I'm not sure what you're supposed to call this... it's the opposite of a disclaimer so I'm going to assume it's a claimer... that sounds weird, so basically, I own everything in this story, except for the setting: the plotline, the characters and the writing in general.
It was a fairly average day for us Londoners. It wasn't raining, but I thought it soon would; it was autumn in England and if it wasn't currently raining you could be sure that you wouldn't have to wait long for it to start again. I was running an errand for Mama, who was taken ill with a fever. She'd stood me in front of her as she lay on her bed, and (in between weeping, making a dreadful fuss and declaring she was sure she would soon die and then I would be sorry for being so insolent) made me memorize the message that she wanted me to run to Mr. Jenkins, the apothecary.
Mr. Jenkins was horrible, old and, by me, quite likely dead, for no one could be so strange and alive. Unless they were a wizard, then it was perfectly acceptable, if not expected, to be able to see out of the back of one's head, which was a talent Mr. Jenkins had often showcased when I was doing something I probably ought not to have been. He had wispy gray hair that hung down in limp strands, small pointed ears that clearly indicated some elfish blood somewhere in the family, strange pale-gray eyes that never focused directly on you (rather stared vacantly behind your head) and was all of four-and-fifty! Eons older than Papa, to be sure, for Papa was still quite handsome and not nearly as horrid as Mr. Jenkins, though Mama said I was cruel to say such things about 'the poor man'. Still, he was Mama's preferred surgeon and I Mama's preferred messenger, so I was resigned to seeing a lot of the man.
This day, I minded less than usual for Mama had promised that when I'd completed her errand, I was to collect my night-bag and stay with Tommy Farriner's family for a few days. Mama had known Mrs. Farriner since before she was Mrs. Farriner (some time during the Dark Ages, surely) and Tommy had been my Best Mate (Best Friends were for girls) since forever, so we visited often. The Farriners owned a bakery on Pudding Lane and lived above it, as did most shop-owners. My sister, Brigit, now at the 'tender' (Mama's words) age of fifteen, even worked for them as a live-in maid. According to Mama, there was no other family she would entrust her daughter's safety to. Pish! I (and everyone else too I'd think) knew that Mama would entrust her daughter's safety to whoever was willing to deliver Brigit's meagre earnings to her on the last day of each month.
But I hadn't seen Brigit for weeks. Not since the beginning of August and now September was just started! It really was lax of Mama to let so much time go by without my seeing my sister, for whom else could I complain about her to! Honestly! But anyway, back to the Farriners.
When I finally arrived at their house, it was frightfully late, which is never a good time to arrive anywhere, but this time it could hardly be called my fault. Mr. Jenkins (whose hearing is just fine when I'm saying things Mama says not to) claimed that he couldn't understand what I was saying because apparently I mumble and made me repeat Mama's message all of four times! He then proceeded, out of the kindness of his stone-cold black heart, to inform me that he 'didn't like mumblers' while giving me a frankly suspicious look from out of the corner of his eye as he measured out doses of syrup for Mama. Then he forgot about pouring the syrup and began talking to it, telling it all about how no one would ever hear me when it counted because I was far too quiet when I needed to be heard and far too chatty at every other time. Odious man! Absolutely insufferable, wasn't he? Yes I thought so too at the time.
But I digress, yet again, from my (and I use that word in the loosest way possible) tale. I do that a lot, don't I? (Mama is turning in her grave; she despaired of me ever getting to the point of anything.) Anyway, the Farriner's, being good, understanding sort of people, said they didn't give a pig's ear when I arrived just as long as I did because they didn't want to have to face Mama and tell her that they'd lost one of her children. Fair enough, I thought. For all her breathless fainting fits, she was still absolutely scary if you were unfortunate enough to have angered her. I, in turn, gave Mr. Farriner my considered opinion on the topic: that Mama would probably be quite happy to lose me, but if they could perhaps not lose Brigit as she was Mama's Favorite. Mr. Farriner laughed. He actually laughed.
However, Mrs. Farriner was not so amused. She told me, in a fashion not unlike Mama's, that she would be informing Mama of my 'insolence'. I told her she needn't bother because I was quite sure Mama was already well acquainted with said insolence. Somehow she didn't find my advice quite as helpful as it had been intended. Tommy appreciated my wit though. His uncontrollable laughter was the final straw for Mrs. Farriner, who promptly sent us both to bed without any dinner.
Later that night, as I lay on the pallet that Mr. Farriner had laid out for me trying to find some way to screw up my eyes so that the cloud visible from out of the small window would look more like a dragon (rather unsuccessfully), I received a visitor. The door creaked open a crack and Brigit slipped in, closing the door behind her with a quiet bump. She tiptoed over to my pallet and sat down gently on the side of it. She leaned over me to whisper,
'Are you awake?'She knew the answer I would give before I did because it was the same one she had so often given me when I crawled into her room after what Mama called 'night terrors'.
