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Authors: Ann Turnbull

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BOOK: The Great Fire
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When Sam woke again it was light. The wind was still banging the shutters, and he could hear footsteps along the passage and on the stairs.

He sprang up, feeling guilty. He should be downstairs by now, clearing the ashes, feeding Bijou and Budge, and doing any other jobs Amy or Mistress Giraud gave him.

In a room nearby Mistress Giraud and Thérèse were dressing the younger girls for church. He could hear six-year-old Marie chattering, and the little one, Anne, being chased and caught. All the church bells were ringing this morning, and he could no longer make out an alarm peal.

Sam pulled on his clothes and ran downstairs, Budge racing ahead of him.

Amy was already in the kitchen, cutting bread.

“You're late!” she said. “Get the fire raked out. And have you cleaned the shoes?”

There were five pairs of Giraud shoes to clean each day. There would have been
six, but André would not let Sam touch his shoes, and insisted on cleaning them himself.

“I did them last night,” said Sam. “Amy, did you hear the alarm peal in the night?”

“No.” Amy frowned, and opened the back door. There was a faint smell of smoke.

“Probably a fire down east,” said Amy. “It's a long way off. So many fires we've had this summer.”

“Miaou!” interrupted Bijou. She wound herself around Sam's legs.

Sam found yesterday's meat scraps and divided them between Bijou's bowl and Budge's. The two animals ate warily, watching each other.

Sam went into the scullery and splashed water from a pail over his face and hands.

“And put a clean shirt on for the Lord's day!” called Amy.

Soon after, they were on their way to church.

The Girauds lived in Foster Lane, off Cheapside, and their church was further east, in Threadneedle Street. As they walked along Cheapside the smell of smoke became stronger, and now they could hear the alarm peal. People in the street were talking about a fire blazing all down Fish Street Hill that had spread to the houses on London Bridge.

Inside the church they were shut off from whatever was happening outside. Most of the service was in French, so Sam daydreamed and gazed around. He had learned when to stand up, sit down, kneel, or murmur, “Amen”.

I wonder if we can go and see the fire
, he thought.
I'd like to see the bridge on fire!

When they came out of the church they saw people running up the street shouting that the bridge was half burned and the fire was spreading westwards along the wharfage.

“There's a gale blowing from the east,” said Paul Giraud. He looked concerned.

“Shall we go and see the fire?” asked André, his eyes bright with interest.

Marie exclaimed, “Oh, please, Papa! Please!”

To Sam's delight Paul Giraud said, “We'll go down here a little way…”

Many people had the same idea, and the street was crowded. As they drew nearer the river Sam saw smoke ahead.

At the bottom of the hill a group of men passed by, hauling a fire-squirt on its cart, and then some more rushed past with fire-hooks and ladders. Cries of alarm rose faintly from lower down, by the river.

Mistress Giraud exclaimed, “No further!
Husband – Amy and I will take the children home. The fire is spreading. It's dangerous. And we should not block the streets.”

“Yes, you go straight home with the girls,” agreed Master Giraud. “I must find out what is happening. André will be safe with me.”

Sam attached himself quickly to Master Giraud and André. He was eager to see the fire. The two groups separated, and Sam heard Marie complaining as she was hustled away.

At the bottom of the hill they came suddenly on a view of the waterfront – and there, to their left, was a terrible and thrilling scene. On their side, the northern bank, the bridge was blazing. Several of the houses
built along its length were already blackened shells, and flames were shooting up to the sky, sending smoke and burning sparks along the waterfront.

Paul Giraud looked shocked. “The timber warehouses will catch fire,” he said. “It will only take one spark.”

When the smoke briefly cleared they saw a stream of people moving along the wharfage with bundles and bags and handcarts full of possessions – even chairs and cabinets, Sam noticed in amazement. Crowds congregated at Old Swan Stairs. From there a flotilla of small boats laden with people was making its way to the Southwark side. Nearer the fire they saw several men operating one of the squirts, sending a jet of water up to the first floor of a burning house.

“I had no idea it was so bad!” exclaimed Paul Giraud.

One of the other Frenchmen from the church said, “They're saying it's a revenge attack. For Terschelling.”

Sam knew his country was at war with Holland. Only a few weeks ago there had been huge celebrations in London over the burning of a town on the Dutch island of Terschelling by the English navy. There was a procession with the mayor and aldermen in their robes of office, and drums and flags, and fireworks in the evening. Sam had been as excited as anyone. But could this be revenge by Dutch agents?

