It is not recorded what caused the fire, nor who was present when it began. Its licking flames creep silently, at first, up the discretely papered walls in the drawing room. No alarm has yet been called as the shifty smoke wraiths caress the waxed mahogany arms of the captain’s chair. Tiny orange flickers dance provocatively on the desk top leaving scorched smears as they twist this way and that. Moving surely, they circle the escritoire and rise in a triumphant leap to smudge themselves on the high ceiling.

   The heat is reminiscent of the hottest summer day. The blistering tongues rasp together, gathering fuel from any source they can find; the papered walls, the oiled wooden skirts, the silky drapes.

   As the intensity of this wicked conflagration increases, the sheaths of fire fork and writhe together, grappling with anything that stands in their way; the chaise longue in the bay, the antique dresser in the alcove, and the winged armchair by the hearth. Now they are rattling the bones of the beech wood door in their frenzy to get out to rampage through the rest of the house like spoilt children.

   The blaze cannot keep quiet. It cracks, spits and kicks its way through the hall and up the stairs. The smoke wraiths have discarded their ashen shifts and wantonly curl their sinewy limbs between the balusters, slip their delicate fingers under the closed doors, and force their way through any aperture they find, running riot. They sweep along the corridor calling at each bedroom door, then swoop towards the sash window at the end, the dancing flames close behind. There is an inch gap where the window has been left to air the first floor. Desperate for sustenance the flames roar through the space and burst through the window shattering the glass in their bid for life.

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