What was that noise? Surely a shout from below. Dinah started, and fled hastily down the staircase. In another moment she heard more plainly.
"Sweet heart, sweet heart, where art thou—oh where art thou?"
It was Lord Desborough's voice; she recognized it with a thrill of gladness. But there was another voice mingling with it which she also knew, and she heard her own name called with equal urgency.
"Dinah! Mistress Dinah! Ah, pray God we have not come too late! Dinah, we are here to save you both! Show yourself, if you be still there. Pray Heaven they have not rushed forth in their fears and perished in the flames!"
In another instant Dinah had rushed to a window, which seemed to be on the same side of the house as the voices—namely, at the back; and, in the narrow court below, she saw Lord Desborough, the Master Builder, her brother, and Reuben, all clustered together, with ladders and ropes, and all calling aloud to those within to show themselves.
"We are here! we are safe! but the fire is well nigh upon us," answered Dinah, who had just been convinced by the rolling of the smoke up the staircase that the lower part of the house was in flames.
"Thank God! thank God! they are still there!" cried Lord Desborough at sight of her; whilst the Master Builder, who was getting a ladder into position in order to run it up to the window where she stood, spoke rapidly and commandingly:
"There is no time to lose. The house is ringed by fire. It will be all we can do to make good our escape. The front of the place is in flames already; we cannot approach that way, and the street is full of waves of fire. Can you make shift to bring out the sick lady to this window? or—"
Dinah vanished the moment she understood what was to be done; but quick as were her movements, Lord Desborough was in the room almost as soon as she was. He must have darted up the ladder almost ere it was in position, and the next moment he had his wife in his arms, straining her passionately to his breast, as she cried in joyful accents:
"O my love, my dear, dear love! methought thou hadst perished in yon fearful fire!"
"It is more fearful than thou dost know, sweet heart, but with Heaven's help we will bear thee safe through it. Shut thine eyes, dear heart, and trust to me. We have won our way thus far in the teeth of many a peril. Pray Heaven we make good our escape in like fashion. We have taken every measure of precaution."
In her great delight at having her husband back safe and sound, and in her state of exceeding weakness, Lady Desborough understood little of the terrible nature of what was happening. She felt her husband's arms round her; she knew he had come to save her from danger; and her trust was so perfect and implicit that it left no room in her heart for anxious fears. She closed her eyes like a tired child, and laid her head upon his shoulder.
He was a strong man, and she had wasted in the fever to a mere shadow, and was always small and slight. He carried her as easily as though she had been an infant; and making straight for the open window, he climbed out upon the ladder and went slowly and steadily down it, whilst those below held it for him.
Dinah watched the descent with eager eyes, unheeding all else. She never thought to look behind her. She had no idea that a mass of flames had suddenly come rushing up the stairway behind her. She was conscious of an overpowering heat and a rush of blinding smoke that caused her to stagger back gasping for breath; but it was only as she actually felt the hot breath of the flames upon her cheek, and saw that the whole house had suddenly become involved in the universal destruction, that she knew what had befallen her, and that death was striving hard to clutch her and make her its prey.
With a short, sharp cry, she staggered towards the open window, but the heat and the smoke made her dizzy. She fell against the frame, and uttered a faint cry for help; and then it seemed to her that the body of flame behind leaped upon her like a live thing. She was conscious for a moment of making a fierce and desperate struggle, and then she knew no more, for black darkness swallowed her up, and her last moment of consciousness was spent in a prayer that the Lord would be with her in death and receive her spirit into His hands.
When next Dinah opened her eyes it was to find a cool wind blowing on her face, and to feel an unwonted motion of the bed (as she supposed it for a moment) on which she was lying. Everything was bright as day about her, but everything seemed to be dyed the hue of blood. The next moment sense and memory returned. She realized that she was lying in the bottom of a boat, which men were rowing with steady strokes. She saw Lord Desborough sitting in the stern, only a few feet away, still clasping his wife in his arms. She knew that her head was lying in somebody's lap, and the next moment she heard a familiar voice saying:
"Ah! she is better now. She has opened her eyes!"
