“’T is, alas! but too true. It is necessary that she be at once removed on board the hospital ship, and I shall return as quickly as possible with my assistants and move her. The more promptly you call your daughter from her bedside, the better, for ’t will just so much lessen the chance of contagion.”
Before the father had well broken the news to Janice, or could persuade her to leave the invalid, the surgeon was returned, and, regardless of the girl’s prayers and tears, her mother was placed upon a stretcher, carried to the river-side, and then transferred to the pest-ship, which was anchored in mid-stream. Against his better judgment, but unable to resist his daughter’s appeals, the squire sought out Cornwallis with the request that she might be allowed to attend Mrs. Meredith on the ship, but the British general refused.
“Not only would it be contrary to necessary rules, sir, but it would merely expose her needlessly. Fear not that Mrs. Meredith will lack the best of care, for I will give especial directions to the surgeons. My intention was to send a flag, as soon as the enemy approached, with a request that I might pass you all through the lines, out of danger; and this is a sad derangement to the wish, for General Washington would certainly refuse passage to any one sick of this disease, and all must justify him in the refusal. I still think that ’t would be best to let me apply for leave for you and Miss Meredith to go out, but—”
“Neither the lass nor I would consider it for a moment, though grateful to your Lordship for the offer.”
[Illustration: “Where are you going?”]
“Then I will see that you have room in one of the bomb-proofs, but ’t will be a time of horror, that I warn you.”
He spoke only too truly, and the misery of the next twenty days are impossible to picture. The moment the bombardment began, father and daughter were forced to seek the protection of one of the caves that had been dug in the side of the bluff; and here, in damp, airless, almost dark, and fearfully overcrowded quarters, they were compelled to remain day and night during the siege. Almost from the first, scarcity of wood produced an entire abandonment of cooked food, every one subsisting on raw pork or raw salt beef, or, as Janice chose, eating only ship biscuit and unground coffee berries. Once the fire of the allies began to tell, each hour supplied a fresh tale of wounded, and these were brought into the bomb-proofs for the surgeons to tend, their presence and moans adding to the nightmare; yet but for them it seemed to Janice she would have gone mad in those weeks, for she devoted herself to nursing and feeding them, as an escape from dwelling on her mother’s danger and their own helplessness. Even news from the pest-ship had its torture, for when her father twice each day descended the bluff to get the word from the doctor’s boat, as it came ashore, she stood in the low doorway of the cave, and at every shot that was heard shrieking through the air, and at every shell which exploded with a crash, she held her breath, full of dread of what it might have done, and in anguish till her father was safe returned with the unvarying and uncheering bulletin the surgeons gave him of Mrs. Meredith’s condition.