“And mother, lissun,” Junior added. “They didn’t get the baby out until after they got out the piano! They got the piano out before they got Priscilla! Because Pauline ran over to Wallaces’, and Hannah was walking into the village for the mail, and when Dad got here and yelled to the men, they said they hadn’t seen any baby— they thought the house was empty—”
Nancy turned deathly pale, her eyes reaching Bert’s, her lips moving without a sound.
“I tried the front stairway, but it was—well, I couldn’t,” Bert said. “I kept thinking that she must have been got out, by somebody—but I knew it was only a question of minutes—if she wasn’t! All the time I kept saying ’You’re a fool—they couldn’t have forgotten her—!’ and Rose kept yelling that she must be somewhere, with someone, but I didn’t—somehow I didn’t dare let the few minutes we had go by without making sure! So I ran round to the side, and got in that window, and unlocked that door; Hannah must have locked it. I ran upstairs—she was just waking up. She was sitting up in her crib, rubbing her eyes, and a little bit scared and puzzled—smoke was in there, then—but she held out her little arms to me—I was in time, thank God—I thought we’d never get here—but we were in time!”
And again overcome by the memory of that moment, he brushed his brimming eyes against Priscilla’s bright little head, and his voice failed.
“But Baby couldn’t have burned—Baby couldn’t have burned, could she, Mother?” Anne asked, bursting suddenly into bitter crying. Her anxious look had been going from one face to another, and now she was half frantic with fright.
Nancy sat down on a box, and lifted her elder daughter into her lap.
“No, my precious, Daddy was in time,” she said, in her old firm motherly voice, with her comforting arms about the small and tearful girl. “Daddy and Mother were both rushing home as fast as they could come, that’s what mothers and fathers are for. And now we’re all safe and sound together, and you mustn’t cry any more!”
“But our house is burned down!” said Junior dolefully. “And you’re crying, Mother!” he added accusingly.
Nancy smiled as she dried her eyes, and dried Anne’s, and the children laughed shakily as she exhibited the sooty handkerchief.
“Mother’s crying for joy and gratitude and relief, Junior!” she said. “Why,’ and her reassuring voice was a tonic to the children, “Why, what do Dad and I care about an old house!” she said cheerfully. “We’d rather have ten houses burn down than have one of you children sick, even for a day!”
“Don’t you care?” exulted Anne between two violent kisses, her lips close to her mother’s, her thin arms tight about her mother’s neck.
“We care about you, and the boys, and the baby, Anne,” said Bert, “but that’s all. Why, I sort of think I’m glad to see that house burn down! It used to worry Mother and me a good deal, and now it won’t worry us any more! How about that, Mother?”