'No.' She grinned.
'Of course you're not. Silly of me to ask, really. But you shouldn't rile Mrs. Farriner so; she may not invite you back if you keep doing it! And then where would we be?' I scrunched my nose up, wondering what she could mean by that, and said,
'Well, I should imagine that I would be at home and you would most likely be tending the ovens here. Why should that change?' She smiled tightly.
'No reason. No reason at all. But promise me it won't anyway.'
'Alright. Shall we swear it properly then? Do you have a knife? No- don't worry, I have one that Papa gifted me with on my last birthday...' I said, sitting up abruptly and rummaging in my pockets for the elusive blade, ignoring Brigit's worried murmur.
'No- I don't think that's a good idea. Really no, Mama will skin us alive...'
'Mama need not know. It can be our Secret. As long as you don't tell, we shall both live long lives and keep all of our skin on our bones, rather than see Mama roll it all up and stuff it in a pickling jar or turn it into a pair of boots.' I said, shaking my head at her, as though it were obvious, which it was to me. I pulled out the knife, inspected it for a moment then held it up and raised an eyebrow at Brigit as if to say, 'well?'. She sighed and held out her right hand.
'What shall we swear then?' She looked at me expectantly. I lifted my chin importantly and told her to close her eyes, then when she felt a slight stinging sensation, she was to repeat after me the swear. Then I took her outstretched hand and placed the side of the blade across her palm. Brigit tensed. I swiped the blade towards me and Brigit yelped in pain and cradled her hand to her chest, biting her lip and blinking back what looked suspiciously like tears. Really, it was only a little cut. I didn't know why she was making such a fuss; it couldn't hurt that much! I shrugged, wiped the knife on my trousers and then cut an identical gash in my own right hand.
I was wrong. I was so wrong, so incredibly, foolishly, naively, impossibly, senselessly, painfully wrong. It could, and did, hurt that much. My eyes widened in childish shock and my mouth opened in horror at the unexpected pain that shot through my hand.
'Ow ow ow ow! That hurt!' I hissed, gritting my teeth together. I blinked rapidly and stuck my bloody hand out and grasped Brigit's. 'I solemnly swear that I, Mason Moore, will always stay faithfully your brother.'
'I solemnly swear that I, Brigit Moore, will always stay faithfully your sister.'
'And never fall out of contact with you, no matter if Mama makes you marry some horrid old man or sends you to work somewhere so far away they don't sell maps that show the way there in London.'
'I highly doubt that Mama shall make you marry an old man!'
'Alright...And never fall out of contact with you, no matter if Mama makes me marry some horrid old man or sends me to work somewhere so far away they don't sell maps that show the way there in London.'
'And shall never ever tell Mama any of the awful things we say about her.'
'And shall never ever tell Mama any of the awful things you say about her.' I rolled my eyes.
'So mote be it.'
'So mote be it.' We sat in silence for a moment after I'd released her hand. I frowned and scratched my nose with my left hand. Brigit fidgeted with the sheet's, straightening them and then leaned over me to smooth my tousled blonde hair down. Her attempt failed miserably, as had all efforts before it, but young as I was, I knew my sister and her gesture wasn't lost on me.
'Night Bridge.' I rolled over as she left, clenching and unclenching my injured hand experimentally. It hurt. A lot. I sighed, wondering what had possessed me to do something so foolish and just plain painful! Probably the Devil, I thought. According to Mama, he must despise her something fierce because he saddled her with me and was always getting in my head and making me do foolish things for the sole purpose of vexing her frail nerves.
Personally, I did not see that the Devil was so very bad. Really it was quite unfair for Mama to judge him so without a decent acquaintance with him! I was sure that he was probably quite a likeable chap, and most likely made for enjoyable company, once one became better acquainted with him. For he seemed to own a lively mind, and surely, a good sense of humour, which in my eyes, rendered him an agreeable fellow indeed! Surely, he would be a better friend than God, for God was seemed to think it necessary to force all of his friends to listen to his long-winded sermons and attend church every Sunday, which to my mind was very inconsiderate behaviour for one who called himself a father!
The Devil, on the other hand, was always drafted as the villain, which must be exceptionally vexing for him, as it rendered him unable to make friends as their opinions were so very decided against him before even meeting him! Indeed, I thought it quite cruel to treat him so, and resolved to make my mind more open to his company, if only his ideas did not give me such grief as this last one. This, I thought was a very reasonable offer – companionship, as he must be very lonely with no one but nasty dead people to speak with, for less painful adventures and ideas. I considered myself very fair and wondered that God did not take my advice and forgive poor Satan for a joke gone wrong, or if he was too proud for that, take his own advice and do the same thing!
