The City of Fire
Grace Livingston Hill
Part 2 out of 6
Mark was knocked cold at the Thanksgiving Day Football game last year.
Mark's hand and arm had looked like that--he had held his fingers like
that--when they picked him up. Mark had the base-ball hand! Of course
that rich guy might have been an athlete too, they were sometimes. And
of course Mark was right now at home and in bed, where Billy wished he
was also, but somehow the memory of that still dark "knocked cold"
attitude, and that hanging hand and arm would not leave him. He frowned
in the dark and wished this business was over. Mark was the only living
soul Billy felt he could ever tell about this night's escapade, and he
wasn't sure he could tell him, but he knew if he did that Mark would
Billy watched anxiously for a streak of light in the East, but none had
come as yet. The moon had left the earth darker than darkness when it
He tried to think what he should do. His bicycle was lying in the
bushes and he ought to get it before daylight. If they went near the
station he would drop off and pick it up. Then he would scuttle through
the woods and get to the Crossroads, and beat it down to the Blue Duck
Tavern. That was the only place open all night where he could
telephone. He didn't like to go to the Blue Duck Tavern on account of
his aunt. She had once made him promise most solemnly, bringing in
something about his dead mother, that he would never go to the Blue
Duck Tavern. But this was a case of necessity, and dead mothers, if
they cared at all, ought to understand. He had a deep underlying faith
in the principle of what a mother--at any rate a dead mother--would be
like. And anyhow, this wasn't the kind of "going" to the Tavern his
aunt had meant. He was keeping the spirit of the promise if not the
letter. In his code the spirit meant much more than the letter--at
least on this occasion. There were often times when he rigidly adhered
to the letter and let the spirit take care of itself, but this was not
But if, on the other hand they did not take Pat all the way back to the
crossing by the station it would be even better for him, for the road
on which they now were passed within a quarter of a mile of the Blue
Duck Tavern, and he could easily beat the car to the state line, by
dropping off and running.
But suddenly and without warning it became apparent that Pat was to be
let out to walk to the station crossing, and Billy had only a second to
decide what to do, while Pat lumbered swearing down from the car. If he
got off now he would have to wait till Pat was far ahead before he
dared go after his wheel, and he would lose so much time there would be
no use in trying to save the car. On the other hand if he stayed on the
car he was liable to be seen by Pat, and perhaps caught. However, this
seemed the only possible way to keep the car from destruction and loss,
so he wriggled himself into his seat more firmly, tucked his legs
painfully up under him, covered his face with his cap, and hid his
hands in his pockets.
"You've plenty of time," raged Pat, "You've only a little five miles
run left. It's a good half hour before light. You're a pair of cowards,
that's whut ye are, and so I'll tell Sam. If I get fired fer not being
there fer the early milk train, there'll be no more fat jobs fer youse.
Now be sure ye do as you're told. Leave the car in the first field
beyond the woods after ye cross the state line, lift yer flash light
and wink three times, count three slow, and wink three times more.
_Then beat it!_ And doncha ferget to go feed that guy! We don't
want he should die on us."
The engine began to mutter. Pat with a farewell string of oaths rolled
off down the road, too sleepy to look behind, and Billy held his breath
and ducked low till the rolling Pat was one with the deep gray of the
The first streak of light was beginning to show in the East, and the
all-night revellers at the Blue Duck were in the last stages of going
home after a more than usually exciting season, when Billy like the
hardened promise-breaker he felt himself to be, boldly slid in at the
door and disappeared inside the telephone booth behind the last row of
tables in the corner. For leave it to a boy, even though he be not a
frequenter of a place, to know where everything needful is to be found!
He had to wait several minutes to get the Chief of Police in Economy,
and while he waited two gaunt habitues of the Tavern slid into seats at
the table to the left of the booth, ordered drinks and began to discuss
something in a low tone. Billy paid no heed till he happened to hear
his friend's name:
"Yep, I seen Mark come in with Cherry early in the evening. He set
right over there and gotter some drink. The girl was mad because he
wouldn't get her what she wanted to drink. I happened to be settin'
direckly in front and I heard her gassin' about it. She tossed her head
and made her eyes look little and ugly like a pig, and once she got up
to go, and he grabbed her hands and made her set down; and just set
there fer sometime alookin' at her hard an' holdin' her han's and
chewin' the rag at her. I don't know what all they was sayin,' fer he
talked mighty low, an' Ike called me to take a hand in the game over
tother side the room, so I didn't know no more till I see him an'
Cherry beatin' it out the side door, an' Dolphin standin' over acrost
by the desk lampin' 'em with his ugly look, an' pretty quick, Dolph he
slid out the other door an' was gone quite some time. When he come back
Cherry was with him, laughin' and makin' eyes, and vampin' away like
she always does, an' him an' her danced a lot after that--"
A voice on the end of the wire broke in upon this amazing conversation,
and Billy with difficulty adjusted his jaded mind, to the matter in
"'Z'is the Chief? Say, Chief, a coupla guys stole a machine--
Holes-Mowbrays--license number 6362656-W--Got that? New York tag.
They're on their way over to the State Line beyond the Cross Roads.
They're gonta run her in the field just beyond the woods, you know.
They're gonta give a flash light signal to their pal, three winks, count
three slow, and three winks more, and then beat it. Then some guy is
gonta wreck the machine. It's up to you and your men to hold the
machine till I get the owner there. He don't know it's pinched yet,
but I know where to find him, an' he'll have the license and can
identify it. Where'll I find you? Station House? 'Conomy? Sure! I'll
be there soon's I get'im. What's that? I? Oh, I'm just a kid that
happened to get wise. My name? Oh rats! That don't cut any ice now!
You get on yer job! They must be almost there by now. I gotta beat
Billy was all there even if he had been up all night. He hung up with a
click, for he was anxious to hear what the men were saying. They had
finished their glasses and were preparing to leave. The old one was
gabbling on in a querrilous gossipy tone:
"Well, it'll go hard with Mark Carter if the man dies. Everybody knows
he was here, and unless he can prove an alibi--!"
They were crawling reluctantly out of their haunts now, and Billy could
catch but one more sentence:
"Well, I'm sorry fer his ma. I used to go to school with Mrs. Carter
when we were kids."
They were gone out and the room suddenly showed empty. The waiter was
fastening the shutters. In a moment more he would be locked in. Billy
made a silent dash among the tables and slid out the door while the
waiter's back was turned. The two men were ambling slowly down the road
toward Economy. Billy started on a dead run. His rubber soled shoes
made no echo and he was too light on his feet to make a thud. He
disappeared into the grayness like a spirit. He had more cause than
ever now for hurry. Mark! Mark! His beloved Mark Carter! What must he
do about it? Must he tell Mark? Or did Mark perhaps know? What had
happened anyway? There had evidently been a shooting. That Cherry
Fenner was mixed up in it. Billy knew her only by sight. She always
grinned at him and said: "Hello, Billee!" in her pretty dimpled way. He
didn't care for her himself. He had accepted her as a part of life, a
necessary evil. She wore her hair queer, and had very short tight
skirts, and high heels. She painted her face and vamped, but that was
her affair. He had heretofore tolerated her because she seemed in some
way to be under Mark Carter's recent protection. Therefore he had
growled "Ello!" grimly whenever she accosted him and let it go at that.
If it had come to a show down he would have stood up for her because he
knew that Mark would, that was all. Mark knew his own business. Far be
it from Billy to criticize his hero's reasons. Perhaps it was one of
Mark's weaknesses. It was up to him. That was the code of a "white man"
as Billy had learned it from "the fellas."
But this was a different matter. This involved Mark's honor. It was up
to him to find Mark!
Billy did not take the High road down from his detour. He cut across
below the Crossroads, over rough ground, among the underbrush, and
parting the low growing trees was lost in the gloom of the woods. But
he knew every inch of ground within twenty miles around, and darkness
did not take away his sense of direction. He crashed along among the
branches, making steady headway toward the spot where he had left his
bicycle, puffing and panting, his face streaked with dirt, his eyes
bleared and haggard, his whole lithe young body straining forward and
fighting against the dire weariness that was upon him, for it was not
often that he stayed up all night. Aunt Saxon saw to that much at
The sky was growing rosy now, and he could hear the rumbling of the
milk train. It was late. Pat would not lose his job this time, for he
must have had plenty of time to get back to the station. Billy wormed
himself under cover as the train approached, and bided his time.
Cautiously, peering from behind the huckleberry growth, he watched Pat
slamming the milk cans around. He could see his bicycle lying like a
dark skeleton of a thing against the gravel bank. It was lucky he got
there before day, for Pat would have been sure to see it, and it might
have given him an idea that Billy had gone with the automobile.
The milk train came suddenly in sight through the tunnel, like a
lighted thread going through a needle. It rumbled up to the station.
There was a rattling of milk cans, empty ones being put on, full cans
being put off, grumbling of Pat at the train hands, loud retorts of the
train hands, the engine puffed and wheezed like a fat old lady going
upstairs and stopping on every landing to rest. Then slamming of car
doors, a whistle, the snort of the engine as it took up its way again
out toward the rosy sky, its headlight weird like a sick candle against
the dawn, its tail light winking with a leer and mocking at the
mountains as it clattered away like a row of gray ducks lifting webbed
feet and flinging back space to the station.
Pat rolled the loaded truck to the other platform ready for the Lake
train at seven, and went in to a much needed rest. He slammed the door
with a finality that gave Billy relief. The boy waited a moment more in
the gathering dawn, and then made a dash for the open, salvaging his
bicycle, and diving back into the undergrowth.
For a quarter of a mile he and the wheel like two comrades raced under
branches, and threaded their way between trees. Then he came out into
the Highroad and mounting his wheel rode into the world just as the sun
shot up and touched the day with wonder.
He rode into the silent sleeping village of Sabbath Valley just as the
bells from the church chimed out gently, as bells should do on a
Sabbath morning when people are at rest, "One! Two! Three! Four! Five!"
Sabbath Valley looked great as he pedalled silently down the street.
Even the old squeak of the back wheel seemed to be holding its breath
for the occasion.
He coasted past the church and down the gentle incline in front of the
parsonage and Joneses, and the Littles and Browns and Gibsons. Like a
shadow of the night passing he slid past the Fowlers and Tiptons and
Duncannons, and fastened his eyes on the little white fence with the
white pillared gate where Mrs. Carter lived. Was that a light in the
kitchen window? And the barn that Mark used for his garage when he was
at home, was the door open? He couldn't quite see for the cyringa bush
hid it from the road. With a furtive glance up and down the street he
wheeled in at the driveway, and rode up under the shadow of the green
shuttered white house.
He dismounted silently, stealthily, rested his wheel against the trunk
of a cherry tree, and with keen eyes for every window, glanced up to
the open one above which he knew belonged to Mark's room. Strong grimy
fingers went to his lips and a low cautious whistle, more like a bird
call issued forth, musical as any wild note.