They listened as speculation flew around the group of onlookers.

“Where did the fire start?”

“In a bakery, they say, in Pudding Lane.”

“An accident, then?”

“Or a fireball thrown by some foreign agent. I heard a Frenchman was seen around there.”

A look of anxiety crossed Paul Giraud's face. “Boys,” he said quickly, “we must go home – now. If foreigners are suspected, none of us will be safe.”

He began to lead them back up the hill.

“But we are not Dutch!” André protested. “The war is with Holland.”

“Dutch, French, Walloons, Catholics – all will be suspects now.”

“We are not Catholics either,” said André, frowning.

“The English are always quick to turn against anyone different,” said his father.

Sam thought guiltily of the way he and his friends in Friday Street used to set upon the French boys.
It's true
, he thought.

Paul Giraud hustled them quickly back uphill, then along Cheapside towards Foster Lane. The sounds of fire and confusion faded behind them.

As they turned into Foster Lane, Sam saw how relieved his master was to be back at
his home; and he thought of the costly and beautiful necklace, now finished, and hidden away in Paul Giraud's workshop.

Neighbours were out on the street, talking about the fire and the rumours of a Dutch attack.

“It'll be under control soon,” one of the goldsmiths said. “There are always fires in this hot weather. And it's a long way from here.”

But that evening the wind changed direction. By the time the Girauds were on their way to bed it was blowing from the south, towards the heart of the city – and their home.

Come Straight Home

Next morning it was dark outside and the house smelled of smoke. Budge was whining, and Bijou crouched in the kitchen with her haunches sticking up and a wild look in her yellow eyes.

“You both know something's wrong, don't you?” said Sam as he followed the Girauds outside, into Foster Lane. All the neighbours were there, talking in anxious voices.

Clouds of black smoke filled the sky. The air was hot. To the south-east they saw flames, and from the close-packed buildings came a deep, crackling roar.

It's like a hungry beast
, thought Sam. He heard an explosion and saw a distant flash of fire.

An endless stream of people was moving past the end of the road, carrying bundles, bags and babies, holding small children by the hand, dragging carts full of belongings – all of them hurrying westwards, away from the city.

“We must pack up and leave!” cried Mistress Pryce, the goldsmith's wife from next door.

“And go where?” another woman asked.

“To the fields! Lincoln's Inn. St Giles. Or Hatton Garden.”

Sam felt excited at the idea of camping in the fields and he could see that André and his sisters did, too. But their mother was distraught. “Husband, what do you think? Must we leave?”

“Not yet,” said Paul Giraud. “I heard there were looters in Cheapside. We can't leave our home and workplace open to them. Before we do anything else I must deliver that necklace to Thomas Harrington.”

Sam knew the necklace was packed and ready to deliver. It lay in its small casket on
a bed of white silk, safely stowed away in the workshop. André and his father had both dressed in their best clothes this morning, to impress the merchant. André wore a new dark red doublet.

Little Anne began to cough.

“Come inside, children,” urged Mistress Giraud. “This smoke is bad for you.”

Sam followed reluctantly. He could hear shouting or chanting from Cheapside and wondered what was happening there.

Paul Giraud left the boys in the workshop and went out to investigate.

The sounds became much louder, and Sam realised that an angry mob was
approaching. Soon it was outside – in Foster Lane. He heard banging, the sound of breaking glass, and screams.

Paul Giraud burst into the workshop.

“Close the shutters!” he cried.

Sam and André sprang to obey him. They fastened the wooden shutters, then followed him to the front of the house.

Sam heard chanting: “Frogs out! Frogs out! Frogs out!”

He felt afraid. But he was part of this family now. If they were Frogs, then so was he. He'd fight with them.

He and André ran to help Thérèse and Mistress Giraud, who were racing around,
closing and barring every door and window.

“Marie! Anne! Upstairs! Thérèse – go with them! Now!” shouted Mistress Giraud. She and her husband began hauling a large wooden chest across the front entrance, which led into their shop.

Heavy blows battered the door.

“Come out, Frenchman! Out! Out!”

With each “out!” the door shuddered.

Paul Giraud shouted, “Sam! Take the necklace! Hide it under your clothes!”

Sam was surprised.
Why me?
he thought. But he ran to the workshop and grabbed the little casket.

BOOK: The Great Fire
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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