|"Doktor Schnabel von Rom" ("Doctor Beak from Rome") engraving, Rome 1656 Physician attire for protection from the Bubonic plague or Black death. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
THEY sat around a small table, half a dozen bright boys and girls. Questions and answers flew back and forth, literally, for were they not printed upon slips of pasteboard which were handed about with exceeding rapidity? Upon listening carefully, it was discoverable that they were playing a game of English history.
Mr. Dalton, the father of the boy who was the host of the evening, stood behind his son's chair looking on and smiling at their eagerness. Presently he said, during a pause in the game;
"Well, boys, you do well; you certainly have a number of interesting facts and dates fastened in your memories, but it occurs to me to wonder if you know anything more than the mere fact. For instance, take this question which is the first that comes to mind, 'What two remarkable events in the reign of Charles the Second?' and the answer, 'The Great Plague and Fire in London.' Now what more do you know of those events?"
Fred Dalton looked up quickly. "I know a little about the Fire, but I do not know about the Plague. I suppose that there was a sort of epidemic raged in London at that time."
"And it must have raged extensively or it would not have been called the Great Plague, and have got into history," said Will Ely.
"You are both very good at supposing," said Mr. Dalton, laughing, "but it is sometimes better to know about a thing than to guess at it."
"I have read an account of the Plague," said Fred Smith. "It raged several months, all one summer, and one third of the people of the city died. Great numbers fled from the city, and so many died that they could not have any burial service, but just buried them in a great pit in the night. They built great bonfires in the streets hoping that the fire and smoke would prevent the spread of the disease, but heavy rains put out the fires. It was a dreadful time!"
"Indeed it was," said Mr. Dalton; "the accounts of it are harrowing. And now what do you know of the Great Fire, Fred?"
"I know that it started in a baker's shop near London Bridge, and that it burned over about five sixths of the city. It burned three days and nights. It was in September, after a very hot and dry summer, so that the houses built of wood were in a well-seasoned state, and made first-rate kindling wood. And then there was a wind that fanned the fire and carried sparks and cinders a long distance, so that new fires kept breaking out in different parts of the city. It is said that there were two hundred thousand people who lost their homes, and that the streets leading out of the city were barricaded with broken-down wagons which the people flying from the fire had overloaded with their goods."
"It was a terrible calamity," said Mr. Dalton; "but like many another it proved a blessing, for the new London was much better built."
"Was the fire set by bad men, or was it an accident?" asked one of the boys.
"Without doubt it was set accidentally, though many people thought otherwise. A monument was erected near the place where the fire started in memory of those who lost their lives in that terrible time, and there was an inscription upon the monument charging the Papists with the crime, but this unjust accusation was afterwards removed by the order of the public authorities. But I will not hinder your game any longer."
"We like this sort of hindering," said one of the boys. "It makes it more interesting."
Mr. Dalton soon returned to say, "Boys, there is a 'Great Fire' in the kitchen, and a pan of corn waiting to be popped, and a Bridget there who does not think boys a 'Great Plague.'"
In less than half a minute there were no boys sitting around that table!