Thomas Faynor was still awake at midnight, banking the fire in the bread ovens, ready for rekindling in a few hours’ time for early morning baking. When he was finally done he went up the steep stairs to his bed in the room above, which was the family’s living and sleeping quarters, disturbing his wife, who had turned in an hour earlier. On his way he stumbled over the baker’s boy’s pallet at the foot of the stairs, kicking it for good measure, making sure that Annie, the maid, was nowhere near the boy’s bed but that she was lying on her own straw pallet in the corner of the bakehouse, half hidden behind a makeshift curtain. The boy grunted, cursing his master under his breath for being late to bed. He would miss Annie tonight. Even on Sunday people wanted fresh bread and he was to rise first to see to the ovens, fanning the flames to bring them to the required temperature. Sleepily, he yawned and dug himself deeper into the straw.
It was Sunday, the 2nd September 1666.
The night was as silent as a night within the old Roman Walls of the City of London could be. A few revellers were still about, but here, on Pudding Lane, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral, only a few taverns kept really late hours and soon the only noise in the bakery was the rustling of rats in the rushes, and the crackling of the fire in the ovens.
The boy went back to sleep. The noise from the room above, where the baker had roughly woken his wife, had stopped. All was quiet.
The boy dreamt. He dreamt that a fire was breaking out in the bakehouse. He dreamt that he was the only one awake and it was up to him to stop the blaze. It was almost as if he could feel the heat coming closer, sweeping across the rushes and licking the wattle and daub walls. He rose from his pallet and there was a strange apparatus waiting for him. He bent to pick it up and lo and behold, the strange apparatus belched its white breath at the fire. The boy and the apparatus fought the fire, inch by inch, step by step, until they had vanquished it. In his dream he became a hero and the Mayor of London praised him in front of the multitudes and the King himself called him to the Palace of Westminster. Annie came to his bed every night. He could feel the heat of her body scorching his skin.
The boy awoke.