It was with these thoughts floating through my mind that I succumbed to sleep, and it was to panicked screams that I awoke, not two hours later. I sat up immediately and scrambled out of my makeshift bed, curiosity getting the better of me as it always did. I threw open the door with as much force as my young body would allow and hurtled out into the corridor. Mr. and Mrs. Farriner were blearily stumbling out of their room down the hall, Mr. Farriner yelling for someone to tell him what was the matter. A servant girl came rushing up the stairs, frantic explanations tumbling from her lips in a most incomprehensible manner which I found very inconsiderate of her – to deliver news in such an incomplete way was very rude, especially when said news must be of some importance indeed!
'There is- the ovens- a fire- someone left- must- uncontrollable- leave!' Was all we could get from her in her breathless state. Mr. Farriner went white and breathed, 'Good Lord' and Mrs. Farriner clutched her heart and began to look faint. Mr. Farriner turned to look at me and told me to fetch Tommy and get ourselves out of the house. I nodded, a little worried, and barged into Tommy's room. He was just sitting up, rubbing his eyes to wake up better.
'I say, Mason! What is going on? Why is everyone yelling?' I had no good answer for him and mumbled something about a fire, which got his attention soon enough.
'A fire! Good God, we must leave at once before it consumes the house with us all still inside!' He said, throwing the sheets off himself and hurried to the door, pulling it open and running out into the hall.
'Mama! Father! Where are you!?' His mother appeared immediately.
'Come! We must exit by the window – the lower floor is completely taken by the flames!' Mrs. Farriner called over the sound of the fire. Tommy grabbed my hand and pulled me forward, into his parents' room, where his father had resorted to smashing their window and was yelling for their neighbour to open theirs so they could get through. The neighbour did so and Mr. Farriner turned, picking his son up and passing him through to the waiting arms of a man I later learned to be a Mr. Goulding. He then faced me and passed me through also, and Mr. Goulding put me down next to Tommy. Tommy looked so frightened, I couldn't help but take his hand and squeeze it tightly.
'Everything will be alright, Tommy. There were not too many people to get out and it looks as though they are all there by the window. There may be damage to the house, but it does not seem likely that there will be any injuries to its occupants.' It seemed to comfort him little and we stayed in that position on the floor until the last servant had been passed through and Mr. Farriner himself was climbing through the window. Then another scream sounded from the Farriner's house. It was then that I realised Brigit's absence.
My heart leapt into my throat and I immediately yanked my hand away from Tommy's and ran to the window and began to pull myself up, ignoring the pain as the cut on my hand reopened. Mr. Farriner grabbed me and held me back.
'What the Devil do you think you're doing, boy!? If you go back in there, you'll die!' I struggled.
'Let me go! Brigit is still there! Let me go!' Mr. Farriner started in shock as he realised that she was indeed not with them and I used the momentary loosening of his grip to wiggle through the window and leap back through into the Farriner's bedroom. I yelled my sister's name, panicked when she did not reply. I ran out into the hall and down it, calling for her, careless of the blaze that threatened the upper story of the building. I called her name over and over but she did not reply. Mr. Jenkin's words echoed in my head.
'No one will ever hear him when it really matters...'
Finally, I heard her scream again and I comprehended that she had been trapped downstairs. I threw myself down the stairs, avoiding patches of flame where I could and running straight through them where I could not. I tried not to think about the way some stairs collapsed beneath me, causing me to trip down some parts of the staircase.
'Brigit!' I hollered when I reached the bottom, 'Brigit!' I followed the sounds of her screaming to the kitchen, where the whole thing had started. The door was blocked by fire and through it I could see Brigit, trapped by ever nearing flames. She looked up and her eyes were full of fear.
'Run, Mason!' I looked back at the fire between me and her and drew in a smoky breath and tucking my head down before sprinting straight through it. It hurt and I know my shirt almost caught fire but thankfully, I reached Brigit. I grabbed her hand and dragged her behind me as I almost flew out of the kitchen. I could hardly breathe and Brigit was no better, and we both stumbled frequently as we fought our way back upstairs. At one point Brigit's knees gave out and she fell. I was crying in earnest by that point as I shook her as violently as I could, trying desperately to convince her to continue. She staggered to her feet, coughing and spluttering and I pulled her with me up the stairs.