The white muslin curtains wavered back and forth in the summer breeze,
and for a moment he thought a head was about to appear for a soft
stirring noise had seemed to move within the house somewhere, but the
curtains swayed on and no Mark appeared. Then he suddenly was aware of
a white face confronting him at the downstairs window directly opposite
to him, white and scared and--was it accusing? And suddenly he began to
tremble. Not all the events of the night had made him tremble, but now
he trembled, it was Mark's mother, and she had pink rims to her eyes,
and little damp crimples around her mouth and eyes for all the world
like Aunt Saxon's. She looked--she looked exactly as though she had not
slept all night. Her nose was thin and red, and her eyes had that awful
blue that eyes get that have been much washed with tears. The soft
waves of her hair drooped thinly, and the coil behind showed more
threads of silver than of brown in the morning sun that shot through
the branches of the cherry tree. She had a frightened look, as if Billy
had brought some awful news, or as if it was his fault, he could not
tell which, and he began to feel that choking sensation and that
goneness in the pit of his stomach that Aunt Saxon always gave him when
she looked frightened at something he had done or was going to do.
Added to this was that sudden premonition, and a memory of that
drooping still figure in the dark up on the mountain.
Mrs. Carter sat down the candle on a shelf and raised the window:
"Is that you Billy?" she asked, and there were tears in her voice.
Billy had a brief appalling revelation of Mothers the world over. Did
all Mothers--women--act like that when they were _fools_? Fools is
what he called them in his mind. Yet in spite of himself and his rage
and trembling he felt a sudden tenderness for this crumply, tired,
ghastly little pink rimmed mother, apprehensive of the worst as was
plain to see. Billy recalled like a flash the old man at the Blue Duck
saying, "I'm sorry for his ma. I used to go to school with her." He
looked at the faded face with the pink rims and trembling lips and had
a vision of a brown haired little girl at a desk, and old Si Appleby a
teasing boy in the desk opposite. It came over him that some day he
would be an old man somewhere telling how he went to school--! And then
"Where's Mark? Up yet?"
She shook her head apprehensively, withholdingly.
Billy had a thought that perhaps some one had beat him to it with news
from the Blue Duck, but he put it from him. There were tears in her
eyes and one was straggling down between the crimples of her cheeks
where it looked as if she had lain on the folds of her handkerchief all
night. There came a new tenderness in his voice. This was _Mark's_
mother, and this was the way she felt. Well, of course it was silly,
but she was Mark's _mother_.
"Man up the mountain had n'accident. I thought Mark ud he'p. He always
does," explained Billy awkwardly with a feeling that he ought to
account for his early visit.
"Yes, of course, Mark would like to help!" purred his mother comforted
at the very thought of every day life and Mark going about as usual,
"But--" and the apprehension flew into her eyes again, "He isn't home.
Billy, he hasn't come home at all last night! I'm frightened to death!
I've sat up all night! I can't think what's happened--! There's so many
hold-ups and Mark will carry his money loose in his trousers pocket--!"
Billy blanched but lied beautifully up to the occasion even as he would
have liked to have somebody lie for him to Aunt Saxon:
"Aw! That's nothing! Doncha worry. He tol' me he might have t'stay down
t'Unity all night. There's a fella down there that likes him a lot, an'
they had somekinduva blowout in their church last night. He mightuv had
ta take some girl home out of town ya know, and stayed over with the
Mrs. Carter's face relaxed a shade:
"Yes, I've tried to think that--!"
"Well, doncha worry, Mizz Carter, I'll lookim up fer ya, I know 'bout
where he might be."
"Oh, thank you Billy," her face wreathed in wavering smiles brought
another thought of school days and life and how queer it was that grown
folks had been children sometime and children had to be grown folks.
"Billy, Mark likes you very much. I'm sure he won't mind your knowing
that I'm worried, but you know how boys don't like to have their
mothers worry, so you needn't say anything to Mark that I said I was
worried, need you? You understand Billy. I'm not _really_ worried
you know. Mark was always a good boy."
"Aw sure!" said Billy with a knowing wink. "He's a prince! You leave it
t'me, Mizz Carter!"
"Thank you, Billy. I'll do something for you sometime. But how's it
come you're up so early? You haven't had your breakfast yet have you?"
She eyed his weary young face with a motherly anxiety:
"Naw, I didn't have no time to stop fer breakfast," Billy spoke
importantly, "Got this call about the sick guy and had to beat it. Say,
you don't happen to know Mark's license number do you? It might help a
lot, savin' time 'f'I could tell his car at sight. Save stoppin' to
"Well, now, I don't really--" said the woman ruminatively, "let me see.
There was six and six, there were a lot of sixes if I remember--"
"Oh, well, it don't matter--" Billy grasped his wheel and prepared to
"Wait, Billy, you must have something to eat--"
"Aw, naw, I can't wait! Gotta beat it! Might miss 'im!"
"Well, just a bite. Here, I'll get you some cookies!"
She vanished, and he realized for the first time that he was hungry.
Cookies sounded good.
She returned with a brimming glass of milk and a plate of cookies. She
stuffed the cookies in his pockets, while he drank the milk.
"Say,--" said he after a long sweet draught of the foaming milk, "Ya,
aint got enny more you cud spare fer that sick guy, have ya? Wait, I'll
save this. Got a bottle?"
"Indeed you won't, Billy Gaston. You just drink that every drop. I'll
get you another bottle to take with you. I got extra last night 'count
of Mark being home, and then he didn't drink it. He always likes a
drink of milk last thing before he goes to bed."
She vanished and returned with a quart of milk cold off the ice. She
wrapped it well with newspapers, and Billy packed it safely into the
little basket on his wheel. Then he bethought him of another need.
"Say, m'y I go inta the g'rage an' get a screw driver? Screw loose on
She nodded and he vanished into the open barn door. Well he knew where
Mark kept his tools. He picked out a small pointed saw, a neat little
auger and a file and stowed them hurriedly under the milk bottle. Thus
reinforced without and within, he mounted his faithful steed and sped
away to the hills.
The morning sun had shot up several degrees during his delay, and
Sabbath Valley lay like a thing new born in its glory. On the belfry a
purple dove sat glistening, green and gold ripples on her neck, turning
her head proudly from side to side as Billy rode by, and when he topped
the first hill across the valley the bells rang out six sweet strokes
as if to remind him that Sunday School was not far off and he must
hurry back. But Billy was trying to think how he should get into that
locked house, and wondering whether the kidnappers would have returned
to feed their captive yet. He realized that he must be wary, although
his instinct told him that they would wait for dark, besides, he had
hopes that they might have been "pinched."
Nevertheless he approached the old house cautiously, skirting the
mountain to avoid Pleasant Valley, and walking a mile or two through
thick undergrowth, sometimes with difficulty propelling the faithful
Arrived in sight he studied the surroundings carefully, harbored his
wheel where it would not be discovered and was yet easily available,
and after reconnoitering stole out of covert.
The house stood gaunt and grim against the smiling morning. Its
shuttered windows giving an expression of blindness or the repellant
mask of death. A dead house, that was what it was. Its doors and
windows closed on the tragedy that had been enacted within its massive
stone walls. It seemed more like a fortress than a house where warm
human faces had once looked forth, and where laughter and pleasant
words had once sounded out. To pass it had always stirred a sense of
mystery and weirdness. To approach it thus with the intention of
entering to find that still limp figure of a man gave a most
overpowering sense of awe. Billy looked up with wide eyes, the deep
shadows under them standing out in the clear light of the morning and
giving him a strangely old aspect as if he had jumped over at least ten
years during the night. Warily he circled the house, keeping close to
the shrubbery at first and listening as a squirrel might have done,
then gradually drawing nearer. He noticed that the down stairs shutters
were solid iron with a little half moon peep hole at the top. Those
upstairs were solid below and fitted with slats above, but the slats
were closed of all the front windows, and all but two of the back ones,
which were turned upward so that one could not see the glass. The
doors, both back and front, were locked, and unshakable, of solid oak
and very thick. A Yale lock with a new look gave all entrance at the
front an impossible look. The back door was equally impregnable unless
he set to work with his auger and saw and took out a heavy oak panel.
He got down to the ground and began to examine the cellar windows. They
seemed to be fitted with iron bars set into the solid masonry. He went
all around the house and found each one unshakable, until he reached
the last at the back. There he found a bit of stone cracked and
loosened and it gave him an idea. He set to work with his few tools,
and finally succeeded in loosening one rusted bar. He was much hindered
in his work by the necessity of keeping a constant watch out, and by
his attempts to be quiet. There was no telling when Link and Shorty
might come to feed their captive and he must not be discovered.
It was slow work picking away at the stone, filing away at the rusty
iron, but the bars were so close together that three must be removed
before he could hope to crawl through, and even then he might be able
to get no further than the cellar. The guy that fixed this house up for
a prison knew what he was about.
Faintly across the mountains came the echo of bells, or were they in
the boy's own soul? He worked away in the hot sun, the perspiration
rolling down his weary dirty face, and sometimes his soul fainted
within him. Bells, and the sweet quiet church with the pleasant daily
faces about and the hum of Sunday School beginning! How far away that
all seemed to him now as he filed and picked, and sweated, and kept up
a strange something in his soul half yearning, half fierce dread, that
might have been like praying only the burden of its yearning seemed to
be expressed in but a single word, "Mark! Mark!"
At last the third bar came loose and with a great sigh that was almost
like a sob, the boy tore it out, and cleared the way. Then carefully
gathering his effects, tools, milk bottle and cap together, he let them
down into the dungeon-like blackness of the cellar, and crept in after
them, taking the precaution to set up in place the iron bars once more
and leave no trace of his entrance.
Pausing cautiously to listen he ventured to strike a match, mentally
belaboring himself at the wasteful way in which he had always used his
flash light which was now so much needed and out of commission. The
cellar was large, running under the whole house, with heavy rafters and
looming coal pits. A scurrying rat started a few lumps of coal in the
slide, and a cobwebby rope hung ominously from one cross beam, giving
him a passing shudder. It seemed as if the spirit of the past had
arisen to challenge his entrance thus. He took a few steps forward
toward a dim staircase he sighted at the farther end, and then a sudden
noise sent his heart beating fast. He extinguished the match and stood
in the darkness listening with straining ears. That was surely a step
he heard on the floor above!
Laurence Shafton awoke late to the sound of church bells come alive and
singing hymn tunes. There was something strangely unreal in the sound,
in the utter stillness of the background of Sabbath Valley atmosphere
that made him think, almost, just for an instant, that he had stumbled
somehow into the wrong end of the other world, and come into the fields
of the blessed. Not that he had any very definite idea about what the
fields of the blessed would look like or what would be going on there,
but there was something still and holy between the voices of the bells
that fairly compelled his jaded young soul to sit up and listen.
But at the first attempt to sit up a very sharp very decided twinge of
pain caught him, and brought an assorted list of words which he kept
for such occasions to his lips. Then he looked around and tried to take
in the situation. It was almost as if he had been caught out of his own
world and dropped into another universe, so different was everything
here, and so little did he remember the happenings of the night before.
He had had trouble with his car, something infernal that had prevented
his going farther--he recalled having to get out and push the thing
along the road, and then two loutish men who made game of him and sent
him here to get his car fixed. There had been a man, a queer man who
gave him bread and butter instead of wine--he remembered that--and he
had failed to get his car fixed, but how the deuce did he get landed on
this couch with a world of books about him and a thin muslin curtain
blowing into the room, and fanning the cheeks of a lovely rose in a
long stemmed clear glass vase? Did he try to start and have a smash up?
