent off as soon as it was settled that they would go, and had bought, at Epping, a waggon and a pair of strong horses. It had a tilt, and the ladies were to sleep in it on the journey, as it was certain that, until they were far away from London, they would be unable to obtain lodgings. A man was engaged to drive them down, and a sail and two or three poles were packed in the waggon to make a tent for him and Captain Dowsett. A store of provisions was cooked, and a cask of beer, another of water, and a case of wine were also placed in. Mattresses were laid down for the ladies to sit on during the day and to sleep on at night; so they would be practically independent during the journey. Early next morning they started.
"It seems heartless to leave you, Cyril," Nellie said, as they came in to say good-bye.
"Not heartless at all," Cyril replied. "I know that you are going because I wish it."
"It is more than wishing, you tiresome boy. We are going because you have made up your mind that you will be ill if we don't. You are too weak to quarrel with now, but when we meet again, tremble, for I warn you I shall scold you terribly then."
"You shall scold me as much as you please, Nellie; I shall take it all quite patiently."
Nellie and her mother went away in tears, and Captain Dave himself was a good deal upset. They had thought the going away from home on such a long journey would be a great trial, but this was now quite lost sight of in their regret at what they considered deserting Cyril, and many were the injunctions that were given to John Wilkes before the waggon drove off. They were somewhat consoled by seeing that Cyril was undoubtedly better and brighter. He had slept all night without waking, his hands were cool, and the flush had entirely left his cheek.
"If they were starting on a voyage to the Indies they could not be in a greater taking," John Wilkes said, on returning to Cyril's bedside. "Why, I have seen the Captain go off on a six months' voyage and less said about it."
"I am heartily glad they are gone, John. If the Plague grows there will be a terrible time here. Is the shop shut?"
"Ay; the man went away two days ago, and we sent off the two 'prentices yesterday. There is naught doing. Yesterday half the vessels in the Pool cleared out on the news of the Plague having got into the City, and I reckon that, before long, there won't be a ship in the port. We shall have a quiet time of it, you and I; we shall be like men in charge of an old hulk."
Another week, and Cyril was up. All his bandages, except those on the shoulder and head, had been thrown aside, and the doctor said that, erelong, the former would be dispensed with. John had wanted to sit up with him, but as Cyril would not hear of this he had moved his bed into the same room, so that he could be up in a moment if anything was wanted. He went out every day to bring in the news.
"There is little enough to tell, Master Cyril," he said one day. "So far, the Plague grows but slowly in the City, though, indeed, it is no fault of the people that it does not spread rapidly. Most of them seem scared out of their wits; they gather together and talk, with white faces, and one man tells of a dream that his wife has had, and another of a voice that he says he has heard; and some have seen ghosts. Yesterday I came upon a woman with a crowd round her; she was staring up at a white cloud, and swore that she could plainly see an angel with a white sword, and some of the others cried that they saw it too. I should like to have been a gunner's mate with a stout rattan, and to have laid it over their shoulders, to give them something else to think about for a few hours. It is downright pitiful to see such cowards. At the corner of one street there was a quack, vending pills and perfumes that he warranted to keep away the Plague, and the people ran up and bought his nostrums by the score; I hear there are a dozen such in the City, making a fortune out of the people's fears. I went into the tavern I always use, and had a glass of Hollands and a talk with the landlord. He says that he does as good a trade as ever, though in a different way. There are no sailors there now, but neighbours come in and drink down a glass of strong waters, which many think is the best thing against the Plague, and then hurry off again. I saw the Gazette there, and it was half full of advertisements of people who said they were doctors from foreign parts, and all well accustomed to cure the Plague. They say the magistrates are going to issue notices about shutting up houses, as they do at St. Giles's, and to have watchmen at the doors to see none come in or go out, and that they are going to appoint examiners in every parish to go from house to house to search for infected persons."
"I suppose these are proper steps to take," Cyril said, "but it will be a difficult thing to keep people shut up in houses where one is infected. No doubt it would be a good thing at the commencement of the illness, but when it has once spread itself, and the very air become infected, it seems to me that it will do but little good, while it will assuredly cause great distress and trouble. I long to be able to get up myself, and to see about things."
