“Right off, like that!” Nancy laughed. But Mrs. Billings said:
“No—but aren’t they quiet? And they were making such a noise! You know they were clapping and laughing so, a few minutes ago!”
“They must have finished,” Mrs. Fielding said, looking at her hand quizzically. “You said no trump. Partner, let’s try two spades!”
“Billy was going to come in to tell me,” persisted Mrs. Billings, “Just wait a minute—!” And leaning back in her chair, she called toward the tea-room. “Steward; will you send one of the boys down to ask how the tennis went? Tell Mr. Billings I want to know how it went!”
The steward came deferentially forward.
“I believe they didn’t finish their game, Mrs. Billings. The fire--you know. I think all the gentlemen went to the fire—”
“Where is there a fire!” demanded two or three voices. Nancy’s surprised eyes went from the steward’s face to Mrs. Biggerstaff’s, and some instinct acted long before her fear could act, and she felt her soul grow sick within her.
“Where is it?” she asked, with a thickening throat, and then suspiciously and fearfully. “Ruth, where was it?” And even while she asked, she said to herself, with a wild hurry and flutter of mind and heart, “It’s our house—that’s what Sam stopped to tell Ruth—it’s Holly Court—but I don’t care—I don’t care, as long as Agnes was there, to get the children out—”
It was all instantaneous, the steward’s stammering explanation, Ruth Biggerstaff’s terrified eyes, the little whimper of fear and sympathy from the other women. Nancy felt that there was more— more—
“What’d Sam tell you, Ruth? For God’s sake—”
“Now, Nancy—now, Nancy—” said the Mrs. Biggerstaff, panting like a frightened child, “Sam said you weren’t to be frightened—we don’t know a thing—listen, dear, we’ll telephone! That’s what we’ll do—it was silly of me, but I thought perhaps we could keep you from being scared—from just this—”
“But—but what did you hear, Ruth? Who sent in the alarm?” Nancy asked, with dry lips. She was at the club, and Holly Court seemed a thousand impassable miles away. To get home—to get home—
“Your Pauline telephoned! Nancy, wait! And she distinctly said— Sam told this of his own accord—” Mrs. Biggerstaff had her arms tight about Nancy, who was trembling very much. Nancy’s agonized look was fixed with pathetic childish faith upon the other woman’s eyes. “Sam told me that she distinctly said that the children were all out with Agnes! She asked to speak to Bert, but Bert was watching a side-line, so Sam came—”
Nancy’s gaze flashed to the clock that ticked placidly over the wide doorway. Three o’clock. And three o’clock said, as clearly as words “Priscilla’s nap.” Agnes had tucked her in her crib, with a “cacker”—and had taken the other children for their promised walk with the new puppy. Pauline had rushed out of the house at the first alarm—