No, he remembered going down the steps with the intention of starting,
but stay! Now it was coming to him. He fell off the porch! He must have
had a jag on or he never would have fallen. He did things to his ankle
in falling. He remembered the gentle giant picking him up as if he had
been a baby and putting him here, but where was _here_? Ah! Now he
remembered! He was on his way to Opal Verrons. A bet. An elopement for
the prize! Great stakes. He had lost of course. What a fool! If it
hadn't been for his ankle he might have got to a trolley car or train
somehow and made a garage. Money would have taken him there in time. He
was vexed that he had lost. It would have been great fun, and he had
the name of always winning when he set out to do so. But then, perhaps
it was just as well--Verrons was a good fellow as men went--he liked
him, and he was plain out and out fond of Opal just at present. It
would have been a dirty shame to play the trick behind his back. Still,
if Opal wanted to run away with him it was up to him to run of course.
Opal was rare sport and he couldn't stand the idea of Smart-Aleck
McMarter, or that conceited Percy Emerson getting there first. He
wondered which had won. It made his fury rise to think of either, and
he had promised the lady neither of them should. What was she thinking
of him by now that he had sent her no word of his delay? That was
inexcusable. He must attend to it at once.
He glanced around the pleasant room. Yes, there on the desk was a
telephone! Could he get to it? He sat up and painfully edged his way
over to the desk.
"Safely through another week,
God has brought us on our way--"
chimed the bells,
"Let us now a blessing seek,
Waiting in His courts to-day--"
But Laurie Shafton had never sung those words in his life and had no
idea what the bells were seeking to get across to him. He took down the
receiver and called for Long Distance.
"Oh day of rest and gladness!"
pealed out the bells joyously,
"Oh day of joy and light!
Oh balm for care and sadness,
Most beautiful, most bright--"
But it meant nothing to Laurie Shafton seeking a hotel in a fashionable
resort. And when he finally got his number it was only Opal's maid who
"Yes, Mrs. Verrons was up. She was out walking on the beach with a
gentleman. No, it was not Mr. Emerson, nor yet Mr. McMarter. Neither of
those gentlemen had arrived. No, it was not Mr. Verrons. He had just
telegraphed that he would not be at the hotel until tomorrow night.
Yes, she would tell Mrs. Verrons that he had met with an accident. Mrs.
Verrons would be very sorry. Number one-W Sabbath Valley. Yes, she
would write it down. What? Oh! The gentleman Mrs. Verrons was walking
with? No, it was not anybody that had been stopping at the hotel for
long, it was a new gentleman who had just come the night before. She
hadn't heard his name yet. Yes, she would be sure to tell Mrs. Verrons
at once when she came in, and Mrs. Verrons would be likely to call him
He hung up the receiver and looked around the room discontentedly. A
stinging twinge of his ankle added to his discomfort. He gave an angry
snarl and pushed the wavering curtain aside, wishing those everlasting
bells would stop their banging.
Across the velvet stretch of lawn the stone church nestled among the
trees, with a background of mountains, and a studding of white
gravestones beyond its wide front steps. It was astonishingly
beautiful, and startlingly close for a church. He had not been so near
to a church except for a wedding in all his young life. Dandy place for
a wedding that would be, canopy over the broad walk from the street,
charming architecture, he liked the line of the arched belfry and the
slender spire above. The rough stone fitted well into the scenery. The
church seemed to be a thing of the ages placed there by Nature. His
mind trained to detect a sense of beauty in garments, rugs, pictures,
and women, appreciated the picture on which he was gazing. Where was
this anyway? Surely not the place with the absurd name that he
remembered now on the mountain Detour. Sabbath Valley! How ridiculous!
It must be the home of some wealthy estate, and yet there seemed a
rustic loveliness about it that scarcely established that theory.
The bells had ceased. He heard the roll of a deep throated organ
And now, his attention was suddenly attracted to the open window of the
church where framed in English ivy a lovely girl sat at the organ. She
was dressed in white with hair of gold, and a golden window somewhere
back of her across the church, made a background of beaten gold against
which her delicate profile was set like some young saint. Her white
fingers moving among the keys, and gradually he came to realize that it
was she who had been playing the bells.
He stared and stared, filled with admiration, thrilled with this new
experience in his blase existence. Who would have expected to find a
beauty like that in a little out of the way place like this? His theory
of a great estate and a rich man's daughter with a fad for music
instantly came to the front. What a lucky happening that he should have
broken down close to this church. He would find out who the girl was
and work it to get invited up to her house. Perhaps he was a fortunate
loser of his bet after all.
As he watched the girl playing gradually the music entered his
consciousness. He was fond of music, and had heard the best of the
world of course. This was meltingly lovely. The girl had fine
appreciation and much expression, even when the medium of her melody
was clumsy things like bells. She had seemed to make them glad as they
pealed out their melodies. He had not known bells could sound like
happy children, or like birds.
His meditations were interrupted by a tap on the door, followed by the
entrance of his host bearing a tray:
"Good-morning," he said pleasantly, "I see you're up. How is the
sprain? Better? Would you like me to dress it again?"
He came over to the desk and set down the tray on which was beautifully
brown buttered toast, eggs and coffee:
"I've brought you just a bite. It's so late you won't want much, for we
have dinner immediately after church. I suppose you wouldn't feel like
going over to the service?"
"Service?" the young man drawled almost insolently.
"Yes, service is at eleven. Would you care to go over? I could assist
"Naw, I shouldn't care to go," he answered rudely, "I'm pulling out of
here as soon as I can get that machine of mine running. By the way,
I've been doing some telephoning"--he slung a ten dollar note on the
desk. "I didn't ask how much it was, guess that'll cover it. Now, help
me to the big chair and I'll sample your breakfast."
The minister picked up the young man easily and placed him in the big
chair before the guest realized what was doing, and then turned and
took the ten dollar bill between his thumb and finger and flipped it
down in the young man's lap.
"Keep it," he said briefly, "It's of no consequence." "But it was long
distance," explained the guest loftily, "It'll be quite a sum. I talked
"No matter," said the minister pulling out a drawer of the desk and
gathering a few papers and his Bible. "Now, would you like me to look
at that ankle before I go, or will you wait for the doctor? He's likely
to be back before long, and I've left a call for him."
"I'll wait for the doctor," the young man's tone approached the
insolent note again, "and by the way, I wish you'd send for a
mechanician. I've got to get that car running."
"I'm sorry," said Severn, "I'm afraid you'll have to wait. The only one
in this region that would be at all likely to help you out with those
bearings is Carter. He has a car, or had one, of that make. He might
happen to have some bearings, but it is not at all likely. Or, he could
tow you ten miles to Monopoly. But Carter is not at home yet."
The young man fairly frothed at the mouth: "Do you mean to tell me that
there is no one can mend a broken machine around this forsaken dump?
Where's your nearest garage? Send for a man to come at once. I'm
willing to pay anything," he flourished a handful of bills.
The minister looked at his watch anxiously: "I'm sorry," he said again,
"I've got to go to the service now. There is a garage at Monopoly and
their number is 97-M. You can phone them if you are not satisfied. I
tried them quite early this morning while you were still sleeping, but
there was nothing doing. The truth is the people around this region are
a little prejudiced against working seven days out of the week,
although they will help a man out in a case like yours when they can,
but it seems the repair man, the only one who knows about bearings, has
gone fifty miles in another direction to a funeral and won't be back
till to-morrow morning. Now, if you're quite comfortable I'll have to
leave you for a little while. It is time for my service to begin."
The young man looked at his host with astonishment. He was not used to
being treated in this off-hand way. He could hardly believe his ears.
Throw back his money and lay down the law that way!
"Wait!" he thundered as the door was about to close upon the departing
Severn turned and regarded his guest quietly, questioningly:
"Who's that girl over there in the window playing the organ?" He pulled
the curtain aside and revealed a glimpse of the white and gold saint
framed in the ivy. Severn gave a swift cold glance at the insolent
youth and then answered with a slightly haughty note in his courteous
voice, albeit a quiver of amusement on his lip:
"That is my daughter."
Laurence Shafton dropped the curtain and turned to stare at his host,
but the minister had closed the door and was already on his way to
church. Then the youth pulled back the curtain again and regarded the
lady. The man's daughter! And playing like that!
The rich notes of the organ were rolling out into the summer day, a
wonderful theme from an old master, grandly played. Yes, she could
play. She had been well taught. And the looks of her! She was wonderful
at this distance. Were these then wealthy people perhaps summering in
this quiet resort? He glanced about at the simple furnishings. That was
a good rug at his feet, worn in places, but soft in tone and
unmistakably of the Orient. The desk was of fumed oak, somewhat massive
and dignified with a touch of hand carving. The chairs were of the same
dark oak with leather cushions, and the couch so covered by his bed
drapery that he could not see it, but he remembered its comfort. There
was nothing showy or expensive looking but everything simple and good.
One or two fine old pictures on the wall gave evidence of good taste.
The only luxury seemed books, rows and rows of them behind glass doors
in cases built into the wall. They lined each space between windows and
doors, and in several spots reached to the ceiling. He decided that
these people must have had money and lost it. These things were old and
had perhaps been inherited. But the girl! She teased his curiosity. She
seemed of a type entirely new, and most attractive. Well, here was good
luck again! He would stay till church was out and see what she might be
like at nearer view. It might amuse him to play the invalid for a day
or two and investigate her. Meantime, he must call up that garage and
see what could be done for the car. If he could get it patched up by
noon he might take the girl out for a spin in the afternoon. One could
judge a girl much better getting her off by herself that way. He didn't
seem to relish the memory of that father's smile and haughty tone as he
said "My daughter." Probably was all kinds of fussy about her. But if
the girl had any pep at all she surely would enjoy getting away from
oversight for a few hours. He hoped Opal would call before they got
back from their service. It might be awkward talking with them all
But the organ was suddenly drowned in a burst of song:
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost, As it was in the beginning, is now and
ever shall be--world without end, Amen!"
Somehow the words struck him with a strange awe, they were so distinct,
and almost in the room with him. He looked about half feeling that the
room was filled with people, and felt curiously alone. There was an
atmosphere in the little house of everybody being gone to church. They
had all gone and left him alone. It amused him. He wondered about this
odd family who seemed to be under the domination of a church service.
They had left him a stranger alone in their house. The doors and
windows were all open. How did they know but he was a burglar?
Some one was talking now. It sounded like the voice of his host. It
might be a prayer. How peculiar! He must be a preacher. Yet he had been
sent to him to fix his car. He did not look like a laboring man. He
looked as if he might be,--well almost anything--even a gentleman. But
if he was a clergyman, why, that of course explained the ascetic type,
the nun-like profile of the girl, the skilled musician. Clergymen were
apt to educate their children, even without much money. The girl would
probably be a prude and bore, but there was a chance that she might be
a princess in disguise and need a prince to show her a good time. He
would take the chance at least until after dinner.
So he ate his delicate toast, and drank his delicious coffee, and
wished he had asked that queer man to have his flask filled at the drug
store before he went to his old service, but consoled himself with
numerous cigarettes, while he watched the face of the musician, and
listened idly to the music.
