"An invention of Captain Swansea's. They're filled with pearl ash solution. We're going to use it to keep the fire from spreading until they've primed the water pump." Rohan slid a glance toward Christopher Frost. "Since Swansea is too old to carry the containers, I'll take one and you'll take the other."
Amelia knew Christopher well enough to sense his dislike of taking orders, especially from a man he considered his inferior. But he surprised her by acceding without protest, and followed Cam Rohan to the burning house.
Amelia watched as Cam Rohan and Christopher Frost lifted the ungainly copper containers, which had been fitted with leather hosing, and hauled them past the front door. Captain Swansea remained on the steps, shouting instructions after them.
The windows were shot with lurid flashes as fire began to digest the interior of the house. Soon, Amelia thought bleakly, nothing would be left but a blackened skeleton.
Making her way back to her sisters, Amelia stood beside Win, who was cradling Leo's head in her lap. "How is he?"
"He's ill from the smoke." Win ran a gentle hand over her brother's disheveled head. "But I think he'll be all right."
Glancing down at Leo, Amelia muttered, "The next time you try to kill yourself, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't take the rest of us with you."
He gave no indication of having heard, but Win, Beatrix, and Poppy glanced at her in surprise.
"Not now, dear," Win said in gentle reproof.
Amelia stifled the hot words that rose to her lips and stared stonily at the house.
More people were arriving, some forming a line to pass water buckets back and forth from the river to the hand-pump. There was no sign of activity from within the building. She wondered what Rohan and Frost were doing.
Win seemed to read her mind. "It seems Captain Swansea finally has an opportunity to test his invention," she said.
"What invention?" Amelia asked. "And how do you know about it?"
"I sat next to him at supper, at Stony Cross Manor," Win replied. "He told me that during his experiments with rocketry design, he had the idea for a device that would extinguish fires by spraying them with pearl ash solution. When the copper canister is upended, a vial of acid mixes with the solution, and it creates enough pressure to force the liquid from the canister."
"Would that work?" Amelia asked doubtfully.
"I certainly hope so."
They both flinched at the sound of breaking windows. The handpump crew was making an opening large enough to direct a stream of water inside the burning room.
Becoming more worried by the moment, Amelia watched intently for any sign of Rohan or Frost. She was highly skeptical about the notion of running into a burning house with an untested device that could explode in one's face. Confronted by the chemicals, the smoke, and the heat, the men might be disoriented or overwhelmed. The idea of some harm befalling either of them was unbearable. Her muscles knotted with anxiety until streaks of pain fired through every limb.
Just as she began to consider the idea of venturing to the front threshold, Rohan and Frost emerged from the house with the emptied canisters and were immediately approached by Captain Swansea.
Amelia hurried forward with a cry of gladness, fully intending to stop once she reached them. Which was why it was a surprise when her legs insisted on carrying her forward.
Rohan dropped the canister and caught her tightly. "Easy, hummingbird."
She had lost his coat and her shawl somewhere amid the impetuous dash. The cold night air pierced the thin layer of her gown, causing her to shiver hard. He gripped her more closely, easing her into the pungent fragrance of smoke and sweat. His heartbeat was steady beneath her ear, his hand tracing warm circles on her back.
"The extinguishers were even more effective than I'd anticipated," she heard Captain Swansea say to Christopher Frost. "Two or three more canisters, and I do believe we could have put it down by ourselves."
Collecting herself, Amelia looked out from the circle of Rohan's arms. Frost stared at her with patent disapproval and something that might have been jealousy. She knew she was making a spectacle of herself with Cam Rohan. Again. But she couldn't make herself leave the comforting shelter of his arms just yet.
Captain Swansea was smiling, pleased with the results of his efforts. "The fire's under control now," he told Amelia. "I should think they'll have it out quite soon."
"Captain, I'll never be able to thank you enough," she managed to say.
"I've been waiting for an opportunity like this," he declared. "Though of course I wouldn't have wished for your home to serve as the testing site." He turned to view the progress with the handpump, which was now operating at full capacity. "I'm afraid," he said ruefully, "the water damage will be just as bad as that from the smoke."
"Perhaps some of the upstairs rooms are still habitable," Amelia said. "In a few minutes I should like to go up and see?
"No," Rohan interrupted calmly. "You and the rest of the Hathaways are going to Stony Cross Manor. They have more than enough guest rooms to accommodate you."
Before Amelia could say a word, Christopher Frost answered for her. "I'm staying with the Shelsher family at the village tavern. Miss Hathaway and her siblings will go there with me."
Amelia felt the change in Rohan's hold. His hand came to her arm, and his thumb found the inside curve of her elbow, where her pulse thrummed hard beneath fragile skin. He touched her with the possessive intimacy of a lover.