"The streets have quite an empty aspect, so many have gone away; and what with that, and most of the shops being closed, and the dismal aspect of the people, there is little pleasure in being out, Master Cyril."
"I dare say, John. Still, it will be a change, and, as soon as I am strong enough, I shall sally out with you."
Another fortnight, and Cyril was able to do so. The Plague had still spread, but so slowly that people began to hope that the City would be spared any great calamity, for they were well on in July, and in another six weeks the heat of summer would be passed. Some of those who had gone into the country returned, more shops had been opened, and the panic had somewhat subsided.
"What do you mean to do, Master Cyril?" John Wilkes asked that evening. "Of course you cannot join the Fleet again, for it will be, as the doctor says, another two months before your shoulder-bone will have knit strongly enough for you to use your arm, and at sea it is a matter of more consequence than on land for a man to have the use of both arms. The ship may give a sudden lurch, and one may have to make a clutch at whatever is nearest to prevent one from rolling into the lee scuppers; and such a wrench as that would take from a weak arm all the good a three months' nursing had done it, and might spoil the job of getting the bone to grow straight again altogether. I don't say you are fit to travel yet, but you should be able before long to start on a journey, and might travel down into Gloucestershire, where, be sure, you will be gladly welcomed by the Captain, his dame, and Mistress Nellie. Or, should you not care for that, you might go aboard a ship. There are hundreds of them lying idle in the river, and many families have taken up their homes there, so as to be free from all risks of meeting infected persons in the streets."
"I think I shall stay here, John, and keep you company. If the Plague dies away, well and good. If it gets bad, we can shut ourselves up. You say that the Captain has laid in a great store of provisions, so that you could live without laying out a penny for a year, and it is as sure as anything can be, that when the cold weather comes on it will die out. Besides, John, neither you nor I are afraid of the Plague, and it is certain that it is fear that makes most people take it. If it becomes bad, there will be terrible need for help, and maybe we shall be able to do some good. If we are not afraid of facing death in battle, why should we fear it by the Plague. It is as noble a death to die helping one's fellow-countrymen in their sore distress as in fighting for one's country."
"That is true enough, Master Cyril, if folks did but see it so. I do not see what we could do, but if there be aught, you can depend on me. I was in a ship in the Levant when we had a fever, which, it seems to me, was akin to this Plague, though not like it in all its symptoms. Half the crew died, and, as you say, I verily believe that it was partly from the lowness of spirits into which they fell from fear. I used to help nurse the sick, and throw overboard the dead, and it never touched me. I don't say that I was braver than others, but it seemed to me as it was just as easy to take things comfortable as it was to fret over them."
Towards the end of the month the Plague spread rapidly, and all work ceased in the parishes most affected. But, just as it had raged for weeks in the Western parishes outside the City, so it seemed restricted by certain invisible lines, after it had made its entry within the walls, and while it raged in some parts others were entirely unaffected, and here shops were open, and the streets still retained something of their usual appearance. There had been great want among the poorer classes, owing to the cessation of work, especially along the riverside. The Lord Mayor, some of the Aldermen, and most other rich citizens had hastened to leave the City. While many of the clergy were deserting their flocks, and many doctors their patients, others remained firmly at their posts, and worked incessantly, and did all that was possible in order to check the spread of the Plague and to relieve the distress of the poor.
Numbers of the women were engaged as nurses. Examiners were appointed in each parish, and these, with their assistants, paid house-to-house visitations, in order to discover any who were infected; and as soon as the case was discovered the house was closed, and none suffered to go in or out, a watchman being placed before the door day and night. Two men therefore were needed to each infected house, and this afforded employment for numbers of poor. Others were engaged in digging graves, or in going round at night, with carts, collecting the dead.