It was plain that the young organist was also the choir leader, for her
expressive face was turned toward the singers, and her lovely head kept
time. Now and then a motion of the hand seemed to give a direction or
warning. And the choir too sang with great sweetness and expression.
They were well trained. But what a bore such a life must be to a girl.
Still, if she had never known anything else--! Well, he would like to
see her at closer range. He lit another cigarette and studied her
profile as she slipped out of the organ bench and settled herself
nearer the window. He could hear the man's voice reading now. Some of
the words drew his idle attention:
"All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but
the Lord weigheth the spirits."
Curious sentence that! It caught in his brain. It seemed rather true.
From the Bible probably of course, though he was not very familiar with
that volume, never having been obliged to go to Sunday School in his
childhood days? But was it true? Were all a man's ways clean in his own
eyes? Take, for instance, his own ways? He always did about as he
pleased, and he had never asked himself whether his ways were clean or
not. He hadn't particularly cared. He supposed some people would think
they were not--but in his own eyes, well--was he clean? Take for
instance this expedition of his? Running a race to get another man's
wife,--an alleged friend's wife, too? It did seem rather despicable
when one thought of it after the jag was off. But then one was not
quite responsible for what one did with a jag on, and what the deuce
did the Lord have to do with it anyway? How could the Lord weigh the
spirit? That meant of course that he saw through all subterfuges. Well,
what of it?
Another sentence caught his ear:
"When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his
enemies to be at peace with him."
How odd, the Lord,--if there was a Lord, he had never thought much
about it--but how odd, if there was a Lord for Him to care about a
man's ways. If he were Lord he wouldn't care, he'd only want them to
keep out of his way. He would probably crush them like ants, if he were
Lord. But the Lord--taking any notice of men's ways, and being pleased
by them and looking out to protect him from enemies! It certainly was
quaint--a quaint idea! He glanced again at the reverent face of the
girl, the down drooped eyes, the lovely sensitive mouth. Quaint, that
was the word for her, quaint and unusual. He certainly was going to
enjoy meeting her.
"Ting-aling-ling-ling!" burst out the telephone bell on the desk. He
frowned and dropped the curtain. Was that Opal? He hobbled to the desk
painfully, half annoyed that she had called him from the contemplation
of this novel scene, not so sure that he would bother to call up that
garage yet. Let it go till he had sampled the girl.
He took down the receiver and Opal's voice greeted him, mockingly,
tauntingly from his own world. The little ivy leaved church with its
Saint Cecilia at the organ, and its strange weird message about a God
that cared for man's ways, dropped away like a dream that was past.
When he hung up the receiver and turned back to his couch again the
girl had closed the window. It annoyed him. He did not know how his
giddy badinage had clashed in upon the last words of the sermon.
It seemed a long time after the closing hymn before the little throng
melted away down the maple lined street. The young man watched them
curiously from behind his curtain, finding only food for amusement in
most of them. And then came the minister, lingering to talk to one here
and there, and his wife--it was undoubtedly his wife, even the
hare-brained Laurie knew her, in the gray organdie, with the white
at her neck, and the soft white hat. She had a pleasant light in her
eyes, and one saw at once that she was a lady. There was a grace
about her that made the girl seem possible. And lastly, came the girl.
She stepped from the church door in her white dress and simple white
hat, white even to her little shoes, and correct in every way, he could
see that. She was no country gawk! She came forth lightly into the
sunshine which caught her hair in golden tendrils around her face as if
it loved to hide therein, and she was immediately surrounded by half a
dozen urchins. One had brought her some lilies, great white starry
things with golden hearts, and she gathered them into her arms as if
she loved them, and smiled at the boys. One could see how they adored
her. She lingered talking to them, and laid her hand on one boy's
shoulder, he walking like a knight beside her trying to act as if he
did not know her hand was there. His head was drooped, but he lifted it
with a grin at last and gave her a nod which seemed to make her glad,
for her face broke forth in another smile:
"Well, don't forget, to-night," she called as they turned to go, "and
remember to tell Billy!"
Then she came trippingly across the grass, a song on her lips. Some
girl! Say! She certainly was a stunner!
Opal Verrons was small and slight with large childlike eyes that could
look like a baby's, but that could hold the very devil on occasions.
The eyes were dark and lustrous with long curling black lashes framing
them in a face that might have been modeled for an angel, so round the
curves, so enchanting the lips, so lofty the white brow. Angelé Potocka
had no lovelier set to her head, no more limpal fire in her eye, than
had Opal Verrons. Indeed her lovers often called her the Fire Opal. The
only difference was that Angelé Potocka developed her brains, of which
she had plenty, while Opal Verrons had placed her entire care upon
developing her lovely little body, though she too had plenty of brains
And she knew how to dress! So simply, so slightly sometimes, so
perfectly to give a setting--the right setting--to her little self. She
wore her heavy dark hair bobbed, and it curled about her small head
exquisitely, giving her the look of a Raphael Cherub or a boy page in
the court of King Arthur. With a flat band of silver olive leaves about
her brow, and the soft hair waving out below, nothing more was
necessary for a costume save a brief drapery of silver spangled cloth
with a strap of jewels and a wisp of black malines for a scarf. She was
always startling and lovely even in her simplest costume. Many people
turned to watch her in a simple dark blue serge made like a child's
girded with a delicate arrangement of medallions and chains of white
metal, her dark rough woollen stockings rolled girlishly below white
dimpled knees, and her feet shod in flat soled white buckskin shoes.
She was young enough to "get away with it," the older women said
cattishly as they watched her stroll away to the beach with a new man
each day, and noted her artless grace and indifferent pose. That she
had a burly millionaire husband who still was under her spell and
watched her jealously only made her more interesting, and they pitied
her for being tied to a man twice her age and bulky as a bale of
cotton. She who could dance like a sylph and was light on her little
feet as a thistle down. Though wise ones sometimes said that Opal had
her young eyes wide open when she married Ed Verrons, and she had him
right under her little pink well manicured thumb. And some said she was
not nearly so young as she looked.
Her hands were the weakest point in Opal Verron's whole outfit. Not
that they were unlovely in form or ungraceful. They were so small they
hardly seemed like hands, so undeveloped, so useless, with the dimpling
of a baby's, yet the sharp nails of a little beast. They were so plump
and well cared for they were fairly sleek, and had an old wise air
about them as she patted her puffy curls daintily with a motion all her
own that showed her lovely rounded arm, and every needle-pointed
shell-tinted finger nail, sleek and puffy, and never used, not even
for a bit of embroidery or knitting. She couldn't, you know, with those
sharp transparent little nails, they might break. They were like her
little sharp teeth that always reminded one of a mouse's teeth, and
made one shudder at how sharp they would be should she ever
decide to bite.
But her smile was like the mixing of all smiles, a baby's, a woman-of-
the-world, a grieved child's, and a spirit who had put aside all moral
purpose. Perhaps, like mixed drinks it was for that reason but the more
intoxicating. And because she did not hide her charms and was lavish
with her smiles, there were more poor victims about her little feet
than about any other woman at the shore that summer. Men talked about
her in the smoking rooms and billiard rooms and compared her to vamps
of other seasons, and decided she had left them all in the shade. She
was a perfect production of the modern age, more perfect than others
because she knew how to do the boldest things with that cherubic air
that bereft sin of its natural ugliness and made it beautiful and
delicious, as if degradation had suddenly become an exalted thing, like
some of the old rites in a Pagan Temple, and she a lovely priestess.
And when each new folly was over there was she with her innocent baby
air, and her pure childlike face that looked dreamily out from its
frame of little girl hair, and seemed not to have been soiled at all.
And so men who played her games lost their sense of sin and fell that
much lower than those who sin and know it and are afraid to look
themselves in the face. When a man loses his sense of shame, of being
among the pigs, he is in a far country indeed.
But Opal Verrons sauntering forth to the Hotel piazza in company with
three of her quondam admirers suddenly lost her luxurious air of
nestling content. The hotel clerk handed her two telegrams as she
passed the desk. She tore them open carelessly, but her eyes grew wide
with horror as she read.
Percy Emerson had been arrested. He had run over a woman and a baby and
both were in a hospital in a critical condition. He would be held
without bail until it was seen whether they lived.
She drew in her breath with a frightened gasp and bit at her red lip
with her little sharp teeth. A pretty child with floating curls and
dainty apparel ran laughing across her way, its hand outstretched to a
tiny white dog that was dancing after her, and Opal gave a sharp cry
and tore the telegram into small bits. But when she opened the second
message her face paled under its delicate rouge as she read: "Mortimer
McMarter killed in an accident when his car collided with a truck. His
body lies at Saybrook Inn. We find your address on his person, with a
request to let you know if anything happens to him. What do you wish
done with the body?"
Those who watched her face as she read say that it took on an ashen
color and she looked years older. Her real spirit seemed to be looking
forth from those wide limpid eyes for an instant, the spirit of a
coward who had been fooling the world; the spirit of a lost soul who
had grown old in sin; the spirit of a soul who had stepped over the
bounds and sinned beyond her depth.
She looked about upon them all, stricken, appalled,--not sorry but just
afraid,--and not for her friends, but for herself! And then she gave a
horrid little lost laugh and dropping the telegram as if it had burned
her, she flung out her voice upon them with a blaze in her big eyes and
a snarl in her lute-voice:
"Well, I wasn't to blame was I? They all were grown men, weren't they?
It was up to them. _I'm_ going to get out of here! This is an
She gave a shudder and turning swiftly fled to the elevator, catching
it just as the door was being shut, and they saw her rising behind the
black and gold grating and waving a mocking little white hand at them
as they watched her amazed. Then one of them stooped and picked up the
telegram. And while they still stood at the doorway wondering some one
pointed to a brilliant blue car that was sliding down the avenue across
the beach road.
"She has gone!" they said looking at one another strangely. Did she
really care then?
* * * * *
The dinner at Sabbath Valley parsonage was a good one. It was quite
different from any dinner Laurie Shafton had ever eaten before. It had
a taste that he hadn't imagined just plain chicken and mashed potatoes
and bread and butter and coffee and cherry pie could have.
Those were things he seldom picked out from a menu, and he met them as
something new and delicious, prepared in this wonderful country way.
Also the atmosphere was queer and interesting.
The minister had helped him into the dining-room, a cheery room with a
bay window looking toward the church and a window box of nasturtiums in
which the bees hummed and buzzed.
The girl came in and acknowledged the casual introduction of her father
with a quite sophisticated nod and sat down across from him. And there
was a _prayer_ at the beginning of the meal! Just as he was about
to say something graceful to the girl, there was a _prayer_. It
was almost embarrassing. He had never seen one before like this. At a
boarding school once he had experienced a thing they called "grace"
which consisted in standing behind their chairs while the entire
assembled hungry multitude repeated a poem of a religious nature. He
remembered they used to spend their time making up parodies on it--one
ran something about "this same old fish upon my plate," and rhymed with
"hate." He stared at the lovely bowed hair of the girl across the table
while it was going on, and got ready a remark calculated to draw her
smiles, but the girl lifted eyes that seemed so far away he felt as
though she did not see him, and he contented himself with replying to
his host's question something about the part of the chicken he liked
best. It was a queer home to him, it seemed so intimate. Even the
chicken seemed to be a detail of their life together, perhaps because
there was only one chicken, and one breast. Where he dwelt there were
countless breasts, and everybody had a whole breast if he wanted it, or
a whole chicken for the matter of that. Here they had to stop and ask
what others liked before they chose for themselves. This analysis went
queerly on in his mind while he sat waiting for his plate and wondering
over the little things they were talking about. Mrs. Severn said Miss
Saxon had been crying all through church, and she told her Billy had
been away all night. She was awfully worried about his going with that
A fleeting shadow passed over the girl's face:
"Billy promised me he would be there to-day," she said thoughtfully,
"something must have happened. I don't think Billy was with the
baseball team--" then her eyes travelled away out the window to the
distant hills, she didn't seem to see Laurence Shafton at all. It was a
new experience for him. He was fairly good looking and knew it.
