The overloaded raft floated at a peculiar angle in the water, and looked nearly ready to scuttle itself under the weight of its many terrified or numb refugees, but though it teetered in its own lurching wake it remained afloat as they drew closer to the Southwark shore. Behind them, some distance upstream, the dark outline of London Bridge stood sharp against the orange and gray hues of the atmosphere which surrounded and engulfed it. The city skyline was a terrible vision of nightmares as fire churned and ate everything in its path.
One little girl screamed and pointed. Following her outstretched arm, the passengers of the shoddy little skiff watched in silence as the roof of St. Paul's Cathedral burst into flames. The summer had been a dry one, and the fire hungrily worked its way through the massive stone building before setting alight the stores in the crypt.
The girl watched in laconic stillness and pondered the significance of that tortured vision; was this conflagration a sign from God? Were Londoners now facing the wrath of the Almighty because of their sinful unrepentance? What she most wanted to think about, but her mind was too fearful to approach, was the fate of her family. What had become of them?
Her mind quickly pushed aside that thought, but a single tear cut a path through her soot-covered cheek and glistened in the firelight as it fell into the water because -- even subconsciously -- her greatest fear was that they had perished in the fire.
Perhaps sensing the meaning of her grief, the boy leaned over and wiped away the tear track with his grubby knuckle. "Do not worry about your family," he whispered, "I believe they are safe."
She stifled a sob and gave him a sour glance, "And how can you be so sure?"
"Because, Hattie McTavish, they are the ones who asked me to go into your burning building and save you."
And suddenly there was life within her frail frame. A wide smile danced across her lips and her blue eyes ignited with a light of their own. She laughed and threw her arms around the boy's bare shoulders, "What wonderful news! But pray, tell me why you didn't take me to them."
The boy sighed and looked shamefully into his lap, "During our escape from your house, I must confess I got lost in all the smoke and flames. I don't know where they went after I went inside to get you. I am sorry, Miss McTavish."
Hattie hugged him again, harder than ever before, "But they live! They are alive somewhere."
Though the girl encircling his torso was tiny, her iron grip made it difficult for him to breathe, and he choked out, "I am sure of it, miss."
The raft ran ashore with a soft THUMP, but Hattie seemed not to notice, she was laughing so hard, "I can't thank you enough... say, what is your name anyway?"
Hattie immediately felt him tense in her grasp, so she withdrew to arm's length and queried, "Whatever could it be?"
Instead of a stubborn reply, he instead answered with a soft smile, "My name is John Brown, miss."
Hattie returned his smile but inwardly thought, Liar.