So great was the dread of the people at the thought of being shut up in their houses, without communication with the world, that every means was used for concealing the fact that one of the inmates was smitten down. This was the more easy because the early stages of the disease were without pain, and people were generally ignorant that they had been attacked until within a few hours, and sometimes within a few minutes, of their death; consequently, when the Plague had once spread, all the precautions taken to prevent its increase were useless, while they caused great misery and suffering, and doubtless very much greater loss of life. For, owing to so many being shut up in the houses with those affected, and there being no escape from the infection, whole families, with the servants and apprentices, sickened and died together.
Cyril frequently went up to view the infected districts. He was not moved by curiosity, but by a desire to see if there were no way of being of use. There was not a street but many of the houses were marked with the red cross. In front of these the watchmen sat on stools or chairs lent by the inmates, or borrowed from some house whence the inhabitants had all fled. The air rang with pitiful cries. Sometimes women, distraught with terror or grief, screamed wildly through open windows. Sometimes people talked from the upper stories to their neighbours on either hand, or opposite, prisoners like themselves, each telling their lamentable tale of misery, of how many had died and how many remained.
It was by no means uncommon to see on the pavement men and women who, in the excess of despair or pain, had thrown themselves headlong down. While such sounds and sights filled Cyril with horror, they aroused still more his feelings of pity and desire to be of some use. Very frequently he went on errands for people who called down from above to him. Money was lowered in a tin dish, or other vessel, in which it lay covered with vinegar as a disinfectant. Taking it out, he would go and buy the required articles, generally food or medicine, and, returning, place them in a basket that was again lowered.
The watchmen mostly executed these commissions, but many of them were surly fellows, and, as they were often abused and cursed by those whom they held prisoners, would do but little for them. They had, moreover, an excuse for refusing to leave the door, because, as often happened, it might be opened in their absence and the inmates escape. It was true that the watchmen had the keys, but the screws were often drawn from the locks inside; and so frequently was this done that at last chains with padlocks were fastened to all the doors as soon as the watch was set over them. But even this did not avail. Many of the houses had communications at the backs into other streets, and so eluded the vigilance of the watch; while, in other cases, communications were broken through the walls into other houses, empty either by desertion or death, and the escape could thus be made under the very eye of the watchman.
Very frequently Cyril went into a church when he saw the door open. Here very small congregations would be gathered, for there was a fear on the part of all of meeting with strangers, for these might, unknown to themselves, be already stricken with the pest, and all public meetings of any kind were, for this reason, strictly forbidden. One day, he was passing a church that had hitherto been always closed, its incumbent being one of those who had fled at the outbreak of the Plague. Upon entering he saw a larger congregation than usual, some twenty or thirty people being present.
The minister had just mounted the pulpit, and was beginning his address as Cyril entered. The latter was struck with his appearance. He was a man of some thirty years of age, with a strangely earnest face. His voice was deep, but soft and flexible, and in the stillness of the almost empty church its lowest tones seemed to come with impressive power, and Cyril thought that he had never heard such preaching before. The very text seemed strange at such a time: "Rejoice ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." From most of the discourses he had heard Cyril had gone out depressed rather than inspirited. They had been pitched in one tone. The terrible scourge that raged round them was held up as a punishment sent by the wrath of God upon a sinful people, and the congregation were warned to prepare themselves for the fate, that might at any moment be theirs, by repentance and humiliation. The preacher to whom Cyril was now listening spoke in an altogether different strain.
"You are all soldiers of Christ," he said, "and now is an opportunity given to you to show that you are worthy soldiers. When the troops of a worldly monarch go into battle they do so with head erect, with proud and resolute bearing, with flashing eye, and with high courage, determined to bear aloft his banner and to crown it with victory, even though it cost them their lives. Such is the mien that soldiers of Christ should bear in the mortal strife now raging round us. Let them show the same fearlessness of death, the same high courage, the same unlimited confidence in their Leader. What matter if they die in His service? He has told them what their work should be. He has bidden them visit the sick and comfort the sorrowing. What if there be danger in the work? Did He shrink from the Cross which was to end His work of love, and is it for His followers to do so? 'Though you go down into the pit,' He has said, 'I am there also'; and with His companionship one must be craven indeed to tremble. This is a noble opportunity for holding high the banner of Christ. There is work to be done for all, and as the work is done, men should see by the calm courage, the cheerfulness, and the patience of those that do it, that they know that they are doing His work, and that they are content to leave the issue, whatever it be, in His hands."
