“Who’s there?” she gasped.
“Keep your mouth shut!” commanded a voice close to her ear; then the arms lifted her bodily out of bed and swung her clear of the floor; a glimmering tongue of flame licking up the stairway revealed the features of the man in whose arms she struggled.
“Holcomb!” she started to cry out, but the acrid fog closed her throat.
“Keep your mouth shut—do you hear!” he muttered in her ear; “we’ll be out of this in a minute.” He lunged with her headlong over the smashed door and reached the top of the flight, feeling for the first step cautiously with his foot. She screamed this time, beating his face with her clenched hands.
“Keep your mouth shut,” he mumbled; “you’ll strangle.”
Her arm became limp. “Where’s Sam?—where’s—” she pleaded feebly. Then a dull roar rang in her ears; she lay unconscious, a dead weight in his arms.
Holcomb began to stagger on the bottom step, reeling like a drunkard; again he proceeded, stumbling on through the passageway leading to Blakeman’s pantry. The ceiling of varnished yellow pine above him rained down sputtering drippings of flame; they burned his neck, his hands, his hair. He dashed on through a pantry of sizzling blisters, past a glowing wall in a hot fog of yellow smoke, one burned hand covering her mouth. Then he turned sharply to the left, striking his shoulder heavily against a corner beam!
The blow made him conscious of a man crawling on his hands and knees toward them. The man rose—groped blindly like an animal driven to bay and rushed straight at him.
“Give her to me, Billy,” he hissed in his ear, “Quick—save yourself!” Then a burned fist struck straight out and missed—struck again and Holcomb fell senseless.
With the quickness of a cat the man caught the woman in his arms, groped his way to the open, laid her prostrate body on the charred grass—sprang back into the swirl and choke of the deadly gas and smoke, and the next instant reappeared with the stunned and half-conscious Holcomb on his back, his hair singed, his clothes on fire; then he tripped and fell headlong.
The shock brought Holcomb to his senses. The man was stooping over him, his ear close to his cheek.
“It’s me, Billy—Bob Dinsmore. I didn’t want to hurt ye, but I see ye couldn’t manage her and yerself and thar warn’t no other way; ye’d both been smothered. She’s all right—they’re tendin’ to her.”
Holcomb clutched at the hide-out’s sleeve.
“No—I dassent stay—nobody seen me but you”—and he was swallowed up in the shadows.
Two men and a girl now swept past the half-dazed man, halted for a moment, and with a cry of joy from the girl, aided by the trapper and the Clown, dragged him clear of the rain of burning embers.
When Holcomb regained consciousness Margaret was bending over him.
“No, Billy—don’t move, dear. Please, oh, please—” and she kissed his cheek—two soft little kisses—the kisses he had remembered in his dream. Then she left him.