Who the deuce was this Billy? And what did she care about Miss Saxon
crying? Did she care so much for Billy already? Would it be worth his
while to make her uncare?
"Mrs. Carter wasn't out," said Mrs. Severn as she poured coffee, "I
hope she's not having more trouble with her neuralgia."
The minister suddenly looked up from his carving:
"Did Mark come back yesterday, Marilyn?"
The girl drew a quick breath and brought back her eyes from the hills,
but she did not look at the young man: "No, father he didn't come."
Who the deuce was _Mark_? Of course there would be several, but
there was always _one_. Billy and Mark! It was growing interesting.
But Billy and Mark were not mentioned again, though a deep gravity
seemed to have settled into the eyes of the family since their names
had come up. Laurie decided to speak of the weather and the roads:
"Glorious weather we're having," he chirped out condescendingly, "But
you certainly have the limit for roads. What's the matter with the
highway? Had a Detour right in the best part of the road. Bridge down,
it said, road flooded! Made the deuce of a time for me--!"
"Bridge?" remarked Marilyn looking up thoughtfully.
"Flood?" echoed the minister sharply.
"Yes. About two miles back where the highway crosses this valley. Put
me in some fix. Had a bet on you know. Date with a lady. Staked a lot
of money on winning, too. Hard luck," Then he looked across at
Marilyn's attentive face. Ah! He was getting her at last! More on that
"But it'll not be all loss," he added gallantly with a gesture of
admiration toward her, "You see I didn't have any idea I was going to
But Marilyn's eyes were regarding him soberly, steadily, analytically,
without an answering smile. It was as if she did not like what he had
said--if indeed she had heard it at all--as if she were offended at it.
Then the eyes look on an impersonal look and wandered thoughtfully to
the mountains in the distance. Laurie felt his cheeks burn. He felt
almost embarrassed again, like during the prayer. Didn't the girl know
he was paying her a compliment? Or was she such a prude that she
thought him presuming on so slight an acquaintance? Her father was
"I don't quite understand," 'he said thoughtfully. "There is no bridge
within ten miles, and nothing to flood the road but the Creek, which
never was known to overflow its banks more than a few feet at most. The
highway is far above the valley. You must have been a bit turned
The young man laughed lightly:
"Well, perhaps I had a jag on. I'm not surprised. I'd been driving for
hours and had to drink to keep my nerve till morning. There were some
dandy spilling places around those mountain curves. One doesn't care to
look out and see when one is driving at top speed."
Heavens! What had he said now? The girl's eyes came round to look him
over again and went through to his soul like a lightning flash and away
again, and there was actually scorn on her lips. He must take another
line. He couldn't understand this haughty country beauty in the least.
"I certainly did enjoy your music," he flashed forth with a little of
his own natural gaiety in his voice that made him so universal a
The girl turned gravely toward him and surveyed him once more as if she
were surprised and perhaps had not done him justice. She looked like
one who would always be willing to do one justice. He felt encouraged:
"If it hadn't been for this blamed foot of mine I'd have hobbled over
to the--service. I was sorry not to hear the music closer."
"There is another service this evening," she said pleasantly, "Perhaps
father can help you over. It is a rather good organ for so small a
one." She was trying to be polite to him. It put him on his metal. It
made him remember how rude he had been to her father the night before.
"Delightful organ I'm sure," he returned, "but it was the organist that
I noticed. One doesn't often hear such playing even on a good organ."
"Oh, I've been well taught," said the girl without self-consciousness.
"But the children are to sing this evening. You'll like to hear the
children I'm sure. They are doing fairly well now."
"Charmed, I'm sure," he said with added flattery of his eyes which she
did not take at all because she was passing her mother's plate for more
gravy. How odd not to have a servant pass it!
"You come from New York?" the host hazarded.
"Yes," drawled the youth, "Shafton's my name, Laurence Shafton, son of
William J., of Shafton and Gates you know," he added impressively.
The host was polite but unimpressed. It was almost as though he had
never heard of William J. Shafton the multi-millionaire. Or was it?
Dash the man, he had such a way with him of acting as though he knew
everything and _nothing_ impressed him; as though he was just as
good as the next one! As though his father was something even greater
than a millionaire! He didn't seem to be in the least like Laurie's
idea of a clergyman. He couldn't seem to get anywhere with him.
The talk drifted on at the table, ebbing and flowing about the two
ladies as the tide touches a rising strand and runs away. The girl and
her mother answered his questions with direct steady gaze, and polite
phrases, but they did not gush nor have the attitude of taking him
eagerly into their circle as he was accustomed to being taken in
wherever he went. Nothing he said seemed to reach further than kindly
hospitality. When that was fulfilled they were done and went back to
their own interests.
Marilyn did not seem to consider the young man a guest of hers in any
sense personally. After the dinner she moved quietly out to the porch
and seated herself in a far chair with a leather bound book, perhaps a
Bible, or prayer book. He wasn't very familiar with such things. She
took a little gold pencil from a chain about her neck and made notes on
a bit of paper from what she read, and she joined not at all in the
conversation unless she was spoken to, and then her thoughts seemed to
be elsewhere. It was maddening.
Once when a tough looking little urchin went by with a grin she flew
down off the porch to the gate to talk with him; she stood there some
time in earnest converse. What could a girl like that find to say to a
mere kid? When she came back there was a look of trouble in her eyes,
and by and by her father asked if Harry had seen _Billy,_ and she
shook her head with a cloud on her brow. It must be _Billy_ then.
Billy was the one! Well, dash him! If he couldn't go one better than
Billy he would see! Anyhow Billy didn't have a sprained ankle, and a
place in the family! A girl like that was worth a few days' invalidism.
His ankle didn't hurt much since the minister had dressed it again. He
believed he could get up and walk if he liked, but he did not mean to.
He meant to stay here a few days and conquer this young beauty. It was
likely only her way of vamping a man, anyway, and a mighty tantalizing
one at that. Well, he would show her! And he would show Billy, too,
whoever Billy was! A girl like that! Why,--A girl like that with a face
like that would grace any gathering, any home! He had the fineness of
taste to realize that after he got done playing around with Opal and
women like her, this would be a lady any one would be proud to settle
down to. And why not? If he chose to fall in love with a country
nobody, why could'nt he? What was the use of being Laurie Shafton, son
of the great William J. Shafton, if he couldn't marry whom he would?
Shafton would be enough to bring any girl up to par in any society in
the universe. So Laurie Shafton set himself busily to be agreeable.
And presently his opportunity arrived. Mrs. Severn had gone in the
house to take a nap, and the minister had been called away to see a
sick man. The girl continued to study her little book:
"I wish you would come and amuse me," he said in the voice of an
The girl looked up and smiled absently:
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I have to go to my Sunday-school class in a
few minutes, and I was just getting my lesson ready. Would you like me
to get you something to read?"
"No," he answered crossly. He was not used to being crossed in any
desire by a lady, "I want you to talk to me. Bother the Sunday-school!
Give them a vacation to-day and let them go fishing. They'll be
delighted, I'm sure. You have a wonderful foot. Do you know it? You
must be a good dancer. Haven't you a victrola here? We might dance if
only my foot weren't out of commission."
"I don't dance, Mr. Shafton, and it is the Sabbath," she smiled
indulgently with her eyes on her book.
"Why don't you dance? I could teach you easily. And what has the
Sabbath got to do with it?"
"But I don't care to dance. It doesn't appeal to me in the least. And
the Sabbath has everything to do with it. If I did dance I would not do
"But why?" he asked in genuine wonder.
"Because this is the day set apart for enjoying God and not enjoying
"You certainly are the most extraordinary young woman I ever met," he
said admiringly, "Did no one ever tell you that you are very
She gave him the benefit of her beautiful eyes then in a cold amused
"Among my friends, Mr. Shafton, it is not considered good form to say
such things to a lady of slight acquaintance." She rose and gathered up
her book and hat that lay on the floor beside her chair, and drew
herself up till she seemed almost regal.
Laurie Shafton stumbled to his feet. He was ashamed. He felt almost as
he had felt once when he was caught with a jag on being rude to a
friend of his mother's:
"I beg your pardon," he said gracefully, "I hope you will believe me, I
meant no harm."
"It is no matter," said the girl graciously, "only I do not like it.
Now you must excuse me. I see my class are gathering."
She put the hat on carelessly, with a push and a pat and slipped past
him down the steps and across the lawn. Her dress brushed against his
foot as she went and it seemed like the touch of something ethereal. He
never had felt such an experience before.
She walked swiftly to a group of boys, ugly, uncomely, overgrown kids,
the same who had followed her after church, and met them with
eagerness. He felt a jealous chagrin as he watched them follow her into
the church, an anger that she dared to trample upon him that way, a
fierce desire to get away and quaff the cup of admiration at the hand
of some of his own friends, or to quaff some cup, _any_ cup, for
he was thirsty, thirsty, _thirsty_, and this was a dry and barren
land. If he did stay and try to win this haughty country beauty he
would have to find a secret source of supply somewhere or he never
would be able to live through it.
The Sunday-school hour wore away while he was planning how to revenge
himself, but she did not return. She lingered for a long time on the
church steps talking with those everlasting kids again, and after they
were gone she went back into the church and began to play low, sweet
It was growing late. Long red beams slanted down the village street
across the lawn, lingered and went out. A single ruby burned on one of
the memorial windows like a lamp, and went purple and then gray. It was
growing dusk, and that girl played on! Dash it all! Why didn't she
quit? It was wonderful music, but he wanted to talk to her. If he
hobbled slowly could he get across that lawn? He decided to try. And
then, just as he rose and steadied himself by the porch pillar, down
the street in a whirl of dust and noisy claxon there came a great blue
car and drew up sharp in front of the door, while a lute-like voice
shouted gaily: "Laurie, Laurie Shafton, is that you?"
After Billy had listened a long time he took a single step to relieve
his cramped toes, which were numb with the tensity of his strained
position. Stealthily as he could he moved his shoe, but it seemed to
grind loudly upon the cement floor of the cellar, and he stopped frozen
in tensity again to listen. After a second he heard a low growl as if
someone outside the house were speaking. Then all was still. After a
time he heard the steps again, cautiously, walking over his head, and
his spine seemed to rise right up and lift him, as he stood trembling.
