“Don’t let them touch me!” she gasped; “keep them off! Tell me, for God’s sake, what has happened!”
He laid his hand firmly on her arm, and lifted her in his turn to her feet like a child. In that supreme moment of physical danger, his strength, reason, and manhood returned in their plenitude of power. He pointed coolly to the trail she had quitted, and said,
“The Carquinez Woods are on fire!”
The nest of the tuneful Burnhams, although in the suburbs of Indian Spring, was not in ordinary weather and seasons hidden from the longing eyes of the youth of that settlement. That night, however, it was veiled in the smoke that encompassed the great highway leading to Excelsior. It is presumed that the Burnham brood had long since folded their wings, for there was no sign of life nor movement in the house as a rapidly-driven horse and buggy pulled up before it. Fortunately, the paternal Burnham was an early bird, in the habit of picking up the first stirring mining worm, and a resounding knock brought him half dressed to the street door. He was startled at seeing Father Wynn before him, a trifle flushed and abstracted.
“Ah ha! up betimes, I see, and ready. No sluggards here—ha, ha!” he said heartily, slamming the door behind him, and by a series of pokes in the ribs genially backing his host into his own sitting-room. “I’m up, too, and am here to see Nellie. She’s here, eh—of course?” he added, darting a quick look at Burnham.
But Mr. Burnham was one of those large, liberal Western husbands who classified his household under the general title of “woman folk,” for the integers of which he was not responsible. He hesitated, and then propounded over the balusters to the upper story the direct query—
“You don’t happen to have Nellie Wynn up there, do ye?”
There was an interval of inquiry proceeding from half a dozen reluctant throats, more or less cottony and muffled, in those various degrees of grievance and mental distress which indicate too early roused young womanhood. The eventual reply seemed to be affirmative, albeit accompanied with a suppressed giggle, as if the young lady had just been discovered as an answer to an amusing conundrum.
“All right,” said Wynn, with an apparent accession of boisterous geniality. “Tell her I must see her, and I’ve only got a few minutes to spare. Tell her to slip on anything and come down; there’s no one here but myself, and I’ve shut the front door on Brother Burnham. Ha, ha!” and suiting the action to the word, he actually bundled the admiring Brother Burnham out on his own doorstep. There was a light pattering on the staircase, and Nellie Wynn, pink with sleep, very tall, very slim, hastily draped in a white counterpane with a blue border and a general classic suggestion, slipped into the parlor. At the same moment her father shut the door behind her, placed one hand on the knob, and with the other seized her wrist.