Such was the tone in which, for half an hour, he spoke. When he had finished he offered up a prayer, gave the blessing, and then came down from the pulpit and spoke to several of the congregation. He was evidently personally known to most of them. One by one, after a few words, they left the church. Cyril remained to the last.
"I am willing to work, sir," he said, as the preacher came up, "but, so far, no work has come in my way."
"Have you father or mother, or any dependent on you?"
"No one, sir."
"Then come along with me; I lodge close by. I have eaten nothing to-day, and must keep up my strength, and I have a long round of calls to make."
"This is the first time I have seen the church open," Cyril said, as they went out.
"It is not my church, sir, nor do I belong to the Church of England; I am an Independent. But as many of the pastors have fled and left their sheep untended, so have we--for there are others besides myself who have done so--taken possession of their empty pulpits, none gainsaying us, and are doing what good we can. You have been in the war, I see," he went on, glancing at Cyril's arm, which was carried in a sling.
"Yes; I was at the battle of Lowestoft, and having been wounded there, came to London to stay in a friend's house till I was cured. He and his family have left, but I am living with a trusty foreman who is in charge of the house. I have a great desire to be useful. I myself have little fear of the Plague."
"That is the best of all preservatives from its ravages, although not a sure one; for many doctors who have laboured fearlessly have yet died. Have you thought of any way of being useful?"
"No, sir; that is what is troubling me. As you see, I have but the use of one arm, and I have not got back my full strength by a long way."
"Everyone can be useful if he chooses," the minister said. "There is need everywhere among this stricken, frightened, helpless people, of men of calm courage and cool heads. Nine out of ten are so scared out of their senses, when once the Plague enters the houses, as to be well-nigh useless, and yet the law hinders those who would help if they could. I am compelled to labour, not among those who are sick, but among those who are well. When one enters a house with the red cross on the door, he may leave it no more until he is either borne out to the dead-cart, or the Plague has wholly disappeared within it, and a month has elapsed. The sole exception are the doctors; they are no more exempt from spreading the infection than other men, but as they must do their work so far as they can they have free passage; and yet, so few is their number and so heavy already their losses, that not one in a hundred of those that are smitten can have their aid. Here is one coming now, one of the best--Dr. Hodges. If you are indeed willing so to risk your life, I will speak to him. But I know not your name?"
"My name is Cyril Shenstone."
The clergyman looked at him suddenly, and would have spoken, but the doctor was now close to them.
"Ah! Mr. Wallace," he said, "I am glad to see you, and to know that, so far, you have not taken the disease, although constantly going into the worst neighbourhoods."
"Like yourself, Dr. Hodges, I have no fear of it."
"I do not say I have no fear," the doctor replied. "I do my duty so far as I can, but I do not doubt that, sooner or later, I shall catch the malady, as many of us have done already. I take such precautions as I can, but the distemper seems to baffle all precautions. My only grief is that our skill avails so little. So far we have found nothing that seems to be of any real use. Perhaps if we could attack it in the earlier stages we might be more successful. The strange nature of the disease, and the way in which it does its work well-nigh to the end, before the patient is himself aware of it, puts it out of our power to combat it. In many cases I am not sent for until the patient is at the point of death, and by the time I reach his door I am met with the news that he is dead. But I must be going."
"One moment, Dr. Hodges. This young gentleman has been expressing to me his desire to be of use. I know nothing of him save that he was one of my congregation this morning, but, as he fears not the Plague, and is moved by a desire to help his fellows in distress, I take it that he is a good youth. He was wounded in the battle of Lowestoft, and, being as ready to encounter the Plague as he was the Dutch, would now fight in the cause of humanity. Would you take him as an assistant? I doubt if he knows anything of medicine, but I think he is one that would see your orders carried out. He has no relations or friends, and therefore considers himself free to venture his life."