"Rachel!" exclaimed Dinah sitting suddenly up, in spite of a sensation of giddiness which made everything swim before her eyes for a few moments; and Rachel Harmer looked down into her face and smiled.
"Dear Dinah, thank Heaven thou art safe! I hear that thou wert in fearful peril in this burning city; but our good neighbour brought thee forth from the blazing house just as the boards on which thou wert standing gave way beneath thy feet. Oh, how thankful must we be that our home and our dear ones have all been preserved to us, when half the city is lying in ruins!"
Dinah raised herself up still more at these words, and turned her eyes in the direction of the raging flames on the north side of the river; and only then was she able to realize something of the terrible magnitude of that great conflagration.
The boat was hugging the Southwark shore, for indeed it was scarce safe to approach the other, save from motives of dire necessity, and so thickly did sparks and fragments of blazing matter fall hissing into the river for quite half its width, that boats were chary of adventuring themselves much beyond the Southwark bank, save those conveying persons or goods from some of the many wharfs; and these made straight across with their cargoes as soon as they could quit the shore.
"It is terrible! terrible!" gasped Dinah. "It is like the mouth of a volcano! And to think that but a short hour since I was in the midst of it. O sister, tell me how thou comest to be here. Tell me how I was snatched from the flames, for, verily, I thought I was their prey."
Rachel put a trembling arm about her sister's shoulders as she made reply.
"Truly there were those standing by who thought the same. But for the brave expedition of our neighbour there, methinks thou wouldst have perished; but let me tell the tale from the beginning.
"It was some time after dark—I scarce know how the hours have sped through these two strange nights and days, when the day seems almost dimmer than the night. But suddenly there was Janet with us—Janet and my Lord Desborough, come with news that the fire had threatened even St. Paul's, and that he desired help to save his sick wife and thee, Dinah, ere the flames should have reached his abode. Janet told us much of the poor lady's state, and we made all fitting preparation to receive her. But none were at home save the boys, and they had to go forth and find their father and brother, to return with Lord Desborough to help him in his work of rescue. He would fain have got others and not have tarried so long. But all men seem distraught by fear, and would not listen to his promises of reward, nor face the perils either of the journey by water or of an approach to the flaming city."
"Indeed it hath a fearful aspect!" said Dinah thoughtfully, as she turned her eyes upon the blazing mass that had been teeming with life but a few short hours ago. "Hast heard, sister, whether many poor creatures have perished in the flames? Oh, my heart has been sad for them, thinking of all the homeless and all the dead!"
"They say that wondrous few have fallen victims to the fire," said Rachel, "and those that have perished are, for the most part, poor, distraught creatures, whom terror caused to fling away their lives, or like my Lady Scrope, who would not leave her home and preferred to perish with it. It is sad enough to think of the thousands who have lost home and goods in the fire. But had it come before the plague had ravaged the city so fearfully, it must have been tenfold worse. Methinks if the lanes and courts of the city had been crowded as they were then, the loss of life must needs have been far greater."
"But to proceed with thy tale," said Dinah after a pause. "How was it that thou didst adventure thyself with the rescuing party in the boat?"
"Methought that, as there were helpless women to be saved, a woman might find work to do suited more to her than to the men folks. Moreover, I may not deny that I felt a great and mighty desire to see this wonderful fire more nigh. Custom has used us to so much since it commenced that the terror of it has somewhat faded. They were saying that St. Paul's was blazing or like to blaze. I desired to see that awful sight; and see it I did right well, as we pushed the boat into mid-water after landing Lord Desborough and his assistants at Baynard's Castle. They were some half hour gone, and we sat and watched the fire, in some fear truly for them, for the flames seemed devouring everything, but with confidence that they would act with all prudence, and in the full belief that the fire had not yet attacked my lord's house."
"Ah, but it had!" said Dinah with a little shiver. "I would not have believed that flames could sweep on at such a fearful pace. One minute we seemed safe, the next it was seething round us!"
"That is what they all say of this fire. It travels with such an awful rapidity, and will suddenly pounce like a live thing upon some building hitherto unharmed, and in an incredibly short time will have licked it up, if one may so speak, leaving nothing but a mass of smouldering ashes behind."
