Daunting shades of crimson, orange, and yellow lit up the night’s sky—a horrendous telltale sign of fires raging fiercely out of control. Standing by the window of her Netherfield apartment, Elizabeth could almost feel the hot burning flames against her skin.
It’s Longbourn Village! Have the flames reached the manor house? Did my family escape? Are they safe? Elizabeth tore herself from the window and hurried across the room. Throwing on her robe, but one thing ran through her mind. I must go to them.
The household had settled some hours ago, but one would not know it were one to judge by its now excited state. Netherfield was full of unrest. Elizabeth threw a concerned glance at the door of her sister’s apartment. There is comfort in knowing my dearest Jane is safe. Oh, but what of my other sisters, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia? What of Papa and Mama?
Not wishing to disturb Jane, whom Elizabeth hoped was sleeping soundly despite the commotion, she hurried past the door. She was bounding down the stairs when she came face to face with Mrs. Louisa Hurst and Miss Caroline Bingley.
“Where on Earth do you suppose you’re going at this hour, Miss Eliza?” the younger of the two ladies beseeched.
Although Elizabeth was a guest in their brother’s home, she cared little for the two of them. The feelings were mutual. With no time for feigned civility, Elizabeth said, “Fire is raging out of control in Longbourn Village! Move out of my way!”
The other woman seized hold of Elizabeth’s arm. “What are you planning to do? Surely you do not intend to walk all the way to Longbourn at this hour? And under cover of darkness, I might add. There is no one to accompany you and nothing to guide your way. Nearly all of the men have gone to assist in combating the fire.”
“Besides, what are you going to do should you manage to make your way there in the dark?” Miss Bingley cried. “You had much better stay here where it is safe. If only I could have convinced my brother, Charles, and Mr. Darcy to do the same. I would not be half so worried as I am.”
“Pray let us not forget that my dear husband, Mr. Hurst, also rode out to do what he might do as well.”
A thousand thoughts leaped through Elizabeth’s head. Who are these two to attempt to tell me what to do? Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are at Longbourn fighting the fire. Is every able-bodied person from miles around there as well?
Elizabeth jerked her arm from Mrs. Hurst’s grip and resumed her flight down the stairs.
“What are you thinking, Miss Eliza? Mr. Darcy gave us strict orders that you must not be allowed to leave here tonight. There is nothing you can do!”
“Oh, leave me alone!”
Having failed in their efforts to prevent the second eldest Bennet daughter from fleeing the safety of Netherfield in the middle of the night, the Bingley sisters did manage to deter Elizabeth long enough to call for a carriage, and the three of them set off for Longbourn.
By the time they arrived, it was painfully apparent that considerable efforts to save the manor house had been abandoned in favor of sparing the nearby structures. Her heart breaking in two, Elizabeth’s attention was immediately drawn to her wailing mother. She sprang from the carriage unassisted and raced to her side.
“Oh, Lizzy!” the older woman cried, “my precious Lydia is trapped inside! Oh! I just know I shall never see my darling child again!”
Elizabeth embraced her mother tightly. Her heart pounding and her thoughts whispering a thousand prayers that the unfolding nightmare was just that – a horrible nightmare, she espied her father and her younger sisters, Mary and Kitty, huddling together.
The comfort in seeing the three of them was nothing in comparison to the frightening prospect of her mother’s lamentations. Surrendering to her fears, Elizabeth wept. No sooner than her prayers had been whispered, they were answered.
Loud cries of jubilation amid the perilous destruction erupted. Elizabeth spun around in the direction of the raging fire engulfing her beloved home to see a tall, dark creature emerging from amid the roaring flames dancing all around him.
Mr. Darcy stumbled from the burning building bearing her youngest sister’s slumped body in his arms.
Is she alive? Elizabeth wondered, still embracing her distraught mother. As soon as he was out of danger, Mr. Darcy lowered young Lydia Bennet to the ground a safe distance away from the burning building. Dropping to his knees, he cradled Lydia’s head while checking for signs of life.
Mrs. Bennet had also seen the brave gentleman emerge from the daring devastation with her youngest daughter in his arms. Freeing herself from her second eldest daughter’s embrace, she raced frantically to where Mr. Darcy and Lydia were and pushed her way through the concerned crowd just in time to see the gentleman comforting her daughter.
Elizabeth arrived on her mother’s heels. She wanted to fall to her knees in gratitude. Lydia is alive! What did it matter that the house was collapsing under the weight of the fire’s wrath and nearly all her family’s worldly possessions were gone? Her father, her mother, and all her sisters were alive.
Darcy surrendered Lydia to her mother’s arms. Standing, he scanned the destruction all around. Elizabeth could only imagine the nature of the thoughts racing through his mind. Did he realize that he might very well have perished while attempting to save a young girl so wholly unconnected to him? Did he know how indebted her family would be to him for the rest of their lives?
Seeing her elated mother cradling her daughter to her chest and sobbing tears of joy, Elizabeth wanted to go to Mr. Darcy and thank him for what he had done. Before she could, she espied Miss Caroline Bingley forcing her way to his side.
“Mr. Darcy!” Miss Bingley cried, “Thank heavens you did not fall victim to the fire. What on Earth were you thinking?” She gulped. “You’ve been injured!” Indeed, the gentleman had a gash above his brow, and his clothes were tattered and torn, evidencing other possible injuries.
“Come with me to the carriage,” Miss Bingley urged, seizing hold of his arm and coaxing him a short distance away from the others. “We must get you back to Netherfield at once to attend your injuries.”
“No!” Darcy protested, freeing his arm from the young woman’s grasp. Seconds later, he tumbled to the ground.
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