He wasn't a bit superstitious, Billy wasn't. He knew there was no such
thing as a ghost, and he wasn't going to be fooled by any noises
whatsoever, but anybody would admit it was an unpleasant position to be
in, pinned in a dark unfamiliar cellar without a flash light, and steps
coming overhead, where only a dead man or a doped man was supposed to
be. He cast one swift glance back at the cobwebby window through which
he had so recently arrived, and longed to be back again, out in the
open with the bells, the good bells sounding a call in his ears. If he
were out wouldn't he run? Wouldn't he even leave his old bicycle to any
fate and _run_? But no! He couldn't! He would have to come back
inevitably. Whoever was upstairs in that house alone and in peril he
must save. Suppose--!--His heart gave a great dry sob within him and he
turned away from the dusty exit that looked so little now and so
inadequate for sudden flight.
The steps went on overhead shuffling a little louder, as they seemed
further off. They were climbing the stair he believed. They wore rubber
heels! _Link_ had worn rubber heels! And Shorty's shoes were
covered with old overshoes! Had they come back, perhaps to hide from
their pursuers? His heart sank. If that were so he must get out somehow
and go after the police, but that should be his last resort. He didn't
want to get any one else in this scrape until he knew exactly what sort
of a scrape it was. It wasn't square to anybody--not square to the
doped man, not square to himself, not even square to Pat and the other
two, and--yes, he must own it,--not square to _Cart_. That was his
first consideration, Cart! He must find Cart. But first he must find
out somehow who that man was that had been kidnapped.
It seemed an age that he waited there in the cellar and everything so
still. Once he heard a door far up open, and little shuffling noises,
and by and by he could not stand it any longer. Getting down softly on
all fours, he crept slowly, noiselessly over to the cellar stairs, and
began climbing, stopping at every step to listen. His efforts were much
hampered by the milk bottle which kept dragging down to one side and
threatening to hit against the steps. But he felt that milk was
essential to his mission. He dared not go without it. The tools were in
his other pocket. They too kept catching in his sleeve as he moved
cautiously. At last he drew himself to the top step. There was a crack
of light under the door. Suppose it should be locked? He could saw out
a panel, but that would make a noise, and he still had the feeling that
someone was in that house. A cellar was not a nice place in which to be
trapped. One bottle of milk wouldn't keep him alive very long. The
haunted house was a great way from anywhere. Even the bells couldn't
call him from there, once anybody chose to fasten him in the cellar,
and find the loose window and fasten it up--!
Such thoughts poured a torrent of hot fire through his brain while his
cold fingers gripped the door knob, and slowly, fiercely, compellingly,
made it turn in its socket till its rusty old spring whined in
complaint, and then he held his breath to listen again. It seemed an
age before he dared put any weight upon that unlatched door to see if
it would move, and then he did it so cautiously that he was not sure it
was opening till a ray of light from a high little window shot into his
eyes and blinded him. He held the knob like a vise, and it was another
age before he dared slowly release the spring and relax his hand. Then
he looked around. He found himself in a kind of narrow butler's pantry
with a swinging door opposite him into the room at the back, and a
narrow passage leading around the corner next the door. He peeked
cautiously, blinkingly round the door jamb and saw the lower step of
what must be back stairs. There were no back stairs in Aunt Saxon's
house, but before his mother died Billy Gaston had lived in the city
where they always had back stairs. That door before him likely led to
the dining-room. He took a careful step, pushed the swing door half an
inch and satisfied himself that was the kitchen at the back. No one
there. Another step or two gave him the same assurance about the
dining-room and no one there. He surveyed the distance to the foot of
the back stairs. It seemed long. What he was afraid of was that light
space at the foot of those stairs. He was almost sure there was a hall
straight through to the front door, and he had a hunch that that front
door was open. If he passed the steps and anyone was there they would
see him, and yet he wanted to get up those stairs now, right away,
before anything more happened. It was too still up there to suit him.
With trembling fingers he untied his shoe strings, and slipped off his
shoes, knotting the strings together and slinging the shoes around his
neck. He was taking no chances. He gripped the revolver with one hand
and stole out cautiously. When he reached the end of the dining-room
wall he applied an eye toward the opening of light, and behold it was
as he had suspected, a hall leading straight through to the front door,
and Shorty, with his full length profile cut clear against the morning,
standing on the upper step keeping lookout! He dodged back and caught
his breath, then made a noiseless dart toward those stairs. If Shorty
heard, or if he turned and saw anything he must have thought it was the
reported ghost walking, so silently and like a breath passed Billy up
the stair. But when he was come to the top, he held his breath again,
for now he could distinctly hear steps walking about in the room close
at hand, and peering up he saw the door was open part way. He paused
again to reconnoitre and his heart set up an intolerable pounding in
He could dimly make out the back of a chair, and further against a
patch of light where the back window must be he could see the foot
board of a bed, the head of which must be against the opposite wall The
door was open about a third of the way. There was a key in the lock.
Did that mean that they locked the man in? It would be a great thing to
get hold of that key!
A moan in the direction of the bed startled him, and prodded his weary
mind. He gave a quick silent spring across in front of the door and
flattened himself against the wall. He knew he had made a slight noise
in his going, and he felt the stillness in the room behind the half
open door. Link had heard him. It was a long time before he dared stir
Link seemed to lay down something on the floor that sounded like a dish
and start toward the door. Billy felt the blood fly to the top of his
head. If Link came out he was caught. Where could he fly? Not down
stairs. Shorty was there, with a gun of course. Would it do to snap
that door shut and lock Link in with the prisoner? No telling what he
might do, and Shorty would come if there was an outcry. He waited in an
agony of suspense, but Link did not come out yet. Instead he tiptoed
back to the bed again, and seemed to be arranging some things out of a
basket on a little stand by the bed. Billy applied an eye to the crack
of the door and got a brief glimpse. Then cautiously he put out his
stubby fingers and grasped that key, firmly, gently; turning, slipping,
little by little, till he had it safe in his possession. Several times
he thought Link turned and looked toward the door. Once he almost
dropped the key as he was about to set it free from the lock, but his
anxious fingers were true to their trust, and the key was at last drawn
back and safely slid into Billy's pocket. Then he looked around for a
place to hide. There were rooms on the front, and a door was open. He
could slide in there and hide. It was dark, and there might be a
closet. He cast one eye through the door crack and beheld in the dim
light Link bending over the inert figure on the bed with a cup and
spoon in his hand. Perhaps they were giving him more dope! If he only
could stop it somehow! The man was doped enough, sleeping all that
time! But now was the time for him and the key to make an exit.
Slowly, cautiously he backed away from the door, down the hall and into
the next open door, groping his silent way toward a little half moon in
the shutter. He made a quick calculation, glanced about, did some
sleight of hand with the door till it swung noiselessly shut, and then
slipping back to the window he examined the catches. There was a pane
of glass gone, but it was not in the right place. If he only could
manage to slide the sash down. He turned the catch and applied a
pressure to the upper sash, but like most upper sashes it would not
budge. If he strained harder he might be able to move it but that would
make a noise and spoil his purpose. He looked wildly round the room,
with a feeling that something must help him, and suddenly he discovered
that the upper sash of the other window was pulled all the way down,
and a sweet breath of wild grape blossoms was being wafted to his
heated forehead. With a quick move he placed himself under this window,
which he realized must be almost over Shorty's head. It was but the
work of an instant to grasp Pat's gun and stick its nose well through
the little half moon of an opening in the shutter, pointed straight
over Shorty's head into the woods, and pull the trigger.
The report went rolling, reverberating down the valley from hill to
hill like a whole barrage it seemed to Billy; and perhaps to Shorty
waiting for his pard below, but at any rate before the echoes had
ceased to roll Shorty was no longer on the door step. He had vanished
and was far away, breaking through the underbrush, stumbling, and
cutting himself, getting up to stumble again, he hurled himself away
from that haunted spot. Ghosts were nothing to Shorty. He could match
himself against a spirit any day, but ghosts that could shoot were
another matter, and he made good his going without hesitation or
needless waiting for his partner in crime. He was never quite sure
where that shot came from, whether from high heaven or down beneath the
As for Link, if he was giving more dope, he did not finish. He dropped
a cup in his hurry and darted like a winged thing to the head of the
stairs, where he took the flight at a slide and disappeared into the
woods without waiting for locks or keys or any such things.
"He seems a little nervous," grinned Billy, who had climbed to the
window seat with one eye applied to the half moon, watching his victims
take their hurried leave. And lest they should dare to watch and return
before he was ready for them he sent another shot into the blue sky,
ricochetting along the hills; and still another, grimly, after an
Then swiftly turning he stole down the front stairs and took the key
from the lock, shut the door, pushing a big bolt on the inside. With a
hasty examination of the lower floor that satisfied him that he was
safely ensconced in his stronghold and would not be open to immediate
interruption he hurried upstairs again.
His first act was to open a window and throw back the shutters. The
morning sunlight leaped in like a friend, and a bird in a tree carolled
out gladly. Something in Billy's heart burst into a tear. A tear! Bah!
He brushed it away with his grimy hand and went over to the bed,
rolling the inert figure toward him till the face was in plain view. A
sudden fit of trembling took possession of him and he dropped
nervelessly beside the bed with his hands outstretched and uttered a
sob ending in a single syllable,
For there on the bed still as the dead lay Mark Carter, his beloved
idol, and _he had helped to put him there!_
Thirty pieces of silver! And his dearest friend dead, perhaps! A Judas!
All his life he would be a Judas. He knew now why Judas hanged himself.
If Cart was dead he would have to hang himself! Here in this house of
death he must hang himself, like Judas, poor fool. And he would fling
that blood money back. Only, _Cart must not be dead!_ It would be
hell forever for Billy if Cart was dead. He _could not stand it!_
Billy sprang to his feet with tears raining down his cheeks, but his
tired dirty face looked beautiful in its anxiety. He tore open Mark
Carter's coat and vest, wrenched away collar, necktie and shirt, and
laid his face against the breast. It was warm! He struggled closer and
put his ear to the heart. It was beating!
He shook him gently and called,
"Cart! Cart! Oh, _Boy!"_ with sobs choking in his throat. And all
the while the little bird was singing in a tree enough to split his
feathered throat, and the sweet air full of wild grape was rushing into
the long closed room and driving out the musty air.
Billy laid Mark down gently on the dusty pillow and opened another
window. He stumbled over the cup and spoon, and a bottle fell from the
table and broke sending out a pungent odor. But Billy crept close to
his friend once more and began rubbing his hands and forehead and
crooning to him as he had once done to his dog when he suffered from a
broken leg. Nobody would have known Billy just then, as he stood
crooning over Mark.
Water! He looked around. A broken pitcher stood on the table half
filled. He tasted it dubiously. It was water, luke warm, but water! He
soused a towel he found on the washstand into it and slopped it over
Mark's face. He went through all the manoeuvres they use on the
football field when a man is knocked out, and then he bethought him of
the milk. Milk was an antidote for poisons. If he could get some down
Carefully he rinsed out a glass he found on the bureau and poured some
milk in it, crept on the bed and lifted Mark's head in his arms, put
the glass to his lips, and begged and pled, and finally succeeded in
prying the lips and getting a few drops down. Such joy as thrilled him
when Mark finally swallowed. But it was a long time, and Billy began to
think he must go for the doctor, leave his friend here at the mercy of
who would come and go after all. He had hoped he might keep his shame,
and Mark's capture from everybody, but what was that verse the teacher
had taught them once awhile ago? "Be sure your sin will find you out."