"I know how it leaps," spoke Dinah, with a little shiver. "I cannot think even now how I came to be saved."
"It was our good neighbour, the Master Builder, who saved thee at risk of his life," answered Rachel with a little sob in her voice. "It was a terrible thing to see, Reuben tells me. He and his father were holding the ladder, and Lord Desborough was bringing down his wife, when all in a moment the house seemed engulfed in one of those great flame waves of which all men are speaking, and they saw you totter and fall, as if it had engulfed thee in its deadly embrace. Lord Desborough was not yet down the ladder, and knew nothing of thy peril, being engrossed in tender care for his wife. Nobody could pass him, nor would the ladder bear a greater weight; but the next moment they saw that our good neighbour had somehow got another ladder against the wall and was rushing up it at a pace that seemed impossible. Reuben ran to steady this ladder, for it was like to fall with the quaking and shaking. And then, just before they heard the fall of the burning floors, he saw the Master Builder coming down bearing his burden safely; and once having both of you safe, there was not a moment to lose in making for the boat. Already the alley was full of blinding flame and choking smoke, and it was all the men could do to carry the pair of you safe to Baynard's Castle, where we took you all on board, but only two minutes before the fire began to blaze there also. See, by looking back thou canst see how fiercely it is burning!
"God alone knows how and where it will be stayed. They say it is spreading northward as furiously as it flies westward. If the city walls stay not its course, all London will surely perish."
Dinah was silent a while, looking seriously before her. Then she lifted her face nearer to her sister's and said:
"Prithee, tell me, has our good friend and neighbour suffered hurt in thus adventuring his life for me?"
"He has not spoken of it, if so be that he has," was the answer; "but the haste and peril and confusion were too great for many words. We shall soon be at home now, and all who need it will receive tendance. I fear me, dear sister, that thou canst not altogether have escaped the cruel embrace of the fire. Thy garments were singed and charred: but this cloak covers thee well and protects thee from the night air."
Dinah moved herself, and felt no hurt. She looked anxiously towards Lord Desborough, as though to ask how it went with his lady. Fortunately the night was warm and calm, save for the light breeze that was enough to fan the fierce flames onward and onward. By day the wind blew hard from the east; but it dropped at night, and this was no small boon to the many homeless creatures who had no roofs to shelter their heads.
Once landed at the Southwark wharf, the party was soon within the sheltering doors of the twin houses. Gertrude came forth to meet them, anxious solicitude written on every line of her face.
The first care was for the poor lady, for whom they had made ready a pleasant and airy room. She was carried thither, and Dinah followed to see what was her condition; and although she was exceedingly weak, she was not unconscious, and so long as she had her husband beside her holding her hand, she seemed to care nothing for the strangeness of her surroundings, or for the perils through which she had passed.
"Verily, I think she will live," said Dinah, when Janet had fed her with some of the strong broth which had been made in readiness. "She looks not greatly worse than when she started up in bed in her own house with the consciousness that there was fire near. I had not thought so tender a frame could go through so much of peril and hardship; but methinks her lord's return was the charm that worked so marvellously for her; for, truly, she had begun to fear him dead."
Satisfied as to her patient, Dinah allowed herself to be taken care of by Gertrude, who insisted on removing her burned garments, and assuring herself that no other hurt had been done. It was wonderful what an escape Dinah's had been, for there was scarcely any mark of fire upon her, only a little redness here and there, but nothing approaching to a severe burn. She declared that she could not go to bed in the midst of so much excitement; and after telling Gertrude of the wonderful nature of her own escape, she added, with a slightly heightened colour:
"I would fain assure myself of the welfare of thy brave father, for it may be that he may have sustained some hurt; and if that be so, we must minister to his needs right speedily. Much depends in burns upon the promptness with which they are dressed."
Gertrude's filial anxiety was at once aroused, as well as her warm admiration for her father's courage and devotion. Together they sought him out and found him in one of the lower rooms, a plate of food before him, which, however, he had hardly touched.