The doctor looked earnestly at Cyril and then raised his hat.
"Young sir," he said, "since you are willing so to venture your life, I will gladly accept your help. There are few enough clear heads in this city, God knows. As for the nurses, they are Jezebels. They have the choice of starving or nursing, and they nurse; but they neglect their patients, they rob them, and there is little doubt that in many cases they murder them, so that at the end of their first nursing they may have enough money to live on without going to another house. But I am pressed for time. Here is my card. Call on me this evening at six, and we will talk further on the matter."
Shaking hands with the minister he hurried away.
"Come as far as my lodgings," Mr. Wallace said to Cyril, "and stay with me while I eat my meal. 'Tis a diversion to one's mind to turn for a moment from the one topic that all men are speaking of.
"Your name is Shenstone. I come from Norfolk. There was a family of that name formerly had estates near my native place. One Sir Aubrey Shenstone was at its head--a brave gentleman. I well remember seeing him when I was a boy, but he took the side of the King against the Parliament, and, as we heard, passed over with Charles to France when his cause was lost. I have not heard of him since."
"Sir Aubrey was my father," Cyril said quietly; "he died a year ago. I am his only son."
"And therefore Sir Cyril," the minister said, "though you did not so name yourself."
"It was needless," Cyril said. "I have no estates to support my title, and though it is true that, when at sea with Prince Rupert, I was called Sir Cyril, it was because the Prince had known my father, and knew that I, at his death, inherited the title, though I inherited nothing else."
They now reached the door of Mr. Wallace's lodging, and went up to his room on the first floor.
"Neglect no precaution," the minister said. "No one should throw away his life. I myself, although not a smoker, nor accustomed to take snuff, use it now, and would, as the doctors advise, chew a piece of tobacco, but 'tis too nasty, and when I tried it, I was so ill that I thought even the risk of the Plague preferable. But I carry camphor in my pockets, and when I return from preaching among people of whom some may well have the infection, I bathe my face and hands with vinegar, and, pouring some on to a hot iron, fill the room with its vapour. My life is useful, I hope, and I would fain keep it, as long as it is the Lord's will, to work in His service. As a rule, I take wine and bread before I go out in the morning, though to-day I was pressed for time, and neglected it. I should advise you always to do so. I am convinced that a full man has less chance of catching the infection than a fasting one, and that it is the weakness many men suffer from their fears, and from their loss of appetite from grief, that causes them to take it so easily. When the fever was so bad in St. Giles's, I heard that in many instances, where whole families were carried away, the nurses shut up with them were untouched with the infection, and I believe that this was because they had become hardened to the work, and ate and drank heartily, and troubled not themselves at all at the grief of those around them. They say that many of these harpies have grown, wealthy, loading themselves with everything valuable they could lay hands on in the houses of those they attended."
After the meal, in which he insisted upon Cyril joining him, was concluded, Mr. Wallace uttered a short prayer that Cyril might safely pass through the work he had undertaken.
"I trust," he said, "that you will come here frequently? I generally have a few friends here of an evening. We try to be cheerful, and to strengthen each other, and I am sure we all have comfort at these meetings."
"Thank you, I will come sometimes, sir; but as a rule I must return home, for my friend, John Wilkes, would sorely miss my company, and is so good and faithful a fellow that I would not seem to desert him on any account."
"Do as you think right, lad, but remember there will always be a welcome for you here when you choose to come."
John Wilkes was dismayed when he heard of Cyril's intention.
"Well, Master Cyril," he said, after smoking his pipe in silence for some time, "it is not for me to hinder you in what you have made up your mind to do. I don't say that if I wasn't on duty here that I mightn't go and do what I could for these poor creatures. But I don't know. It is one thing to face a deadly fever like this Plague if it comes on board your own ship, for there is no getting out of it; and as you have got to face it, why, says I, do it as a man; but as for going out of your way to put yourself in the middle of it, that is going a bit beyond me."
