The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 08


MEANWHILLE, a stream of people were coming and going through the shop door, saving as much as possible.

Louisa recognised Mrs Knibb, carrying an armful of clothes. Behind her, Mr Knibb and Samuel Cronk bore a wooden cabinet.

Next door, Mr Hawkins the grocer was also evacuating his premises and other shopkeepers were getting involved.

But where was George?

Peering through the smoke, Louisa spied a figure arguing with a police constable who was trying to keep people out of the alleyway next to the burning building.

From his broad shoulders and the curly hair beneath his cap, Louisa knew at once who it was, even though she couldn’t see his face or hear what he was saying. Clearly agitated, he was pointing towards the stable behind the bakehouse, as Alfie was again heard in distress.

George was as tall as the policeman, who was firmly standing his ground.

There was a crash of tiles and timbers as part of the roof fell in and the shower of sparks made the policeman jump back. Seizing his chance, George ran past and sprinted down the alley.

“Here, Louisa, take these across the street.” Her father handed her a pile of accounting books. “Be sure to give them to Mr or Mrs Knibb.”

Just as Louisa reached the pavement on the other side there was a bang so loud the crowd fell silent. Turning, she saw the side wall of the shop had blown out, sending bricks flying in all directions.

She held her breath in horror. George!

The noise restarted and it was pandemonium once more as people gave up the idea of salvage and instead grabbed any container that would hold water, until a loud cheer from the children signalled the arrival of a second fire engine.

By this time, Louisa’s father was trying to comfort Mrs Knibb who sat on a crate, crying. Mr Knibb was staring dumbfounded at his crumbling business, still clutching the account books to his chest.

Louisa was about to ask the baker to help her find George and Alfie when Samuel Cronk sidled up to him.

“This is all young Jevcott’s fault. You mark my words,” he said.

Louisa longed to remonstrate with him but there wasn’t time for that now.

She looked around desperately. Then she saw the grocer.

“Mr Hawkins, is there another way to get to the stable yard apart from the alley? George Jevcott’s gone to save the pony and he hasn’t come back. The explosion might have blocked his way, or worse.”

The colour drained from the grocer’s face.

“No, it’s a dead end.” He grabbed the nearest fireman.

“There’s a man trapped behind the building. Please turn your hose on the left-hand side to give him an escape route. And we’ll need to clear the fallen rubble.”

The fireman shifted the direction of his hose but wouldn’t budge from his position.

“It’s too soon to risk anyone else’s safety. More of the structure might fall. Wait until we’ve extinguished the flames, at least.”

Louisa looked over her shoulder at Mr and Mrs Knibb who showed not the slightest shred of concern for either their apprentice or their pony.

The wait was agonising. The water from the hoses played against the burning building until the flames died down and the crowd gradually drifted away.

The Knibbs and Samuel Cronk retired to a nearby inn to count their losses.

“It will smoulder for a while yet,” the fireman said. “But the worst is over and it won’t spread any further.”

Mr Hawkins exhaled at the news. His shop, at least, was safe.

Louisa ran towards the alley, prepared to move the bricks with her bare hands if necessary, only stopping when her father caught up with her.

“My dear, don’t be foolhardy.” “Then what shall we do, Papa?” He put his finger in the air.

“Listen.”

From the far end of the alley came the slow, uneven clip-clop of hooves. Then they heard George talking to the animal in a hoarse voice, his breathing laboured.

“Come on, Alfie, steady now. Just a bit further. Nearly there.”

They came into view, man and pony stumbling over the rubble as best they could. George’s eyes were red from the smoke and Alfie looked wide-eyed and wary. But they were alive.

As they reached the safety of the pavement George almost fell.

“Come, my boy,” Edward said, taking him into his arms as Louisa grabbed Alfie’s reins.

George coughed as though his lungs were about to burst. Dr Townsend was soon by their side.

“Smoke inhalation. He’ll need to rest but the cottage hospital is full.” Edward didn’t hesitate.

“Then we shall take him home with us and you can treat him there. The ladies will make him comfortable and see that he gets all the rest he needs.”

“I’ll make sure his family knows.” The doctor nodded.

“And we have room in our stables for the pony to recuperate. William!” He called to his young groom who had been helping to put out the fire.

“Bring the carriage.”

Back at the schoolhouse Aunt Charlotte settled the patient into the guest room and asked Cook to bring him some beef tea.

Edith, meanwhile, made Louisa recount the whole event in detail.

Climbing the stairs wearily later to lie down in her own bedroom, Louisa heard George coughing as she passed by the closed door.

George Jevcott was here, in her home.

That was an unexpected turn of events.

 

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, I have found my perfect place on the “Friend” as I’m obsessed with reading and never go anywhere without a book! I read all of our stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!