When London Burned by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXI. London in Flames
The sailors laughed and joked as they rowed away from the Fleet, but the old boatswain shook his head.
"We shall have to be careful, Sir Cyril," he said. "It is like a small cur barking at the heels of a bull--it is good fun enough for a bit, but when the bull turns, perchance the dog will find himself thrown high in the air."
Cyril nodded. He himself considered Prince Rupert's order to be beyond all reason, and given only in the heat of his anger at De Ruyter having thus escaped him, and felt that it was very likely to cost the lives of all on board the Fan Fan. However, there was nothing to do but to carry it out. It seemed to him that the boatswain's simile was a very apt one, and that, although the spectacle of the Fan Fan worrying the great Dutch battle-ship might be an amusing one to the English spectators, it was likely to be a very serious adventure for her.
De Ruyter's ship, which was in the rear of all the other Dutch vessels, was but a mile distant when the Fan Fan started, and as the wind was so light that it scarce filled her sails, the yacht approached her rapidly.
"We are within half a mile now, your honour," the boatswain said. "I should say we had better go no nearer if we don't want to be blown out of the water."
"Yes; I think we may as well stop rowing now, and get the guns to work. There are only those two cannon in her stern ports which can touch us here. She will scarcely come up in the wind to give us a broadside. She is moving so slowly through the water that it would take her a long time to come round, and De Ruyter would feel ashamed to bring his great flag-ship round to crush such a tiny foe."
The boatswain went forward to the guns, round which the men, after laying in their oars, clustered in great glee.
"Now," he said, "you have got to make those two guns in the stern your mark. Try and send your shots through the port-holes. It will be a waste to fire them at the hull, for the balls would not penetrate the thick timber that she is built of. Remember, the straighter you aim the more chance there is that the Dutch won't hit us. Men don't stop to aim very straight when they are expecting a shot among them every second. We will fire alternately, and one gun is not to fire until the other is loaded again. I will lay the first gun myself."
It was a good shot, and the crew cheered as they saw the splinters fly at the edge of the port-hole. Shot after shot was fired with varying success.
The Dutch made no reply, and seemed to ignore the presence of their tiny foe. The crew were, for the most part, busy aloft repairing damages, and after half an hour's firing, without eliciting a reply, the boatswain went aft to Cyril, and suggested that they should now aim at the spars.
"A lucky shot might do a good deal of damage, sir," he said. "The weather is fine enough at present, but there is no saying when a change may come, and if we could weaken one of the main spars it might be the means of her being blown ashore, should the wind spring up in the right direction."
Cyril assented, and fire was now directed at the masts. A few ropes were cut away, but no serious damage was effected until a shot struck one of the halliard blocks of the spanker, and the sail at once ran down.
"It has taken a big bit out of the mast, too," the boatswain called exultingly to Cyril. "I think that will rouse the Dutchmen up."
A minute later it was evident that the shot had at least had that effect. Two puffs of smoke spirted out from the stern of the Dutch flagship, and, simultaneously with the roar of the guns, came the hum of two heavy shot flying overhead. Delighted at having excited the Dutchmen's wrath at last, the crew of the Fan Fan took off their hats and gave a loud cheer, and then, more earnestly than before, settled down to work; their guns aimed now, as at first, at the port-holes. Four or five shots were discharged from each of the little guns before the Dutch were ready again. Then came the thundering reports. The Fan Fan's topmast was carried away by one of the shot, but the other went wide. Two or three men were told to cut away the wreckage, and the rest continued their fire. One of the next shots of the enemy was better directed. It struck the deck close to the foot of the mast, committed great havoc in Cyril's cabin, and passed out through the stern below the water-line. Cyril leapt down the companion as he heard the crash, shouting to the boatswain to follow him. The water was coming through the hole in a great jet. Cyril seized a pillow and--stuffed it into the shot-hole, being drenched from head to foot in the operation. One of the sailors had followed the boatswain, and Cyril called him to his assistance.