"Well, John, you didn't think it foolish when I went as a Volunteer to fight the Dutch. It was just the same thing, you know."
"I suppose it was," John said reluctantly, after a pause. "But then, you see, you were fighting for your country."
"Well, but in the present case I shall be fighting for my countrymen and countrywomen, John. It is awful to think of the misery that people are suffering, and it seems to me that, having nothing else to do here, it is specially my duty to put my hand to the work of helping as far as I can. The risk may, at present, be greater than it would be if I stayed at home, but if the Plague spreads--and it looks as if all the City would presently be affected--all will have to run the risk of contagion. There are thousands of women now who voluntarily enter the houses as nurses for a small rate of pay. Even robbers, they say, will enter and ransack the houses of the dead in search of plunder. It will be a shame indeed then if one should shrink from doing so when possibly one might do good."
"I will say nothing more against it, Master Cyril. Still, I do not see exactly what you are going to do; with one arm you could scarce hold down a raving man."
"I am not going to be a nurse, certainly, John," Cyril said, with a laugh. "I expect that the doctor wants certain cases watched. Either he may doubt the nurses, or he may want to see how some particular drug works. Nothing, so far, seems of use, but that may be partly because the doctors are all so busy that they cannot watch the patients and see, from hour to hour, how medicines act."
"When I was in the Levant, and the pest was bad there," John Wilkes said, "I heard that the Turks, when seized with the distemper, sometimes wrapped themselves up in a great number of clothes, so that they sweated heavily, and that this seemed, in some cases, to draw off the fever, and so the patient recovered."
"That seems a sensible sort of treatment, John, and worth trying with this Plague."
On calling on Dr. Hodges that afternoon, Cyril found that he had rightly guessed the nature of the work that the doctor wished him to perform.
"I can never rely upon the nurses," he said. "I give instructions with medicines, but in most cases I am sure that the instructions are never carried out. The relations and friends are too frightened to think or act calmly, too full of grief for the sick, and anxiety for those who have not yet taken the illness, to watch the changes in the patient. As to the nurses, they are often drunk the whole time they are in the house. Sometimes they fear to go near the sick man or woman; sometimes, undoubtedly, they hasten death. In most cases it matters little, for we are generally called in too late to be of any service. The poor people view us almost as enemies; they hide their malady from us in every way. Half our time, too, is wasted uselessly, for many are there who frighten themselves into the belief that they are ill, and send for us in all haste. So far, we feel that we are working altogether in the dark; none of us can see that any sort of drug avails even in the slightest degree when the malady has once got a hold. One in twenty cases may live, but why we know not. Still the fact that some do live shows that the illness is not necessarily mortal, and that, could the right remedy befound, we might yet overcome it. The first thing, however, is to try to prevent its spread. Here we have ten or more people shut up in a house with one sick person. It is a terrible necessity, for it is a sentence of death to many, if not to all. We give the nurses instructions to fumigate the room by evaporating vinegar upon hot irons, by burning spices and drugs, by sprinkling perfumes. So far, I cannot see that these measures have been of any service, but I cannot say how thoroughly they have been carried out, and I sorely need an assistant to see that the system is fairly tried. It is not necessary that he should be a doctor, but he must have influence and power over those in the house. He must be calm and firm, and he must be regarded by the people as a doctor. If you will undertake this, you must put on a wig, for you know that that is looked upon as a necessary part of a doctor's outfit by people in general. I shall introduce you as my assistant, and say that you are to be obeyed as implicitly as if I myself were present. There is another reason why you must pass as a doctor, for you would otherwise be a prisoner and unable to pass in and out. You had best wear a black suit. I will lend you one of my canes and a snuff-box, and should advise you to take snuff, even if it is not your habit, for I believe that it is good against infection, and one of the experiments I wish to try is as to what its result may be if burnt freely in the house. Are you ready to undertake this work?"
"Quite ready, sir."
"Then come round here at eight in the morning. I shall have heard by that hour from the examiners of this parish of any fresh case they have found. They begin their rounds at five o'clock."