The moment he saw his daughter, who entered a little in advance, he rose hastily and exclaimed:
"Tell me how she does. Has she received any hurt?"
"Lady Desborough?" asked Gertrude; "they all say she—"
"Nay, nay, child, not Lady Desborough! What is Lady Desborough to me? I mean Dinah, that noble, devoted woman, who would not leave her mistress even in the face of deadly peril. Tell me of her! Tell me—"
And here the Master Builder came to a dead stop, and paused for a moment in bashful shamefacedness most unwonted with him, for there was Dinah entering behind his daughter, and surely she must have heard every word.
"Dinah is not hurt, father," said Gertrude, covering the awkward pause with ready tact; "her escape has been truly wonderful. She wishes to know whether you also have escaped; for she tells me that you must have faced a sea of flame in order to get to her."
"Your arm is hurt—is burned!" said Dinah coming forward quickly, her eye detecting that much in a moment. "Gertrude, bring me the oil and the linen. I will bind it up before I do aught else. When the air is kept away the smart is wonderfully allayed."
The burn was rather a severe one, but the Master Builder seemed to feel no pain under the dexterous manipulation of Dinah's gentle, capable hands. When he would have thanked her she gave him a quick look, and made a low-toned answer.
"Nay, nay, I can hear no thanks from thee. Do I not owe thee my life? But for thee I should not be here now. It is I who must thank thee—only I have no words in which to do it."
"Then let us do without words between us for the future, Dinah," said the Master Builder, possessing himself of one of her hands, which was not withdrawn. "If thou hadst perished in the fire, life had had nothing left for me. Does not that show that we belong to each other? I have not much to give, but all I have is thine; and I think thou mightest go the world over and not find a more loving heart!"
CHAPTER XX. THE FLAMES STAYED.
"Something must be done! The whole city must not perish! It is a shame that so much destruction has already taken place. What are the city magnates about that they stand idle, wringing their hands, whilst all London burns about their ears?"
Young Lord Desborough was the speaker. He had risen in some excitement from the table where he had been seated at breakfast, for James Harmer had just come in with the news that the fire was still burning with the same fierceness as of old; that it had spread beyond the city walls, Ludgate and Newgate having both been reduced to a heap of smoking ruins; that it was spreading northward and westward as fiercely as ever; whilst even in an easterly direction it was creeping slowly and insidiously along, so that men began to whisper that the Tower itself would eventually fall a prey.
"Nay, now, but that must not, that shall not be!" cried Lord Desborough in great excitement. "Shame enough for London that St. Paul's is gone! Are we to lose every ancient building of historic fame? What would his Majesty say were that to perish also? Zounds! methinks my Lord Mayor must surely be sleeping. In good King Henry the Eighth's reign his head would have been struck off ere now.
"Thou hast seen him, thou sayest, good Master Harmer. What does he purpose to do? Surely he cannot desire all the city to perish. Yet, methinks, that will be what will happen, if indeed it be not already accomplished."
"He is like one distraught," answered Harmer. "I went to him yesterday, and I have been again at break of day this morn. I have told him how we saved the bridge, and have begged powers of him to effect great breaches at various points to stay the ravages of the flames; but he will do naught but say he must consider, he must consider."
"And whilst he considers, London burns to ashes!" cried the young nobleman in impetuous scorn. "A plague upon his consideration and his reflections! We want a man who can act in times like these. Beshrew me if I go not to his Majesty myself and tell him the whole truth. Methinks if he but knew the dire need for bold measures, London might even now be saved—so much of it as yet remains. If the Lord Mayor is worse than a child at such a crisis, let us to his Majesty and see what he will say!"
"A good thought, in truth," answered Harmer thoughtfully. "But surely his Majesty knows?"
"Ay, after a fashion doubtless; but it takes some little time to rouse the lion spirit in him. He is wont to laugh and jest somewhat too much, and dally with news, whilst he throws the dice with his courtiers, or passes a compliment to some fair lady. He takes life somewhat too lightly does my lord the King, until he be thoroughly roused. But the blood of kings runs in his veins; and let him but be awakened to the need for action, then he can act as a sovereign, indeed."