"Get out the oars at once," he said to the boatswain. "Another shot like this and she will go down. Get a piece cut off a spar and make a plug. There is no holding this pillow in its place, and the water comes in fast still."
The sailor took Cyril's post while he ran up on deck and assisted in cutting the plug; this was roughly shaped to the size of the hole, and then driven in. It stopped the rush of the water, but a good deal still leaked through.
By the time this was done the Fan Fan had considerably increased her distance from De Ruyter. Four or five more shots were fired from the Dutch ship. The last of these struck the mast ten feet above the deck, bringing it down with a crash. Fortunately, none of the crew were hurt, and, dropping the oars, they hauled the mast alongside, cut the sail from its fastening to the hoops and gaff, and then severed the shrouds and allowed the mast to drift away, while they again settled themselves to the oars. Although every man rowed his hardest, the Fan Fan was half full of water before she reached the Fleet, which was two miles astern of them when they first began to row.
"Well done, Fan Fan!" Prince Rupert shouted, as the little craft came alongside. "Have you suffered any damage besides your spars? I see you are low in the water."
"We were shot through our stern, sir; we put in a plug, but the water comes in still. Will you send a carpenter on board? For I don't think she will float many minutes longer unless we get the hole better stopped."
The Prince gave some orders to an officer standing by him. The latter called two or three sailors and bade them bring some short lengths of thick hawser, while a strong party were set to reeve tackle to the mainyard. As soon as the hawsers, each thirty feet in length, were brought, they were dropped on to the deck of the Fan Fan, and the officer told the crew to pass them under her, one near each end, and to knot the hawsers. By the time this was done, two strong tackles were lowered and fixed to the hawsers, and the crew ordered to come up on to the ship. The tackles were then manned and hauled on by strong parties, and the Fan Fan was gradually raised. The boatswain went below again and knocked out the plug, and, as the little yacht was hoisted up, the water ran out of it. As soon as the hole was above the water-level, the tackle at the bow was gradually slackened off until she lay with her fore-part in the water, which came some distance up her deck. The carpenter then slung himself over the stern, and nailed, first a piece of tarred canvas, and then a square of plank, over the hole. Then the stern tackle was eased off, and the Fan Fan floated on a level keel. Her crew went down to her again, and, in half an hour, pumped her free of water.
By this time, the results of the victory were known. On the English side, the Resolution was the only ship lost, she having been burnt by a Dutch fire-ship; three English captains, and about three hundred men were killed. On the other hand, the Dutch lost twenty ships, four admirals, a great many of their captains, and some four thousand men. It was, indeed, the greatest and most complete victory gained throughout the war. Many of the British ships had suffered a good deal, that which carried the Duke's flag most of all, for it had been so battered in the fight with De Ruyter that the Duke and Prince Rupert had been obliged to leave her, and to hoist their flags upon another man-of-war.
The next morning the Fleet sailed to Schonevelt, which was the usual rendezvous of the Dutch Fleet, and there remained some time, altogether undisturbed by the enemy. The Fan Fan was here thoroughly repaired.
On July 29th they sailed for Ulic, where they arrived on August 7th, the wind being contrary.
Learning that there was a large fleet of merchantmen lying between the islands of Ulic and Schelling, guarded by but two men-of-war, and that there were rich magazines of goods on these islands, it was determined to attack them. Four small frigates, of a slight draught of water, and five fire-ships, were selected for the attack, together with the boats of the Fleet, manned by nine hundred men.
On the evening of the 8th, Cyril was ordered to go, in the Fan Fan, to reconnoitre the position of the Dutch. He did not sail until after nightfall, and, on reaching the passage between the islands, he lowered his sails, got out his oars, and drifted with the tide silently down through the Dutch merchant fleet, where no watch seemed to be kept, and in the morning carried the news to Sir Robert Holmes, the commander of the expedition, who had anchored a league from the entrance.
