Extract from A Stratford Jewel
- 1926, March 6th
- 'Rosa! Rosa, come quickly! Oh, do hurry!'
- 'Celia, stop fussing! Catch your breath. What in the world's happening?'
- Celia, clutching the neck of her blouse, her long blonde hair streaming in wild disarray across her tear-streaked face, shook her head vehemently.
- 'No time, we've all got to help. I came for my coat. It's an absolute tragedy! Didn't you hear the hooter? Oh do stop asking questions and just come!'
- She seized a coat from the hooks beside the door and ran back into the stable-yard, leaving the kitchen door swinging wildly in the wind.
- 'Shut it, or we'll catch our deaths,' an elderly woman sitting sewing beside the range said irritably. 'Drat it. Now I've lost the thread,' she added, squinting as she tried to rethread the needle. 'It's time your flighty sister came down to earth. That blessed fire hooter's going all the time.'
- Rosa put down her own sewing and went to shut the door. Absently she stooped to pick up some wisps of hay fluttering on the mat. She grinned faintly. 'You know that's an impossibility, Winnie. She's always in the heights or the depths, but she did sound more distraught than usual. I'd better go and see what's the matter.'
- As she spoke she was struggling into her old thick coat, for the March winds were raw. It was a particularly blustery day.
- Winnie sighed, resigned. 'Thread my needle first, then. And don't be late for tea. Mr Thorn's coming.'
- Rosa nodded curtly, but didn't reply as she dealt with the needle and thread. She followed her older sister into the yard where two of the men were unhitching Blossom, their elderly mare, from a cart. Sid, no more than a lad, grinned bashfully and touched his cap, while old Ben, who'd worked for them as long as she could remember, nodded. He said something but she didn't hear as she ran under the archway and into the road. Harry, their other driver, stood there with a grim expression on his thin, handsome face. Rosa ignored him. His occasional inexplicable black moods never affected his work, and he was always polite to customers. She glanced both ways. Celia had vanished but other people were hastening through the market place. The stream of humanity flowed into Ely Street, and as Rosa began to follow she saw, rising high above the buildings towards the river, a dense plume of smoke silhouetted against the pale wintry sky.
- Beyond the Town Hall Sheep Street was blocked by the crush of people. Rosa swung into Chapel Lane. 'What is it?' she asked, apprehensive, as she sped along, and then almost collided with a man emerging from the Shakespeare Hotel.
- He was in his mid-twenties, tall and dark. He grinned apologetically and seized her hand. 'You OK? Come on. The Memorial Theatre. It's on fire,' he said.