"Then, good my lord, in the name of all those poor townsfolk whose houses are standing yet, let the King be roused to a full sense of the dire peril!" cried Harmer, in almost passionate tones; "for if some one come not to their help, I trow there will not be a house within or without the city that will not be reduced to ashes ere two more days have passed."
"It is terrible to think of," said the Master Builder, who was taking his meal with the young lord, by his special desire, both having slept late into the morning after the exertions of the previous night. "If you, my lord, can get speech of the King, and show him the things you have seen and suffered, methinks that that should be enough to rouse him. And doubtless you could get speech of his Majesty without trouble, whereas a humble citizen might sue for hours in vain."
"Yes, I trow that I could obtain an audience without much ado," answered Lord Desborough, though he gave rather a doubtful glance at his soiled and fire-blackened garments, which were all he had in the world since the burning of his house. "But I would have you go with me also, good Masters Harmer and Mason; for it was your prompt methods that saved the bridge, and perchance all Southwark too. I would have you with me to add your testimony to mine.
"Master Harmer, your name was spoken often in the time of the raging of the plague, as that of a brave and loyal citizen. It is likely his Majesty may bear it still in mind, and it will give weight to any testimony you have to offer."
Harmer and the Master Builder exchanged glances. They had not thought to appear before royalty, but they were willing to do anything that might be for the good of the town; and whilst the one hurried away to procure a wherry to take them as near as might be to Whitehall, the other supplied, from the stores in the shop, a new court suit to young Lord Desborough befitting his rank and station.
Lady Desborough was going on better than any had dared to hope. Her husband stole in to look at her before his departure, and was rewarded by a sweet and tranquil smile. He stole towards the bedside and kissed her, telling her he was going to see the King; and she, knowing that his duties called him often to Court, asked no question, and seemed to remember nothing of the fire, but only bade him return anon to her when he could.
Reuben was going also in the boat, and some of the men as rowers. Gertrude had donned her best cloak and holiday gown, and asked wistfully of her husband:
"Prithee take me also; I will not be in your way. But I would fain see something of this great sight of which all men talk, and they say it may best be seen from the river."
"Come then, sweet heart, so as thou dost not ask to run into peril," said Reuben; and by noon the party were well on their way, their progress being somewhat slow, as the tide was running out, and there was a considerable press of craft on the river, which was the only safe roadway now from one part of the burned city to the other.
As boats passed each other, items of news were exchanged between the occupants, and every tale added some detail of horror to the last. Bridewell was in flames now, and many said Newgate also. Some averred that the prisoners had been left locked up in their cells to perish miserably, others that they had all been released, and that London would be swarming with felons and criminals, who would lead the van in the many acts of plunder which were already being perpetrated. What might be the truth of all these rumours none could say; but one thing could at least be gathered, which was that the fire was still raging unchecked, and that nothing had as yet been done to stay its progress.
When the boat had reached its destination, Lord Desborough courteously invited Gertrude and her husband to accompany the deputation. They had not anticipated any such thing; but curiosity overcame every other feeling, and before another half hour had passed they found themselves absolutely within the precincts of Whitehall, passing along corridors where fine-feathered gallants and royal lackeys and pages walked hither and thither, and where their appearance excited some mirthful curiosity, although nobody spoke openly to them.
Lord Desborough was challenged on all hands, but gave only brief replies. He would tell no word of his mission; and presently he led his companions into a small anteroom, which was quite empty, and charged the servant, who had accompanied them thus far, not to permit any one to enter so long as they were there. Then he hurried away to seek audience of the King, but promised to join his companions again in as brief a time as possible.
"Belike it will be long enough ere we see him again," said Harmer, who almost regretted having come when there might be work to do elsewhere. "The ear of royalty is often besieged in vain, or at least it is a case of hours before an audience can be obtained. Yon pleasure-loving monarch will care but little if all London burn, so as he has his ladies and his courtiers about him to make merry by day and by night!"
By which sentiment it may be gathered that a good deal of the Puritan sternness of character and distrust of royalty lingered in the mind of James Harmer, although in this case he was not destined to be a true prophet.