Cyril had sounded the passage as he went through, and it was found that two of the frigates could not enter it. These were left at the anchorage, and, on arriving at the mouth of the harbour, the Tiger, Sir Robert Holmes's flagship, was also obliged to anchor, and he came on board the Fan Fan, on which he hoisted his flag. The captains of the other ships came on board, and it was arranged that the Pembroke, which had but a small draught of water, should enter at once with the five fire-ships.
The attack was completely successful. Two of the fire-ships grappled with the men-of-war and burnt them, while three great merchantmen were destroyed by the others. Then the boats dashed into the fleet, and, with the exception of four or five merchantmen and four privateers, who took refuge in a creek, defended by a battery, the whole of the hundred and seventy merchantmen, the smallest of which was not less than 200 tons burden, and all heavily laden, were burned.
The next day, Sir Robert Holmes landed eleven companies of troops on the Island of Schonevelt and burnt Bandaris, its principal town, with its magazines and store-houses, causing a loss to the Dutch, according to their own admission, of six million guilders. This, and the loss of the great Fleet, inflicted a very heavy blow upon the commerce of Holland. The Fan Fan had been hit again by a shot from one of the batteries, and, on her rejoining the Fleet, Prince Rupert determined to send her to England so that she could be thoroughly repaired and fitted out again. Cyril's orders were to take her to Chatham, and to hand her over to the dockyard authorities.
"I do not think the Dutch will come out and fight us again this autumn, Sir Cyril, so you can take your ease in London as it pleases you. We are now halfway through August, and it will probably be at least a month after your arrival before the Fan Fan is fit for sea again. It may be a good deal longer than that, for they are busy upon the repairs of the ships sent home after the battle, and will hardly take any hands off these to put on to the Fan Fan. In October we shall all be coming home again, so that, until next spring, it is hardly likely that there will be aught doing."
Cyril accordingly returned to London. The wind was contrary, and it was not until the last day of August that he dropped anchor in the Medway. After spending a night at Chatham, he posted up to London the next morning, and, finding convenient chambers in the Savoy, he installed himself there, and then proceeded to the house of the Earl of Wisbech, to whom he was the bearer of a letter from his son. Finding that the Earl and his family were down at his place near Sevenoaks, he went into the City, and spent the evening at Captain Dave's, having ordered his servant to pack a small valise, and bring it with the two horses in the morning. He had gone to bed but an hour when he was awoke by John Wilkes knocking at his door.
"There is a great fire burning not far off, Sir Cyril. A man who ran past told me it was in Pudding Lane, at the top of Fish Street. The Captain is getting up, and is going out to see it; for, with such dry weather as we have been having, there is no saying how far it may go."
Cyril sprang out of his bed and dressed. Captain Dave, accustomed to slip on his clothes in a hurry, was waiting for him, and, with John Wilkes, they sallied out. There was a broad glare of light in the sky, and the bells of many of the churches were ringing out the fire-alarm. As they passed, many people put their heads out from windows and asked where the fire was. In five minutes they approached the scene. A dozen houses were blazing fiercely, while, from those near, the inhabitants were busily removing their valuables. The Fire Companies, with their buckets, were already at work, and lines of men were formed down to the river and were passing along buckets from hand to hand. Well-nigh half the water was spilt, however, before it arrived at the fire, and, in the face of such a body of flame, it seemed to make no impression whatever.
"They might as well attempt to pump out a leaky ship with a child's squirt," the Captain said. "The fire will burn itself out, and we must pray heaven that the wind drops altogether; 'tis not strong, but it will suffice to carry the flames across these narrow streets. 'Tis lucky that it is from the east, so there is little fear that it will travel in our direction."
They learnt that the fire had begun in the house of Faryner, the King's baker, though none knew how it had got alight. It was not long before the flames leapt across the lane, five or six houses catching fire almost at the same moment. A cry of dismay broke from the crowd, and the fright of the neighbours increased. Half-clad women hurried from their houses, carrying their babes, and dragging their younger children out. Men staggered along with trunks of clothing and valuables. Many wrung their hands helplessly, while the City Watch guarded the streets leading to Pudding Lane, so as to prevent thieves and vagabonds from taking advantage of the confusion to plunder.
