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Sept. 3, 1666
Honey ran through Cheapside with an undisguised urgency. People leaped out of her path as she brushed by them, her braided brown hair flying behind her. Ignoring not only the mutters but the curses, she ran for home. She had just heard terrible news, and her father would need to know about it immediately. Pausing for a moment to catch her breath, Honey glanced over her shoulder at the columns of smoke rising on the other side of London. She bit her lip anxiously and tore off once more. Even though the smoke columns were nearly blocking the sun, most of the people of Cheapside had not yet realized the danger. She probably should have warned everyone, but she could think of no one but her father and younger sister.
Dodging around a cart of half rotten apples, Honey ducked into her family's small home. As she took the steps to the upper floor two by two she prayed that her father was home. Sometimes he went out to the docks when he decided to let Bess mind the shop for a few hours. She crossed herself and hoped this was not one of those times. Rounding the corner at the top of the steps, she was relieved to see her father pulling apart the curtain that separated his room from his daughters'.
"Papa!" Honey cried out, "Papa, we have to leave! There's a fire in the city, and it's coming this way!"
"Where did you hear about this?" he asked seriously.
"Some men at the baker's shop were talking about it," she replied, "But I can see the smoke with my own eyes!"
Her father crossed to the window with two strides of his long legs. He stuck his head out, looking down the street towards the fire. Seeing the great columns of smoke that seemed to be getting ever closer, he looked to the streets and his brows pulled down in a frown.
"Honey?" he asked as he turned to face her.
"Yes, Papa?" she asked curiously.
"Why is no one running?" he said gravely.
"I don't think they've realized what's happening yet," she replied quietly, knowing what was coming. Her father was a pious Christian, and had always been a steadfast believer in helping others before oneself.
"Why didn't you warn them?"
"I was just so worried about you and Bess," Honey replied, looking at the floor, "I didn't think I had time…"
"There is always time to help others," her father replied, "Now, I will go call Bess and we will pack up what we can. You will go and warn everyone else. Everyone, Honey. You need to learn the importance of helping others."
"Yes, Papa," Honey replied to the floor before turning and running back down the stairs even faster than she had came. Her father was not a cruel man, but when he said jump, you jumped.
As she ran past her startled sister, Honey prayed once more, this time that her family, and everyone in Cheapside, would get away from the fire. She crossed herself again as she tore out the door and onto the street.
"You've got to get out!" she yelled, "Hurry! There's a fire in the city and it's coming this way! You have to get out before it comes! Hurry!"
For a moment people merely stared at her. Some recognized her as the carpenter's daughter, and began calling out rudely that she had inhaled too much sawdust. She ignored them and pointed towards the great columns of smoke.
"Look!" she cried, "Do you want to go up in flames like those houses? You have to hurry!"
When the people saw the smoke, they finally seemed to realize she was telling the truth. People began running in all directions, men yelling for their wives, women crying for their children. Satisfied that she had done all she could, Honey went back inside her own house. Her father and sister stood in the entrance with a few bags and a basket of food. Honey glanced at her younger sister's face and saw Bess's terrified eyes staring back at her. The poor girl was only twelve, she must be scared witless.
"You can take the food, Bess," her father instructed, "Honey, you take the clothes. I'll grab the tools."
Honey snatched up the small bag containing their clothes as Bess grabbed the basket and her father threw the tools of his trade on his back. His back bent from the weight, and Honey ran over and grabbed a few small tools from him. Smiling gratefully, her father then turned towards the door and strode out. The street was a nightmare. People were everywhere, some running back and forth in terror while others tried to make their way out of the city. Honey's father took a quick look back at the house. His daughters copied him. It was the last time they ever saw it.
Three days later.
Huddling with her sister beneath the crude structure their father had created, Honey woke to a small bit of sun shining through a crack in the tent. Carefully untangling herself from her sister, she left the tent. Peering into the first sunshine that had she had seen since the fire started, she glanced around wondering where her father was. He usually slept outside so the girls could have the tent, but he was not in his blankets. Honey decided he was probably out enjoying the sunshine. The smoke had kept the sun away for days, and some light besides candles would be welcome.
Suddenly she found herself stumbling over her own feet, having been nearly knocked over by a small child running by. She smiled to see the girl's mother flying after her, trying to catch up to her wayward child. After she passed, Honey's smile faded slightly. So many people had become homeless in such a short time. A proclamation had been issued that all towns should accept the displaced people of London without question, but some had not yet been able to reconcile themselves with leaving the city. To most people, it was all they had ever known. For Honey, it was all she had ever known. All her life had been spent tending the shop and helping her father in his work.
"Excuse me miss?"
Honey's thoughts were interrupted suddenly and she found herself face to face with a short, lean man, his plump wife and their three small sons. Their clothes were still black from soot, though their hands and faces were clean.
"Yes?" she answered slowly.
"Pardon me miss," he answered nervously, with his head bowed slightly, "but we heard that your father was a carpenter by trade, and so am I, you see. We lost everything in the fire, all we have is what you see here. We're planning on moving on to my wife's family in Guildford, but I don't have any tools. Without tools, I'll never be able to provide for my family, and we can't rely on charity forever. So, well, we were just wondering if you had any tools to spare."
Honey didn't know what to say. She could see from the starving faces of the children that they likely hadn't had anything decent to eat in days. If their father wasn't able to perform his trade, he wouldn't be able to feed them, and they would likely die. But her father needed his tools, so that he could provide for his family. The tools were precious, handed down through generations of her father's family. How could she just give them away?
But as she looked into the poor beggar's eyes, she remembered what her father had said to her three days ago. She smiled at him and beckoned for him to wait there a moment while she went into the tent. Quickly sorting through the small bag of tools, she wrapped up a small selection of them in some cloth.
"Here," she smiled gently at the family, "take these. They should be enough to get you started."
Immediately, the mother broke into tears, clinging to her small children. The husband, to, looked as though he were about to weep with gratitude. Instead he gratefully accepted the tools.
"Thank you," he shook her hands, both of them together, "Thank you! We have asked all over, none were willing to give us anything, thank you!"
As she watched the family walk away, holding close to each other and heading out to a new life, Honey felt whole for the first time since the fire had destroyed her home. Knowing that the family would be able to provide for themselves, and knowing that she had been able to help them, felt good inside. Whatever her concerns had been before, she knew now that she had done the right thing.
A hand fell on her shoulder now, but she recognized the rough, callused fingers of her father.
"I'm proud of you Honey," he said warmly.
She glowed inside from her father's praise.
"Papa?" she said as she turned to face him, "What is everyone going to do now?"
"Something new I suppose," he answered vaguely, "Don't worry Honey. Everything will turn out right in the end. We'll muddle through, as long as we always remember that we are in this together, and we all must help each other."
Bess crawled out of the tent to stand beside her father, and the three of them stood together, facing the light that showed through the smoke. Honey felt the sun's rays pouring down on her, and she knew that they would be alright. One of her father's other favorite lessons was that you could learn something from everything and everyone. Even this fire, that had destroyed so much, had taught her that value could be found in the smallest of actions, as long as you were helping someone. All would be made right, she thought, as she stared out into the new dawn.