And his reddened eyes, in his soot—and perspiration-streaked face, met Nancy’s with the old smile of fun and courage, and her eyes met his. Something the children missed passed between them; hours of conciliatory talk could not have accomplished what that look did, years of tears and regret would not so thoroughly have washed away the accumulated burden of heartache and resentment and misunderstanding.
“Then we’re going to be gipsies, aren’t we?” exulted Junior.
His mother had straightened her hair, and turned the box upon which she sat for the better accommodation of Anne and herself. Now she was placidly watching the flames devour Holly Court; the pink banners that blew loose in the upswirling gray fumes, and the little busy sucking tongues that wrapped themselves about an odd cornice or window frame and devoured it industriously. She saw her bedroom paper, the green paper with the white daisies—Bert had thought that a too-expensive paper—scarred with great gouts of smoke, and she saw the tangled pipes of her own bathroom curve and drop down in a blackened mass, and all the time her arm encircled Anne, and the child’s heart beat less and less fitfully, and Nancy’s soul was steeped in peace.
“You’ll get some insurance, Bert?” asked one of the many neighbours who were hovering about the family group, waiting for a suitable moment in which to offer sympathy. The first excitement of the reunion over, they gathered nearer; Fielding and Oliver Rose coatless and perspiring from their struggles with the furniture, a dozen others equally concerned and friendly.
“Fourteen thousand,” grinned Bert, “and I carry a thirteen-thousand loan on her!”
“Gosh, that is tough luck, Brad! She’s a dead loss then, for she’s gone like paper, and there won’t be ten dollars’ worth of salvage. You had some furniture insurance?”
“Not a cent!” Bert said cheerfully. He glanced about at his excited sons; his wife, bareheaded, and still pale, if smiling; his daughter just over her tears; and his baby, plump and happy in her little white petticoat. “I guess we got most everything out of the house that I care much about!” smiled Bert.
For two hours more the Bradleys sat as they were, and watched the swift ruin of their home. Nancy’s hot face cooled by degrees, and she showed an occasional faint interest in the details of the calamity; this chair was saved, that was good; this clock was in ruins, no matter. She did not loosen her hold on Anne, and the little girl sat contentedly in her mother’s lap, but the boys foraged, and shouted as they dashed to and fro. Over and over again she reassured them; it was too bad, of course, but Mother and Dad did not mind very much. She thanked the neighbours who brought chairs and pillows and odd plates, and piled them near her.