With great rapidity the flames spread from house to house. A portion of Fish Street was already invaded, and the Church of St. Magnus in danger. The fears of the people increased in proportion to the advance of the conflagration. The whole neighbourhood was now alarmed, and, in all the streets round, people were beginning to remove their goods. The river seemed to be regarded by all as the safest place of refuge. The boats from the various landing-places had already come up, and these were doing a thriving trade by taking the frightened people, with what goods they carried, to lighters and ships moored in the river.
The lines of men passing buckets had long since broken up, it being too evident that their efforts were not of the slightest avail. The wind had, in the last two hours, rapidly increased in strength, and was carrying the burning embers far and wide.
Cyril and his companions had, after satisfying their first curiosity, set to work to assist the fugitives, by aiding them to carry down their goods to the waterside. Cyril was now between eighteen and nineteen, and had grown into a powerful, young fellow, having, since he recovered from the Plague, grown fast and widened out greatly. He was able to shoulder heavy trunks, and to carry them down without difficulty.
By six o'clock, however, all were exhausted by their labours, and Captain Dave's proposal, that they should go back and get breakfast and have a wash, was at once agreed to.
At this time the greater part of Fish Street was in flames, the Church of St. Magnus had fallen, and the flames had spread to many of the streets and alleys running west. The houses on the Bridge were blazing.
"Well, father, what is the news?" Nellie exclaimed, as they entered. "What have you been doing? You are all blackened, like the men who carry out the coals from the ships. I never saw such figures."
"We have been helping people to carry their goods down to the water, Nellie. The news is bad. The fire is a terrible one."
"That we can see, father. Mother and I were at the window for hours after you left, and the whole sky seemed ablaze. Do you think that there is any danger of its coming here?"
"The wind is taking the flames the other way, Nellie, but in spite of that I think that there is danger. The heat is so great that the houses catch on this side, and we saw, as we came back, that it had travelled eastwards. Truly, I believe that if the wind keeps on as it is at present, the whole City will be destroyed. However, we will have a wash first and then some breakfast, of which we are sorely in need. Then we can talk over what had best be done."
Little was said during breakfast. The apprentices had already been out, and so excited were they at the scenes they had witnessed that they had difficulty in preserving their usual quiet and submissive demeanour. Captain Dave was wearied with his unwonted exertions. Mrs. Dowsett and Nellie both looked pale and anxious, and Cyril and John Wilkes were oppressed by the terrible scene of destruction and the widespread misery they had witnessed.
When breakfast was over, Captain Dave ordered the apprentices on no account to leave the premises. They were to put up the shutters at once, and then to await orders.
"What do you think we had better do, Cyril?" he said, when the boys had left the room.
"I should say that you had certainly better go on board a ship, Captain Dave. There is time to move now quietly, and to get many things taken on board, but if there were a swift change of wind the flames would come down so suddenly that you would have no time to save anything. Do you know of a captain who would receive you?"
"Certainly; I know of half a dozen."
"Then the first thing is to secure a boat before they are all taken up."
"I will go down to the stairs at once."
"Then I should say, John, you had better go off with Captain Dave, and, as soon as he has arranged with one of the captains, come back to shore. Let the waterman lie off in the stream, for if the flames come this way there will be a rush for boats, and people will not stop to ask to whom they belong. It will be better still to take one of the apprentices with you, leave him at the stairs till you return, and then tie up to a ship till we hail him."
"That will be the best plan," Captain Dave said. "Now, wife, you and Nellie and the maid had best set to work at once packing up all your best clothes and such other things as you may think most valuable. We shall have time, I hope, to make many trips."
"While you are away, I will go along the street and see whether the fire is making any way in this direction," Cyril said. "Of course if it's coming slowly you will have time to take away a great many things. And we may even hope that it may not come here at all."