That was true. He couldn't let Mark die. He must go for the doctor. Doc
would come, and he would keep his mouth shut, but Doc would
_know_, and Billy liked Doc. Well, he would have to get him! Mark
would hate it so, too, but Billy would have to!
It was just then that Mark drew a long deep breath of the sweet air,
sighed and drew another. Billy pressed the glass to his lips and Mark
opened his eyes, saw the boy, smiled, and said in a weak voice:
"Hullo, Billy, old boy, got knocked out, didn't I?" Then he closed his
eyes and seemed to go away again. But Billy, with wildly beating heart
poured some more milk and came closer:
"Drink this, Cart. It's good. Drink it. We gotta get them dirty bums,
Cart! Hurry up an' drink it!"
Billy understood his friend. Mark opened his eyes and roused a little.
Presently he drank some more, nearly a whole glass full and Billy took
heart of hope.
"Do ya think ya could get up now, Cart, ef I he'ped ya?" he asked
anxiously, "We gotta get after those guys ur they'll make a getaway."
"Sure!" said Mark rousing again. "Go to it, Kid. I'm with you," and he
tried to sit up. But his head reeled and he fell back. Billy's heart
sank. He must get him out of this house before the two keepers
returned, perhaps with Pat or some other partner in their crime.
Patiently he began again, and gradually by degrees he propped Mark up,
fed him more milk, and urged him to rise; fairly lifted him with his
loving strength, across the room, and finally, inch by inch down the
stairs and out the back door.
Billy felt a great thrill when he heard that door shut behind him and
knew his friend was out in the open again under God's sky. Nothing ever
quite discouraged Billy when he was out of doors. But it was a work of
time to get Mark across the clearing and down in the undergrowth out of
sight of the house, where the old bicycle lay. Once there Billy felt
like holding a Thanksgiving service. But Mark was very white and lay
back on the grass looking wholly unlike himself.
"Say, Cart," said Billy after a brief silence of thought, "I gotta get
you on my machine. We gotta get down to Unity an' phone."
"All right, old man, just as you say," murmured Mark too dizzy to care.
So Billy with infinite tenderness, and much straining of his young
muscles got Mark up and managed to put him astride the wheel; but it
was tough going and slow, over rough places, among undergrowth, and
sometimes Billy had to stop for breath as he walked and pushed and held
But Mark was coming to his own again, and by the time they reached a
road he was able to keep his balance, and know what he was doing. It
was high noon before they reached Unity and betook themselves to the
drug store. While Mark asked for medicine Billy hied him to a telephone
booth. His heart was beating wildly. He feared him much that Mark's car
But the chief's voice answered him after a little waiting, and he
"Say, I'm the kid that phoned you early this morning. Didya get that
car aw'right?" Billy held his breath, his jaded eyes dropped shut with
anxiety and weariness. But the chief's voice answered promptly, "yes,
we got yer car all right, but didn't get the men. They beat it when
they heard us coming. What sort of men were they, do you know?"
"Aw, that's aw'right, Chief, I'll tell ya when I gi'down there. Can't
tell ya over the phone. Say, I'm Billy, Billy Gaston. You know me. Over
to Sab'th Valley. Yes. You seen me play on the team. Sure. Well, say
Chief, I'm here in Unity with the guy that owns the car. Mark Carter.
You know him. Sure! Mark! Well, he's all in, an' he wants his car to
get home. He's been up all night and he ain't fit to walk. He wants me
to come over and bring his car back to Unity fer him. I got my bike
here, See? Now, I ain't got a license of course, but I c'd bring his
along. That be aw'right Chief, just over to Unity? Aw'right, Chief?
Thank ya, Chief. Yas, I'm comin' right away. S'long!"
Billy saw Mark comfortably resting on a couch in the back room of the
drug store, where an old pal of his was clerk, and then stopping only
for an invigorating gulp or two of a chocolate ice cream soda, he
climbed on his old wheel and pedalled on his happy way to Economy. The
winds touched him pleasantly as he passed, the sunshine had a queer
reddish look to his feverish eyes, and the birds seemed to be singing
in the top of his head, but he was happy. He might go to sleep on the
way and roll off his wheel, but he should worry! Mark was safe. He had
almost sold him for thirty pieces of silver, but God had somehow been
good to him and Mark was alive. Now he would serve him all the rest of
his life,--Mark or God,--it seemed all one to him now somehow, so long
had he idealized his friend, so mixed were his ideas of theology.
But Billy did not go to sleep nor fall off his wheel, and in due time
he arrived in Economy and satisfied the Chief's curiosity with vague
answers, a vivid description of Link and Shorty, and the suggestion
that they might be found somewhere near the Haunted House on Stark's
mountain. He had heard them talking about going there, he said. He got
away without a mention of the real happening at Pleasant View or a hint
that he had had anything to do with the stealing of the car. Billy
somehow was gifted that way. He could shut his mouth always just in
time, and grin and give a turn to the subject that entirely changed the
current of thought, so he kept his own counsel. Not for his own
protection would he have kept back any necessary information, but for
Mark's sake. Yes--for Mark's sake--! Mark would not want it to be
It was in the early evening, and the sky was still touched by the after
glow of sunset, beneath the evening star, as Mark and Billy in the
reclaimed car, finally started from Unity for home.
In both their hearts was the thought of the bells that would be ringing
now in Sabbath Valley for the evening service, and of the one who would
be playing them, and each was trying to frame some excuse that would
explain his absence to her without really explaining _anything_.
And about this time the minister came forth from the parsonage, much
vexed in spirit by the appearance of the outlandish lady in her
outlandish car. She seemed to be insisting on remaining at the
parsonage as if it were a common hostelry, and he and his wife had much
perplexity to know just what to do. And now as he issued quietly forth
from a side door he could hear her lute-like voice laughing from his
front porch, and looking back furtively he saw to his horror that the
lady, as well as the gentleman, was smoking a cigarette!
He paused and tried to think just what would be the best way to meet
this situation, and while he hesitated his senior elder, a man of
narrow vision, hard judgments, yet staunch sincerity, approached him.
The minister had grown to expect something unpleasant whenever this man
sought him out, and to-night he shrank from the ordeal; but anything
was better than to have him see the visitor upon his front steps, so
Severn turned and hurried toward him cordially:
"Good evening, Harricutt. It's been a good day, hasn't it?" he said
grasping the wiry old hand:
"Not so pleasant as you'd think, Mr. Severn," responded the hard old
voice harshly, "I've come on very unpleasant business. Very unpleasant
indeed; but the standard of the church must be kept up, and we must act
at once in this matter! It is most serious, most serious! I've just
called a meeting of the session to be held after church, and I've sent
out for this _Mark Carter_ to be present. He must answer for
himself the things that are being said about him, or his name must be
stricken from our church roll. Do you know what they are saying about
him, Brother Severn? Do you know what he's done?"
But the arrow had entered the soul of the minister and his voice was
too unsteady to respond, so the senior elder proceeded:
"He has been keeping company with a young woman of dissolute character,
and he has been to a place of public amusement with her and been seen
drinking with her. He affects dance halls, and is known to live a
worldly life. It is time he was cast out from our midst and become
anathema. And now, it is quite possible he may be tried for murder!
Have you heard what happened last night, Mr. Severn? Did you know that
Mark Carter, a member of _our church_, tried to _kill a man_
down at the Blue Duck Tavern, and for jealousy about a girl of loose
character? And now, Brother Severn, what are we going to do about it?"
Said the minister, answering quietly, calmly:
"Brother Harricutt, we are not going to do anything about it just now.
We are going into the church to worship God. We will wait at least
until Mark Carter comes back and see what he has to say for himself."
And about that minute, Mark, now thoroughly restored and driving
steadily along the road, turned to Billy and said quietly with a
twinkle in his eye:
"Kid, what made you put up that Detour?"
The service that evening had been one of peculiar tenderness. The
minister prayed so earnestly for the graces of forgiveness, loving
kindness and tender mercy, that several in the congregation began to
wonder who had been hard on his neighbor now. It was almost uncanny
sometimes how that minister spotted out the faults and petty
differences in his flock. Many examined their own hearts fearfully
during the prayer, but at its close the face of the senior Elder was
stern and severe as ever as he lifted his hymn book and began to turn
the leaves to the place.
Then the organ mellowed forth joyously:
"Give to the winds thy fears,
Trust and be undismayed,
God hears thy prayers and counts thy tears
God shall lift up thy head."
Elder Harricutt would much rather it had been "God the All Terrible."
His lips were pursed for battle. He knew the minister was going to be
soft hearted again, and it would fall to his lot to uphold the spotless
righteousness of the church. That had been his attitude ever since he
became a Christian. He had always been trying to find a flaw in Mr.
Severn's theology, but much to his astonishment and perhaps
disappointment, he had never yet been able to find a point on which
they disagreed theologically, when it came right down to old fashioned
religion, but he was always expecting that the next sermon would be the
one wherein the minister had broken loose from the old dyed-in-the-wool
creeds and joined himself to the new and advanced thinkers, than whom,
in his opinion, there were no lower on the face of God's earth. And yet
in spite of it all he loved the minister, and was his strong admirer
and loyal adherent, self-appointed mentor though he felt himself to be.
Over on the other side of the church Elder Duncannon, tall, gaunt,
hairy, with kind gray eyes and a large mouth, reminding slightly of
Abraham Lincoln, sang earnestly, through steel bowed spectacles
adjusted far out on the end of his nose. Behind him Lemuel Tipton, also
an elder, sandy, with cherry lips, apple cheeks and a fringe of
grizzled red hair under his chin, sang with his head thrown back,
looking like a big robin. The minister knew he could depend on those
two. He scanned his audience. The elders were all present. Gibson. He
had a narrow forehead, near-sighted eyes, and an inclination to take
the opposite side from the minister. His lips were thin, and he pursed
them often, and believed in efficiency and discipline. He would
undoubtedly go with Harricutt. Jones, the short fat one who owned the
plush mills and hated boys. He had taken sides against Mark about the
memorial window. No hope from him! Fowler, small, thin, gray, with a
retreating chin, had once lived next to Mrs. Carter and had a difference
about some hens that strayed away to lay. Harricutt likely had him all
primed. Jones, Gibson, Harricutt--three against three. Joyce's vote
would decide it. Joyce was a new man, owner of the canneries. He was a
great stickler for proprieties, yet he seemed to feel that a minister's
word was law--Well--! _God_ was still above--!
The benediction held a tenderness that fairly compelled the waiting
congregation to attend with their hearts.
* * * * *
"Let's go over there and hear that girl play," suggested Laurie
suddenly, "Church is out and we'll make her play the bells. They're
simply _great_. She's some _player!"_
Opal leaned back in her chair and regarded him through the fringes of
her eyelashes, laughing a silvery peal that shivered into the reverence
of the benediction like a shower of icicles going down the back.