Half an hour may have passed, certainly not more, before a sound of approaching voices from the inner room, to which this one was but the antechamber, announced the approach of some persons. The listeners within thought they distinguished the tones of Lord Desborough's voice; nor were they mistaken, for next moment, when the doors were flung wide open, and the party instinctively rose to their feet, it was to see the young noble approaching in earnest talk with a very dark, sallow man in an immense black periwig, whom in a moment they knew to be the King himself. He was followed by a still darker man, less richly dressed than himself, but still very fine and gay, who was so like the King as to be recognized instantly for the Duke of York.
The little group made deep obeisance as the royal party came forward, and received in return a carelessly gracious nod from the King, who flung himself into a seat, and looked at Lord Desborough.
"His Majesty would know from you, good Masters Harmer and Mason, what you have seen with your own eyes of this fire, and in particular how the flames were stayed upon the bridge by your efforts. He has heard so many contradictory stories from those who are less well informed, that he will have the tale from first to last by worthy citizens who are to be trusted to speak truth."
There was no mistaking the ring of truth in the narratives which were told by the Master Builder and his neighbour.
The King listened almost in silence, but when he did ask a question it was shrewd and pertinent in its import. The dark face was lacking neither in force nor in power; and if the eyes of royalty did, from time to time, stray towards the fair face of Gertrude, who followed her father's tale with breathless interest, his talk was all of the means which must forthwith be taken for the arrest of the fire, and from the sparkle in his eyes it was plain that he was aroused at last to some purpose.
"Good citizens," he said at length, "since our worthy Mayor has proved himself a fool and a poltroon, I must needs use such tools as I have under my hand.
"Bring me pen and paper, knave!" he cried to a servant who was in attendance; and when the man returned, the King hastily scrawled a few lines upon the paper, and gave it into the hands of the citizens.
"My good fellows," he said, in his easy and familiar way, "take there your authority under my hand, and go and save the Tower. The Tower must not and shall not perish. Pull down, blow up, sacrifice as you will, but save you the Tower. As for me, I will forth instantly and see what may be done in this quarter. The people shall not say that their King cared no whit whilst the whole city was burned to ashes. Would I had known more before, but each messenger brought news that something was about to be done.
"About to be done, forsooth! that is ever the way. Zounds! I would like to pitch yon cowardly Mayor and his whole corporation into the heart of the flames! And if something be not done to save what remains of the city, I will make good my word!"
Then, with a complete change of manner, he rose and came forward to the corner where Gertrude stood shrinking and quivering, half frightened by this strange man, yet impressed by some indescribably kingly quality in him that fascinated her imagination in spite of all she had heard of him.
"Fair mistress," he said gallantly, "hast thou nothing to ask? These good citizens have all had their word to say. Am I not to hear the music of thy voice also?"
Gertrude, startled and abashed, dropped her eyes, and knew not what to say; but something in the King's glance compelled an answer of some kind, and a sudden inspiration flashed upon her.
"Sire," she said, in a sweet tremulous voice, her colour coming and going in her cheek in a most becoming fashion, "may I ask a boon of your gracious Majesty?"
"A hundred if thou wilt, fair mistress; there is nothing so sweet to me as obeying the behests of beauty."
She shrank a little from his glance, and her grasp tightened upon her husband's arm; but she took courage, and went on bravely:
"I have but one boon to crave, gracious Sire. For myself I have all that heart of woman could crave; but there is still one small trouble in my life. My dear father, who stands before you now, was well-nigh ruined a year ago in that fearful visitation of the plague. By trade he is a builder, and right well does he know his business. After this terrible fire there must needs be much building to do ere the city can be dwelt in. May it please your gracious Majesty to grant to him a portion of the work, that he may retrieve his lost fortune, and regain the place which he once held amongst his fellow citizens!"
"It shall be done, mistress, it shall be done!" answered the King, with a smile at the girl and a friendly look towards the Master Builder. "Marry, it is a good thought too; for we shall want honest and skilful men to rebuild us our city.