Taking one of the apprentices, Captain Dave and John at once started for the waterside, while Cyril made his way westward.
Already, people were bringing down their goods from most of the houses. Some acted as if they believed that if they took the goods out of the houses they would be safe, and great piles of articles of all kinds almost blocked the road. Weeping women and frightened children sat on these piles as if to guard them. Some stood at their doors wringing their hands helplessly; others were already starting eastward laden with bundles and boxes, occasionally looking round as if to bid farewell to their homes. Many of the men seemed even more confused and frightened than the women, running hither and thither without purpose, shouting, gesticulating, and seeming almost distraught with fear and grief.
Cyril had not gone far when he saw that the houses on both sides of the street, at the further end, were already in flames. He was obliged to advance with great caution, for many people were recklessly throwing goods of all kinds from the windows, regardless of whom they might fall upon, and without thought of how they were to be carried away. He went on until close to the fire, and stood for a time watching. The noise was bewildering. Mingled with the roar of the flames, the crackling of woodwork, and the heavy crashes that told of the fall of roofs or walls, was the clang of the alarm-bells, shouts, cries, and screams. The fire spread steadily, but with none of the rapidity with which he had seen it fly along from house to house on the other side of the conflagration. The houses, however, were largely composed of wood. The balconies generally caught first, and the fire crept along under the roofs, and sometimes a shower of tiles, and a burst of flames, showed that it had advanced there, while the lower portion of the house was still intact.
"Is it coming, Cyril?" Mrs. Dowsett asked, when he returned.
"It is coming steadily," he said, "and can be stopped by nothing short of a miracle. Can I help you in any way?"
"No," she said; "we have packed as many things as can possibly be carried. It is well that your things are all at your lodging, Cyril, and beyond the risk of this danger."
"It would have mattered little about them," he said. "I could have replaced them easily enough. That is but a question of money. And now, in the first place, I will get the trunks and bundles you have packed downstairs. That will save time."
Assisted by the apprentice and Nellie, Cyril got all the things downstairs.
"How long have we, do you think?" Nellie asked.
"I should say that in three hours the fire will be here," he said. "It may be checked a little at the cross lanes; but I fear that three hours is all we can hope for."
Just as they had finished taking down the trunks, Captain Dave and John Wilkes arrived.
"I have arranged the affair," the former said. "My old friend, Dick Watson, will take us in his ship; she lies but a hundred yards from the stairs. Now, get on your mantle and hood, Nellie, and bring your mother and maid down."
The three women were soon at the foot of the stairs, and Mrs. Dowsett's face showed signs of tears; but, though pale, she was quiet and calm, and the servant, a stout wench, had gained confidence from her mistress's example. As soon as they were ready, the three men each shouldered a trunk. The servant and the apprentice carried one between them. Mrs. Dowsett and her daughter took as many bundles as they could carry. It was but five minutes' walk down to the stairs. The boat was lying twenty yards out in the stream, fastened up to a lighter, with the apprentice and waterman on board. It came at once alongside, and in five minutes they reached the Good Venture. As soon as the women had ascended the accommodation ladder, some sailors ran down and helped to carry up the trunks.
"Empty them all out in the cabin," Captain Dave said to his wife; "we will take them back with us."
As soon as he had seen the ladies into the cabin, Captain Watson called his son Frank, who was his chief mate, and half a dozen of his men. These carried the boxes, as fast as they were emptied, down into the boat.
"We will all go ashore together," he said to Captain Dave. "I was a fool not to think of it before. We will soon make light work of it."
As soon as they reached the house, some of the sailors were sent off with the remaining trunks and bundles, while the others carried upstairs those they had brought, and quickly emptied into them the remaining contents of the drawers and linen press. So quickly and steadily did the work go on, that no less than six trips were made to the Good Venture in the next three hours, and at the end of that time almost everything portable had been carried away, including several pieces of valuable furniture, and a large number of objects brought home by Captain Dave from his various voyages. The last journey, indeed, was devoted to saving some of the most valuable contents of the store. Captain Dave, delighted at having saved so much, would not have thought of taking more, but Captain Watson would not hear of this.
