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Authors: Ann Turnbull

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BOOK: The Great Fire
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Escape

“Keep together!”

“I can't – “

Crowds of people surged up the road, separating the two boys. Sam, with Budge's lead wound around his wrist, caught only an occasional glimpse of André's red doublet. Sam glanced over his shoulder. Were those their pursuers back there? Yes! That man, glaring, calling to others behind him – he was one.

“Come on, Budge!” Sam seized the chance to duck and weave through the throng and shake the man off.

But now where was André? Sam could no longer see the red doublet anywhere. Had their enemies caught him? Or was he hiding?

“André!” he called. But there was no answer.

Smoke filled the street, and Sam realised for the first time that in their hurry to escape they had run downhill, towards the fire. Ahead of him was a whole row of blazing houses. No one was trying to put out the flames any more. Instead, people were intent
on escaping with their possessions. The flow of refugees was all uphill – against him.

And still he could not see André.

“I've lost him,” he told Budge. “And I was supposed to be looking after him. ‘Two will be safer', Master Giraud said.”

Two would also be company. He felt frightened, alone in the burning city.

He looked around. An alley led off to the left. Could André have gone that way? He turned down it, saw an open doorway, and peered into the dark interior.

“André?” he shouted.

“Sam! Is that you?” The faint voice came from deep inside the building.

“Yes!” Sam felt a huge sense of relief.

He led Budge into the empty shop. It was even darker in there than in the smoky street outside. He trampled on broken glass and bumped into overturned furniture.

Sam realised that this place had been ransacked by looters and for the first time he wondered what might have happened to the Girauds, back in Foster Lane.

“Where are you, André?” he called.

“Down here!”

In the dim light Sam noticed some steps leading to a storage room.

As he hurried down, Budge bounded ahead of him, and the dog's lead slipped out
of Sam's hand and caught around his ankles as it fell to the ground.

Sam tripped and fell off the unguarded side of the steps, landing in a heap on the floor with Budge. Pain shot through his left arm. He cried out. Budge whimpered and nuzzled him.

André's concerned face came into view. “What have you done?”

“My arm – I think it might be broken.” Sam felt sick and faint.

“Try moving it,” said André.

“Aaargh! I can't! It hurts.”

“We'll need a bone-setter, if it's broken.”

Sam winced. “Maybe it isn't.”

“Are they still following us – those people?”

“I don't think so.”

“I'm sorry – I should have come up the steps to you,” said André. “But I was so frightened. I felt safer down here.” His voice wobbled. “You were good to speak up for me. I'm glad you're here, Sam.”

Sam nodded. “Me, too. But we need to get out. There are houses on fire up the road.”

“Could I make a sling for you? I could tear a strip off my shirt…”

It hurt to bend the arm, but Sam gritted his teeth and allowed André to put it into the makeshift sling.

“That should keep it steady,” said André, “till we can get it set.”

“Thanks.” Sam felt faint again.

Budge licked him, and he cuddled the dog with his good arm.

He was struggling to his feet when a whoosh and roar shook the building, sending a cloud of dust down onto them from the ceiling.

“What was that?” cried André.

“I don't know. But we should get out – now!”

6
Trapped

They rushed up the steps to the ransacked shop. Budge ran ahead – then ran back, whimpering.

Smoke was pouring into the shop through the open doorway, and in the smoke they saw the flicker of flames.

The boys stared at each other, and Sam saw his own terror reflected in André's eyes.

They ran frantically to and fro, blinded by the smoke. The front of the shop began to
smoulder, and across the street the wooden overhang of the house opposite came crashing down in flames.

“Help!” they both shouted but there was no one in the street to hear them.

“Get down low. Crawl,” said Sam. He remembered his old master, William Kemp, telling him to do this if he were ever caught in a fire.

But it was difficult to crawl with one arm in a sling. And crawl where? The doorway was now ablaze and the upper floor would trap them.

He heard Budge barking from below in the storeroom. The barking went on and on.

Had the dog found something?

“Budge wants us!” he gasped.

He reached out to André, and they stayed close together as they crept back down the stairs to the storeroom.

Budge was still barking. Through the smoke Sam could just see him by the far wall. He crawled towards the dog. Budge caught Sam's sleeve in his teeth and tugged.

“What? What is it?”

And then he saw.

“It's a window! André – it's a window!”

The window had been hidden behind a rough curtain of sacking. Sam wrestled, one-handed, with the catch.

“Let me!” said André. He managed to open the catch, but the wood of the window frame was warped and stuck. He couldn't shift it.

Sam banged it with the heel of his good hand. He couldn't move it either.

Through the small grimy panes of greenish glass they saw a yard with a midden and privy, and thick smoke but no fire.

“Break it!” gasped Sam.

“The panes are too small – we wouldn't get out,” said André.

He grabbed a block of wood from the floor and rammed the stiff frame, over and over again.

Budge barked. Flames crackled in the shop above, and smoke rolled down the stairs and engulfed them in choking fumes.

Sam felt dizzy and about to fall when, with one last push from André, the window flew open. Air rushed in, and the storeroom burst into flames behind them.

“Budge – out!”

The dog leapt through the window.

“You next!” said André. He helped Sam to climb up onto the sill.

Sam dropped quickly down on the other side, a fierce pain shooting through his injured arm.

The next minute André landed beside him. “Quick! Let's go!”

They stumbled away from the blazing building.

Budge ran down the length of the yard and turned right along the passage at the end. The boys followed him blindly. Sam had lost all sense of direction.

“Budge will know the way,” he said. “Animals do…”

He broke off in a fit of coughing. It was hard to breathe. He could feel smoke inside his body but could not seem to cough it out.

The dog led them on through alleyways and small streets. Sam knew they were moving gradually uphill, taking mostly lanes that led westward, away from the fire. He put his trust in Budge to get them home.

Budge's lead was trailing. It seemed better to let him run, and to follow him. When they stopped, overcome by fits of coughing, the dog waited for them.

They saw few people on these streets. Most had already escaped, Sam supposed. All around, he heard the hungry voice of the fire and saw flames licking up.

Suddenly the fire seemed to leap. Budge was waiting at the top of an alley when a building nearby exploded in flames. Debris showered down – wood, paper, plaster dust – and smoke rolled between the boys and the dog.

“Quick!” cried Sam.

The two of them ran through the smoke up the alley ahead of them. Budge had been standing, waiting, at the top of it, but he was not there now.

“Budge!” Sam's voice cracked. “Where are you?”

“Budge!” cried André.

The stricken house was blazing, and the flames drove them away, across a road and along another narrow passage. It led uphill – but was that where Budge had gone?

“Budge! Budge!” they called desperately.

Had he been caught in the explosion? They could not stay and search. The fire drove them on, and as they went the smoke thinned and then Sam recognised the Stocks Market, and knew where they were.

“Along here,” he croaked. “Poultry, then Cheapside…”

Once again they were among crowds of people and carts. They called for Budge, but he didn't come.

“Perhaps he's gone home,” suggested André.

“Yes, of course! That's what he'd do.”

They hurried back to Foster Lane.

7
BOOK: The Great Fire
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