The stair between us gave out and I had to force her to jump it by pulling her hand harder until she had no choice but to leap the gap or fall through it. She was sobbing but there were no tears on her face, the fire evaporating them before they could roll down her cheeks. It followed us, chasing us down the hallway as if it resented us for trying to escape it. The smoke stung my eyes and made it near impossible to breathe and the heat blurred my vision. We finally made it to the Farriner's bedroom, but again, the fire had made the doorway next to impassable. Brigit backed away but I yanked her forward, yelling out as the flames burned me. She screamed and I turned to see her skirt catch alight.
She tripped and fell and I had to beg her to get to her feet again. When she did so, I took her hand again and brought her to the window. She picked me up and I felt her hands shaking as she passed me to Mr. Farriner. He put me down and I turned, fully expecting to see Brigit clambering through the window but she was not there. Mr. Farriner was calling to her, his arms outstretched and his face desperate and pleading, but she was shaking her head, terror etched into her face. I remembered then, that Brigit was deathly afraid of heights and ran to the window yelling,
'Brigit! Brigit, hurry! You must jump! You must!' She shook her head more vehemently and I saw her shoulders shaking as she cradled her right hand to her chest as though it pained her.
'I can't!' She cried.
'Brigit, please! Please! Jump, Brigit!' I sobbed, unwilling to lose my dearest sister.
'I can't!' She said, 'I'm sorry, Mason! I just-'
'You can! Please, Brigit!' I screamed, tears rolling down my face as I reached out to her. She shook her head again, her face screwed up in misery as she backed away from the window.
'I can't.' She said and I could hardly hear her. The fire caught her again and her beautiful face twisted in agony as the fire licked at her skin. She screamed and I found myself screaming too as I reached out for her.
'No!' I cried, fighting to climb back through the window, but this time Mr. Farriner held me back. I thrashed in his hold, shrieking for release. How could he be so cold! She was my sister, damn it!
'Let me go!' I yelled again, and screamed Brigit's name again as I saw why Mr. Farriner had held me back. With an almighty noise, the building collapsed and Brigit's terrified, agonised face disappeared from view as the supports collapsed and the whole floor was brought crashing to the ground.
I remember nothing after that, but screaming and pain and someone holding me, rocking me in my grief. I awoke two days later in my bedroom, my mother and father beside me. She sat, hunched over, a handkerchief pressed to her tear stained face, her shoulders shaking with harsh sobs. Papa stood behind her, his face like stone. He had one hand on her shoulder and looked as though he did not know quite what to do with himself. Dumb Baby Jane lay sleeping in her bassinet next to them.
Mama let out a choked gasp when she realised I had woken and pulled me into her arms and pressed me to her, kissing the top of my head and crying so hard that I felt tears wet my hair. Papa wrapped his arms around both of us and we stayed in that attitude for some time.
There was no funeral for Brigit – we had not the means for one – and her body was never recovered. She was never mentioned in our house again. Papa rarely spoke two words together at any time and Mama became more ill and more frequently so. She devoted the whole of her time to caring for Dumb Baby Jane and myself. Dumb Baby Jane grew up to be so like Brigit that it brought Mama pain to look at her. We never told her why Mama cried so much around her and she never once guessed that there had once been a third sibling. Sometimes I envy Jane, other times I pity her, for though she did not bear the pain of losing Brigit, neither did she have the pleasure of knowing her. She did, however, bear the weight of all of our pain, though we went to some trouble to shield her from our misery.
As to the Farriners, we met with them a fortnight after. Forced smiles were attempted, pleasantries ignored, condolences given and all acquaintances between our family and theirs were severed. The Farriner's carried all the guilt associated with the death of one under their protection and did not wish to cause us more pain, Mama could not bear to be in their company and Papa could not bear to be in anyone's company so it seemed that we would never see each other again. Tommy and I met on the streets every now and again but we rarely greeted each other and he could never meet my eye.
For a time it seemed that we would never recover, and truthfully, we were never able to do so fully, though we managed to get on well enough considering. It was many weeks later when Mama finally allowed me out of her sight to make a trip to Mr. Jenkins' apothecary. To my complete surprise, it was Mr. Jenkins who finally induced me to talk about what happened. Indeed, it was his suggestion to write this very memoir. He was as strange and frankly queer as ever, and just as likely to trail off midsentence and forget of what he'd been speaking, but he was kinder in his brusque manner, and I learned that he had lost his daughter. He was an odd one, more likely to provoke me into talking than wheedle and ply me with kind words, but he helped me just the same.
Nobody will ever know what happened to my older sister but those who read this memoir – our family was of no consequence and our affairs were not considered worth recording – and nobody but those who knew her will likely care but I cannot help but feel that to ignore her part in the horrific tragedy that was The Great Fire would be too cruel, even if no one will ever read this. So here is where I will conclude what is not my story, but my sister's story.
So, what do you think? Please leave a reveiw! They make my day :P