"Thy prayer is heard and granted, fair lady. I will not forget thy petition. I will see to it myself. Farewell, sweet heart! think always kindly of your King," and he saluted her upon the cheek, after the fashion of the day.
Then turning briskly to the men he said, in a very different tone, "Now to our respective tasks, good sirs. We have our work cut out before us this day. Let it not be our fault if, ere the night fall upon us, the spreading flames, which are devastating this city, are stopped, and further destruction arrested."
With a friendly nod, and with a smile to Gertrude, the King went as suddenly as he came. Lord Desborough lingered only a few moments to say, in hurried tones:
"Thank Heaven his Majesty is roused at last! Now, indeed, something will be accomplished. I must remain with him. I shall have my work, doubtless, somewhere, as you have yours in the east. Fare you well. We shall meet again at nightfall; and pray Heaven the fire may by that time be stayed in its ravages!"
Need it be told here how that fire was stayed? how the King and the Duke, his brother, rode in person at the head of a gallant band of men-at-arms and soldiers, and directed those measures—long urged upon the Mayor, but never efficiently carried out—of blowing up and pulling down large blocks of houses in the path of the flames, so that their ravages were stayed? It was the King himself who saved Temple Bar and a part of Fleet Street, the fire being checked close to St. Dunstan's in the west. Lord Desborough superintended like operations at Pye corner, hard by Smithfield; whilst the good citizens, Harmer and Mason, took boat to the Tower as fast as possible, and with the assistance of the governor, and by the mandate of the King, checked the slowly advancing flames just as they had reached the very walls of the fortress itself.
The great and terrible fire was stayed ere nightfall. True, the flames smouldered and even raged in the burning area for another day and night, but the spread of them was checked. The citizens, recovering from their apathetic despair, and encouraged by the example of their King, no longer stood trembling by, but joined together to imitate his actions and sacrifice a little property to save much.
"Thank God, thank God, the peril is at an end! The very flames have glutted themselves, and are sinking down into the smouldering heaps of the ruins they have wrought!" said Reuben, coming back on the Thursday evening from an expedition of inquiry and discovery. "Terrible indeed is the sight, but the worst is now known. Four hundred streets, ninety churches—if what I heard be true—and thirteen thousand houses—fifteen wards destroyed, and eight more half burned! Was ever such a fire known before? Yet can we say, Heaven be praised that it has spread no further. Verily, it seemed once as though nothing would escape!"
Gertrude, too, was full of excitement.
"Father has had a summons from the Lord Mayor. He was urgently sent for soon after thou hadst gone. O Reuben, dost think the King has remembered my words to him? dost think he has put in a plea for my father when the city is rebuilt?"
"It is like enough," answered Reuben; "they say his Majesty does not forget when his word is plighted. He will be a rich man if he be employed by the corporation. And how goes the sick lady?"
"So well that my lord has taken her away by boat to a villa hard by Lambeth, where she will be quieter and more at rest than she could be here. Janet and Dorcas have gone with her as her maids, her own servants having fled hither and thither. She would fain have had Dinah, too, but Dinah was not willing."
Husband and wife smiled a little at each other, and then Reuben said:
"Thou, wilt have a stepmother soon, little wife. How wilt thou like that?"
"Well enow, so it be Dinah," answered Gertrude, smiling; "but there is the father coming in. Prithee, let me run to him and hear his news!"
Others had seen the approach of the familiar figure, and there was quite a little group around the door of the two houses to ask news of the Master Builder as he approached. His face wore a beaming look, and in reply to the many questions showered upon him he answered gaily:
"In truth, good friends, if the plague ruined me, it seems as though the fire was to set me up again. Here is my Lord Mayor, prompted thereto by his gracious Majesty the King, giving into my hands the task of seeing to the rebuilding of Bridge Ward, Within, Billingsgate Ward, Dowgate Ward, and Candlewick Ward. Four wards to build! why, my fortune is made!"
He gave one quick look at Dinah, and then took her hand in his, all looking smilingly on the while.
"Thou didst not repulse me when I was but a poor and broken man," he said; "but, please Heaven, before many months have passed over my head it will be no mockery to speak of me as Master Builder once again!"