The next day Cyril presented himself at the doctor's, dressed in black, with white ruffles to his shirt, and a flowing wig he had purchased the night before.
"Here are the cane and snuff-box," Dr. Hodges said. "Now you will pass muster very well as my assistant. Let us be off at once; for I have a long list of cases."
Cyril remained outside while Dr. Hodges went into three or four houses. Presently he came down to the door, and said to him,--
"This is a case where things are favourable for a first trial. It is a boy who is taken ill, and the parents, though in deep grief, seem to have some sense left."
He turned to the watchman, who had already been placed at the door. The man, who evidently knew him, had saluted respectfully when he entered the house.
"This gentleman is my assistant," he said, "and you will allow him to pass in and out just as you would myself. He is going to take this case entirely in hand, and you will regard him as being in charge here."
He then re-entered the house with Cyril, and led him to the room where the parents of the boy, and two elder sisters, were assembled.
"This is my assistant," he said, "and he has consented to take entire charge of the case, though I myself shall look in and consult with him every morning. In the first place, your son must be taken to the top storey of the house. You say that you are ready to nurse him yourselves, and do not wish that a paid nurse should be had in. I commend your determination, for the nurses are, for the most part, worse than useless, and carry the infection all over the house. But only one of you must go into the room, and whoever goes in must stay there. It is madness for all to be going in and out and exposing themselves to the infection when no good can be done. When this is the case, one or other is sure to take the malady, and then it spreads to all. Which of you will undertake the duty?"
All four at once offered themselves, and there was an earnest contest between them for the dangerous post. Dr. Hodges listened for a minute or two, and then decided upon the elder of the two sisters--a quiet, resolute-looking girl with a healthy face.
"This young lady shall be nurse," he said. "I feel that I can have confidence in her. She looks healthy and strong, and would, methinks, best resist the malady, should she take it. I am leaving my assistant here for a time to see to the fumigation of the house. You will please see that his orders are carried out in every respect. I have every hope that if this is done the Plague will not spread further; but much must depend upon yourselves. Do not give way to grief, but encourage each other, and go about with calm minds. I see," he said, pointing to a Bible on the table, "that you know where to go for comfort and strength. The first thing is to carry the boy up to the room that we chose for him."
"I will do that," the father said.
"He had better be left in the blankets in which he is lying. Cover him completely over with them, for, above all, it is necessary that you should not inhale his breath. You had better take the head and your daughter the feet. But first see that the room upstairs is prepared."
In a few minutes the lad was transferred to the upper room, the doctor warning the others not to enter that from which he had been carried until it had been fumigated and sprinkled with vinegar.
"Now," he said to the girl who was to remain with the patient, "keep the window wide open; as there is no fireplace, keep a brazier of charcoal burning near the window. Keep the door shut, and open it only when you have need for something. Give him a portion of this medicine every half hour. Do not lean over him--remember that his breath is a fatal poison. Put a pinch of these powdered spices into the fire every few minutes. Pour this perfume over your handkerchief, and put it over your mouth and nose whenever you approach the bed. He is in a stupor now, poor lad, and I fear that his chance of recovery is very slight; but you must remember that your own life is of value to your parents, and that it behoves you to do all in your power to preserve it, and that if you take the contagion it may spread through the house. We shall hang a sheet, soaked in vinegar, outside the door."
"We could not have a better case for a trial," he said, as he went downstairs and joined Cyril, whom he had bidden wait below. "The people are all calm and sensible, and if we succeed not here, there is small chance of our succeeding elsewhere."
The doctor then gave detailed orders as to fumigating the house, and left. Cyril saw at once that a brazier of charcoal was lighted and carried upstairs, and he called to the girl to come out and fetch it in. As soon as she had done so the sheet was hung over the door. Then he took another brazier, placed it in the room from which the boy had been carried, laid several lumps of sulphur upon it, and then left the room. All the doors of the other rooms were then thrown open, and a quantity of tobacco, spices, and herbs, were burnt on a red-hot iron at the foot of the stairs, until the house was filled with a dense smoke. Half an hour later all the windows were opened.
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