Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Truce: The Historic Neighbor from Hell, Page 17

R. L. Mathewson

Page 17

 

  “Harold, it’s our house!” Danielle cried.

  “Nonsense,” Harold huffed as he leaned over to look out the small square window.

  “It is!”

  Robert was already jumping out of the carriage and running before the last word was out of his father’s mouth. Ahead of him Lord Norwood and, damn it all to hell, Elizabeth were also running towards the large blaze.

  Elizabeth stopped in front of the crying maids. “Johnny’s in there!”

  “Who’s Johnny?” Elizabeth asked, getting the attention of the maid closest to her.

  “He’s the cook’s grandson. He’s visiting. Oh, he’s so small!” the maid cried, her horrified gaze fixed on the townhouse slowly being consumed by flames.

  She grabbed the maid’s shoulders, ignoring the smoke and blaze for a moment. “Where is he?”

  “In the back! In the servant’s quarters!”

  “Elizabeth, get back!” her father yelled from the line of men handling the buckets of water.

  “You’re sure he didn’t make it out?” she asked the maid, ignoring her father's demands.

  “Yes! He was crying when they dragged me out!”

  “Okay, the back you say?”

  “Yes!”

  Elizabeth grabbed a passing bucket of water and poured it on herself. “My Lady?” the maid asked, stunned by the odd behavior, but Elizabeth was already off and running into the smoke filled house.

  “Elizabeth!”

  “Beth!”

  She ignored the shouts and pressed her wet shawl to her mouth so that she could breathe through the thick smoke. She ducked low and moved forward. Her eyes were already stinging by the time she made it to the front step. She had no idea where the fire had started, but she had a good idea that it had started on the second floor since she didn't see any hint of flame through the thick smoke. Old houses like this went up quickly once the flame took hold so she knew there wasn’t much time to guess. She moved to the back of the house, jumping over rubble and avoiding the crumbling ceiling along the way as she prayed that she was headed in the right direction.

  “Johnny!” she screamed, coughing as she made her way through the smoky kitchen to the back rooms. She hadn’t been in this house in over ten years, but she was able to get her bearings, she knew it as well as her own.

  “Johnny!” she yelled again when she reached the servants’ quarters. She remembered the cook had the room at the end of the small hallway and kept walking, praying that nothing had changed since she’d last been here.

  Halfway down the small hallway a hand wrapped around her arm and pulled her to a stop. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Robert demanded, yelling so that he could be heard over the loud crackling of fire and the sounds of timber crashing close by.

  Desperate to find the little boy, she pushed at his arm until he let her go and practically ran to the cook’s room. She threw the door open. Through the smoke she could just barely make out a small bed made up on one side and a small pallet on the floor on the other side of the room. This was the room. It had to be.

  “Johnny!”

  “Here,” a small voice said, sounding terrified.

  “Under the bed!” Robert yelled.

  They both quickly dropped to their knees. Elizabeth leaned down and peered under the bed and nearly wept with relief when she spotted the small boy curled up beneath the bed.

  “Come here, sweetheart,” Elizabeth said softly around a cough as smoke threatened to suffocate her.

  The little boy shook his head. “Come here, you’re worrying your grandmother. You don’t want to do that, do you?”

  “No,” Johnny said, shaking his head. “I’m scared. ”

  “I am, too. I need you to come out here, Johnny, and help me,” she said firmly, hoping the demand would be enough to convince him to come out.

  The boy thought it over before reluctantly nodding. Hesitantly, he reached out and took her hand. When a loud crack echoed throughout the room a few seconds later, the frightened boy tried to pull back, but Robert grabbed his arm and yanked the boy out the rest of the way before he could move back. Johnny shrieked in surprise.

  “Good, let’s go,” Robert said, reaching back and taking her arm. He pulled her towards the kitchen where they both froze in horror. The way they’d come was now engulfed in flames.

  “Out the back!” Elizabeth yelled. She tugged on his hand and pulled him towards the door that led to the small garden. She managed to yank the door open and fled the house with Robert in tow.

  “I want my Grandma!” Johnny sobbed.

  Robert nodded sympathetically. “We’ll take you right to her. ” He looked back at the house. Thankfully the house was made of thick stone. It would help slow the spread of flames to other houses and give the men a chance to put out the fire. They could hear the men shouting orders for more water while others screamed in fear.

  “We’ll have to go around the alley,” Elizabeth said, her voice raw from the smoke.

  “Let’s go,” he said in agreement.

  Johnny wrapped his small arms around his neck while they charged through the thick smoke that poured into the alley. Water thrown on the neighboring roofs to prevent the fire from spreading dripped down on them. The cool water felt good on their overheated, ash covered skin.

  Elizabeth squeezed his hand, afraid she’d lose them in the smoke. She tugged none-too-gently to get them onto the street where they both collapsed in coughing fits. Their lungs cramped under the demand for fresh air.

  “Over here!” a man yelled.

  Strong hands suddenly clasped Elizabeth by her arms and hauled her up. In seconds she was cradled in someone’s strong arms. She looked up expecting to see her father. Instead she was looking at Robert’s soot covered face. She watched a muscle pulse in his jaw as he stared down at her.

  “Come on, we need to get you out of here,” he said hoarsely.

  “Where’s Johnny?” she asked, close to panicking when she didn’t spot the little boy. Had they lost the boy in the smoke?

  “Calm down. He’s okay. His grandmother tore him from my arms before I hit the cobblestone. ”

  “We need more men! More men!” someone screamed.

  They looked over to see wide gaps in the water bucket line. Without a word, she squirmed out of his arms and ran to fill the gap at the front of the line. “Elizabeth!”

  She ignored him. As soon as she found a spot she jumped into the rhythm of passing the water buckets to the first man on the ladder and taking the empty buckets out of his hand and passing them back. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Robert jump into the line. He worked hard and fast, but kept his eyes on her. Her father and James were further down in the line, already soaked to the bone. The women in their party were gone along with her family’s carriage. It was for the best. They were completely useless standing around swooning.

  Several women, maids mostly, from other households, joined the line upon seeing her. Soon the water was moving faster. Her arms and back were suffering under the constant strain, but she pushed on. She never asked anyone to relieve her and never slowed down. The houses were mostly made of stone and a good distance apart, but if they didn’t get this fire out, there would be nothing to stop the fire from spreading from rooftop to rooftop until it found a wooden building. Then there would be big trouble.