“Get in here, Mrs. Bradley!” said a voice. One of the Ingram boys had brought his roadster to a stop beside her. She turned upon him her tear-streaked face.
“Oh, Bob, tell me—what’s happened?”
“I don’t know,” he said, in deep concern. “I just happened to go into the club, and Mrs. Biggerstaff sent me after you! I don’t know—I guess it’s not much of a fire!”
Nancy did not answer. She shut her lips tight, and turned her eyes toward the curve in the road. Even while they rushed toward it, a great mushroom of smoke rose and flattened itself against the deep blue summer sky, widening and sinking over the tops of the trees. Presently they could hear the confused shouts and groans that always surround such a scene, and the hiss of water.
A turn of the road; Holly Court at last. Her escort murmured something, but Nancy did not answer. She had only one sick glance for the scene before them; the fringe of watchers about the house, the village fire-company struggling and shouting over the pitifully inadequate hose, the shining singed timbers of Holly Court. A great funnel of heat swept up above the house, and the green under-leaves on the trees crackled and crisped. From the casement windows smoke trickled or puffed, the roof was falling, in sections, and at every crash and every uprush of sparks the crowd uttered a sympathetic gasp.
The motor, curving up on the lawn, passed the various other vehicles that obstructed the drive. As the mistress of the house arrived, and was recognized, there was a little pitiful stir in the crowd. Nancy remembered some of this long afterward, remembered seeing various household goods—the piano, and some rugs, and some loose books—carefully ranged at one side, remembered a glimpse of Pauline crying, and chattering French, and Pierre patting his wife’s shoulder. She saw familiar faces, and unfamiliar faces, as in a dream.
But under her dream hammered the one agonized question: The children—the children—ah, where were they? Nancy stumbled from the car, asked a sharp question. The villager who heard it presented her a blank and yet not unkindly face. He didn’t know, ma’am, he didn’t know anything—he had just come.
She knew now that she was losing her reason, that she would never be sane again if anything—anything had happened—
The crowd parted as she ran forward. And she saw, with a lightning look that burned the picture on her brain for all her life, the boys blessed little figures—and Anne leaning on her father’s knee, as he sat on an overturned bookcase—and against Bert’s shoulder the little fat, soft brown hand, and the sunny crown of hair that were Priscilla’s—