"There is time for one more trip, old friend," he said, "and there are many things in your store that are worth more than their weight in silver. I will take my other two hands this time, and, with the eight men and our five selves, we shall be able to bring a good load."
The trunks were therefore this time packed with ship's instruments, and brass fittings of all kinds, to the full weight that could be carried. All hands then set to work, and, in a very short time, a great proportion of the portable goods were carried from the store-house into an arched cellar beneath it. By the time that they were ready to start there were but six houses between them and the fire.
"I wish we had another three hours before us," Captain Watson said. "It goes to one's heart to leave all this new rope and sail cloth, good blocks, and other things, to be burnt."
"There have been better things than that burnt to-day, Watson. Few men have saved as much as I have, thanks to your assistance and that of these stout sailors of yours. Why, the contents of these twelve boxes are worth as much as the whole of the goods remaining."
The sailors' loads were so heavy that they had to help each other to get them upon their shoulders, and the other five were scarcely less weighted; and, short as was the distance, all had to rest several times on the way to the stairs, setting their burdens upon window-sills, or upon boxes scattered in the streets. One of the ship's boats had, after the first trip, taken the place of the light wherry, but even this was weighted down to the gunwale when the men and the goods were all on board. After the first two trips, the contents of the boxes had been emptied on deck, and by the time the last arrived the three women had packed away in the empty cabins all the clothing, linen, and other articles, that had been taken below. Captain Watson ordered a stiff glass of grog to be given to each of the sailors, and then went down with the others into the main cabin, where the steward had already laid the table for a meal, and poured out five tumblers of wine.
"I have not had so tough a job since I was before the mast," he said. "What say you, Captain Dave?"
"It has been a hard morning's work, indeed, Watson, and, in truth, I feel fairly spent. But though weary in body I am cheerful in heart. It seemed to me at breakfast-time that we should save little beyond what we stood in, and now I have rescued well-nigh everything valuable that I have. I should have grieved greatly had I lost all those mementos that it took me nigh thirty years to gather, and those pieces of furniture that belonged to my father I would not have lost for any money. Truly, it has been a noble salvage."
Mrs. Dowsett and Nellie now joined them. They had quite recovered their spirits, and were delighted at the unexpected rescue of so many things precious to them, and Captain Watson was overwhelmed by their thanks for what he had done.
After the meal was over they sat quietly talking for a time, and then Cyril proposed that they should row up the river and see what progress the fire was making above the Bridge. Mrs. Dowsett, however, was too much fatigued by her sleepless night and the troubles and emotions of the morning to care about going. Captain Dave said that he was too stiff to do anything but sit quiet and smoke a pipe, and that he would superintend the getting of their things on deck a little ship-shape. Nellie embraced the offer eagerly, and young Watson, who was a well-built and handsome fellow, with a pleasant face and manner, said that he would go, and would take a couple of hands to row. The tide had just turned to run up when they set out. Cyril asked the first mate to steer, and he sat on one side of him and Nellie on the other.
"You will have to mind your oars, lads," Frank Watson said. "The river is crowded with boats."
They crossed over to the Southwark side, as it would have been dangerous to pass under the arches above which the houses were burning. The flames, however, had not spread right across the bridge, for the houses were built only over the piers, and the openings at the arches had checked the flames, and at these points numbers of men were drawing water in buckets and throwing it over the fronts of the houses, or passing them, by ropes, to other men on the roofs, which were kept deluged with water. Hundreds of willing hands were engaged in the work, for the sight of the tremendous fire on the opposite bank filled people with terror lest the flames should cross the bridge and spread to the south side of the river. The warehouses and wharves on the bank were black with spectators, who looked with astonishment and awe at the terrible scene of destruction.
It was not until they passed under the bridge that the full extent of the conflagration was visible. The fire had made its way some distance along Thames Street, and had spread far up into the City. Gracechurch Street and Lombard Street were in flames, and indeed the fire seemed to have extended a long distance further; but the smoke was so dense, that it was difficult to make out the precise point that it had reached. The river was a wonderful sight. It was crowded with boats and lighters, all piled up with goods, while along the quays from Dowgate to the Temple, crowds of people were engaged in placing what goods they had saved on board lighters and other craft. Many of those in the boats seemed altogether helpless and undecided as to what had best be done, and drifted along with the tide, but the best part were making either for the marshes at Lambeth or the fields at Millbank, there to land their goods, the owners of the boats refusing to keep them long on board, as they desired to return by the next tide to fetch away other cargoes, being able to obtain any price they chose to demand for their services.
Among the boats were floating goods and wreckage of all kinds, charred timber that had fallen from the houses on the bridge, and from the warehouses by the quays, bales of goods, articles of furniture, bedding, and other matters. At times, a sudden change of wind drove a dense smoke across the water, flakes of burning embers and papers causing great confusion among the boats, and threatening to set the piles of goods on fire.
At Frank Watson's suggestion, they landed at the Temple, after having been some two hours on the river. Going up into Fleet Street, they found a stream of carts and other vehicles proceeding westward, all piled with furniture and goods, mostly of a valuable kind. The pavements were well-nigh blocked with people, all journeying in the same direction, laden with their belongings. With difficulty they made their way East as far as St. Paul's. The farther end of Cheapside was already in flames, and they learnt that the fire had extended as far as Moorfields. It was said that efforts had been made to pull down houses and so check its progress, but that there was no order or method, and that no benefit was gained by the work.
After looking on at the scene for some time, they returned to Fleet Street. Frank Watson went down with Nellie to the boat, while Cyril went to his lodgings in the Savoy. Here he found his servant anxiously awaiting him.
"I did not bring the horses this morning, sir," he said. "I heard that there was a great fire, and went on foot as far as I could get, but, finding that I could not pass, I thought it best to come back here and await your return."
"Quite right, Reuben; you could not have got the horses to me unless you had ridden round the walls and come in at Aldgate, and they would have been useless had you brought them. The house at which I stayed last night is already burnt to the ground. You had better stay here for the present, I think. There is no fear of the fire extending beyond the City. Should you find that it does so, pack my clothes in the valises, take the horses down to Sevenoaks, and remain at the Earl's until you hear from me."
Having arranged this, Cyril went down to the Savoy stairs, where he found the boat waiting for him, and then they rowed back to London Bridge, where, the force of the tide being now abated, they were able to row through and get to the Good Venture.
They had but little sleep that night. Gradually the fire worked its way eastward until it was abreast of them. The roaring and crackling of the flames was prodigious. Here and there the glare was diversified by columns of a deeper red glow, showing where warehouses, filled with pitch, tar, and oil, were in flames. The heavy crashes of falling buildings were almost incessant. Occasionally they saw a church tower or steeple, that had stood for a time black against the glowing sky, become suddenly wreathed in flames, and, after burning for a time, fall with a crash that could be plainly heard above the general roar.
"Surely such a fire was never seen before!" Captain Dave said.
"Not since Rome was burnt, I should think," Cyril replied.
"How long was that ago, Cyril? I don't remember hearing about it."
"'Tis fifteen hundred years or so since then, Captain Dave; but the greater part of the city was destroyed, and Rome was then many times bigger than London. It burnt for three days."
"Well, this is bad enough," Captain Watson said. "Even here the heat is well-nigh too great to face. Frank, you had better call the crew up and get all the sails off the yards. Were a burning flake to fall on them we might find it difficult to extinguish them. When they have done that, let the men get all the buckets filled with water and ranged on the deck; and it will be as well to get a couple of hands in the boat and let them chuck water against this side. We shall have all the paint blistered off before morning."
So the night passed. Occasionally they went below for a short time, but they found it impossible to sleep, and were soon up again, and felt it a relief when the morning began to break.