Marilyn heard and blended the Amen into the full organ to break the
shock as the startled congregation moved restlessly, with half unclosed
eyes. Elder Harricutt heard, shut his eyes tighter, and pressed severe
lips together with resistance. This doubtless was that woman they
called Cherry. That irreverent Mark Carter must be close at hand. And
on the rose-vined porch Laurence Shafton felt the sting of the laugh
and drew himself together:
"Oh, Laurie, Laurie!" she mocked, "You might as well be dead at
Saybrook Inn or imprisoned for killing a family as fall in love with
that girl. She isn't at all your kind. How would you look singing
psalms? But come on, I'm game! I can see how she'll hate me. Can you
They sauntered slowly over to the church in the fragrant darkness, he
leaning on a cane he had found by the door. The kindly, curious people
coming out eyed them interestedly, looking toward the two cars in front
of the parsonage, and wondered. It was a neighborhood where everybody
took a kindly interest in everybody else, and the minister belonged to
them all. Nothing went on at his house that they did not just love and
"Seems to me that girl has an awful low-necked dress for Sunday night,"
said Mrs. Little to Mrs. Jones as they walked slowly down the street,
"Did you catch the flash of those diamonds on her neck and fingers?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Jones contemptuously, "paint on her face too, thick as
pie crust. I saw her come. She drove her own car and her dresses were
up to her knees, and such stockings! With stripes like lace in them!
And little slippers with heels like knitting needles! I declare, I
don't know what this generation is coming to! I'm glad my Nancy never
wanted to go away to boarding school. They say it's terrible, the
boldness of young girls nowadays."
"Well, if you'd ask me, _I'd_ say she wasn't so very
_young!"_ declared Mrs. Little. "The light from the church door
was full in her face when I was coming down the steps, and she looked
as if she'd cut her eye teeth sometime past."
"She had short hair," said Mrs. Jones, "for she pulled off her hat and
ran her fingers through it just like a boy. I was cutting bread at the
pantry window when she drove up and I couldn't help seeing her."
"Oh, when my sister was up in New York this spring she said she saw
several old gray-haired women with bobbed hair. She said it was
something terrible to see how the world had run to foolishness."
"Well, I don'no as it's wicked to bob your hair," said Mrs. Jones. "I
suppose it does save some time taking care of it if you have curly
hair, and it looks good on you, but mercy! It attracts so much
attention. Well, I'm glad we don't live in New York! I declare, every
time I come to church and hear Mr. Severn preach I just want to thank
God that my lines are cast in Sabbath Valley. But speaking of going to
boarding school, it didn't hurt Marilyn Severn to go. She's just as
sweet and unspoiled as when she went away."
"Oh, _her!_ You _couldn't_ spoil her. She's all
_spirit_. She's got both her father's and mother's souls mixed up
in her and you couldn't get a better combination. I declare I often
wonder the devil lets two such good people live. I suppose he doesn't
mind as long's he can confine 'em to a little place among the hills.
But my soul! If those two visitors didn't need a sermon to-night I
never saw folks that did. Do you know, when that man came last night in
a broken down car he swore so he woke us all up, all around the
neighborhood. If it had been anybody else in town but Mr. Severn he'd
been driven out or tarred and feathered. Well, good-night. I guess you
aren't afraid to walk the rest of the way alone."
Back in the church Marilyn had lingered at the organ, partly because
she dreaded going back to the house while the two strangers were there,
partly because it was only at the organ that she could seem to let her
soul give voice to the cry of its longing. All day she had prayed while
going quietly about her Sabbath duties. All day she steadily held
herself to the tasks that were usually her joy and delight, though
sometimes it seemed that she could not go on with them. Billy and Mark!
Where were they? What had their absence to do with one another? Somehow
it comforted her a little to think of them _both_ away, and then
again it disquieted her. Perhaps, oh, perhaps Mark had really changed
as people said he had. Perhaps he had taken Billy to a baseball game
somewhere. In New York or many other places that would not seem an
unusual thing, she knew, not so much out of the way. Even church
members were lenient about these things in the great world. It would
not be strange if Mark had grown lax. But here in Sabbath Valley public
opinion on the keeping of the Sabbath day was so strong that it meant a
great deal. It amounted to public disgrace to disregard the ordinary
rules of Sabbath; for in Sabbath Valley working and playing were alike
laid aside for the entire twenty-four hours, the housewives prepared
their dinner the day before, an unusually good one always, with some
delectable dessert that would keep on ice, and everything as in the
olden time was prepared in the home for a real keeping of a day of rest
and enjoyment of the Lord. Even the children had special pasttimes that
belonged to that day only, and Marilyn Severn still cherished a box of
wonderful stone blocks that had been her most precious possessions as a
child, and had been used for Sabbath amusement. With these blocks she
built temples, laid out cities, went through mimic battles of the Bible
until every story lived as real as if she had been there. There were
three tiny blocks, one a quarter of a cube which she always called
Saul, and two half the size that were David and Jonathan. So vivid and
so happy were those Sunday afternoons with mother and father and the
blocks. Sabbath devoted to the pursuance of heavenly things had meant
real joy to Marilyn. The calm and quiet of it were delight. It had been
the hardest thing about her years in the world that there seemed to be
so little Sabbath there. Only by going to her own room and fencing
herself away from her friends, could she get any semblance of what had
been so dear to her, that feeling of leisure to talk and think about
Christ, her dearest friend. I grant she was an unusual girl. There is
now and then an unusual girl. We do not always hear about them. They
are not always beautiful nor gifted. It chanced that Marilyn was all
So she sat and played at her dear organ, played sweet and tender hymns.
Played gentle, pleading, throbbing themes that almost spoke their words
out, as she saw Elder Harricutt leading his file of elders into the
session room which was just behind the organ. She knew that in all
probability there was to be a time of trial for her father, and that
some poor soul would be mauled over and ground up in the mill of
criticism, or else some of her father's dearest plans were to be held
up for an unsympathetic discussion. She thanked God for the strong
homely face of Elder Duncannon as he stalked behind the rest with a
look of uplift on his worn countenance, and she played on softly
through another hymn, until suddenly somehow, she became aware that the
two strangers on the parsonage porch had left their rockers and were
coming slowly across the lawn. The woman's hard silvery laugh rang out
and jabbed into the tender hymn she was playing, and she stopped short
in the middle of a phrase, as if the poor thing had been killed
instantly. The organ seemed to hold its breath, and the sudden silence
almost made the little church tremble.
She sat tense, listening, her fingers spread toward the stops to push
them in and close the organ and be gone before they arrived if they
contemplated coming in, for she had no mind to talk to them just now.
Then coldly, harshly out from the cessation of great sound came Elder
"But Brother Severn, supposing that it turns out that Mark Carter is a
murderer! You surely would not approve of keeping his name on the
church roll then, would you? It seems to me that in order to keep the
garments of the bride of Christ clean from soil we should anticipate
such a happening and show the world that we recognize the character of
this young man, and that we do not countenance such doings as she has
been guilty of. Now, last night, it is positively stated that he and
this person they call Cherry Penning were at the Blue Duck--!"
_Crash!_ The bells!
Lynn had heard so much through the open session-room door, had turned a
quick frightened glance and caught the glimpse of two people coming
slowly in at the open door of the church peering at her, had made one
quick motion which released the bells, and dashed into the first notes
that came to her mind, the old hymn, "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, Let
Me Hide Myself in Thee!" But instead of playing it tenderly, grandly,
as she usually did, with all the sweetness of the years in which saints
and sinners have sung it and found refuge and comfort in its noble
lines, she plunged into it with a mad rush as if a soul in mortal peril
were rushing to the Refuge before the gates should be forever closed,
or before the enemy should snatch it from the haven. The first note
boomed forth so sharply, so suddenly, that Elder Harricutt jumped
visibly from his chair, and his gossipy little details were drowned in
the great tone that struck. Behind his hand, the troubled minister
smiled in spite of his worries, to think of the brave young soul behind
those bells defending her own.
Down the aisle just under the tower Opal Verrons paused for an instant
startled, thinking of prison walls, and of the dead man lying at
Saybrook Inn that night. Suddenly the words of the telegram flashed
across her: "What disposition do you want made of the body?" The body!
The _body!_ Oh! Her eyes grew wide with horror. She ought to
answer that telegram and give them his home address. But why should
she? What had she to do with him now? Dead. He was _Dead_. He had
passed to another world. She shuddered. She looked around and shrank
back toward Shafton, but Laurie was wrapt in the vision of Saint
Cecilia seated at the organ under the single electric light that the
janitor had left burning over her head. She resembled a saint with a
halo more than ever, and his easily excited senses were off chasing
this new flower of fancy.
Behind the organ pipes the session sat with the reputation of a man in
their ruthless fingers, tossing it back and forth, and deliberating
upon their own damning phrases, while the minister sat with stern white
face, and sought to hold them from taking an action that might brand a
human soul forever. Marilyn needed no more than those harsh words to
know that her friend of the years was being weighed in the balance.
Many a Sabbath afternoon in his childhood had Mark Carter spent with
her playing the stone block play of David and Jonathan, and then eaten
bread and milk and apple sauce and sponge cake with her and heard the
evening prayers and songs and said good-night with a sweet look of the
Heavenly Father's child on his handsome little face. Many a time as an
older boy had he sung hymns with her and listened to her read the
Bible, and talked it over with her afterward. He had not been like that
when she went away. Could he so have changed? And Cherry Fenner! The
little girl who had been but ten years old when she went away to
college, Cherry a precocious little daughter of a tailor in Economy,
who came over to take music lessons from her. Cherry at the Blue Duck!
And with Mark! Could it be true? It could not be true! Not in the sense
that Mr. Harricutt was trying to make out. Mark might have been there,
but never to do wrong. The Blue Duck was a dance hall where liquor was
sold on the quiet, and where unspeakable things happened every little
while. Oh, it was outrageous! Her fingers made the bells crash out her
horror and disgust, and her appeal to a higher power to right this
dreadful wrong. And then a hopeless sick feeling came over her, a
whirling dizzy sensation as if she were going to faint, although she
never fainted. She longed to drop down upon the keys and wail her heart
out, but she might not. Those awful words or more like them were going
on behind the organ there, and the door was open--or even if the door
was not open they could be heard, for the room behind the organ was
only screened by a heavy curtain! Those two strangers must not hear! At
all costs they must not hear a thing like this! They did not know Mark
Carter of course, but at any rate they must not hear! It was like
having him exposed in the public square for insult. So she played on,
growing steadier, and more controlled. If only she could know the rest!
Or if only she might steal away then, and lie down and bear it alone
for a little! So this was what had given her father such a white drawn
look during his sermon! She had seen that hard old man go across the
lawn to meet him, and this was what he was bringing her father to bear!
But the music itself and the words of the grand old hymns she was
playing gradually crept into her soul and helped her, so that when the
lame stranger made at last his slow progress up to the choir loft and
stood beside her she was able to be coolly polite and explain briefly
to him how the organ controlled the action of the bells.
He listened to her, standing in open admiration, his handsome careless
face with its unmistakable look of self indulgence was lighted up with
genuine admiration for the beautiful girl who could play so well, and
could talk equally well about her instrument, quite as if it were
nothing at all out of the ordinary run of things that she were doing.
Opal, sitting in the front pew, where she had dropped to wait till her
escort should be satisfied, watched him at first discontentedly,
turning her eyes to the girl, half wondering, half sneering, till all
at once she perceived that the girl was not hearing the hot words of
admiration poured upon her, was not impressed in the least by the man,
did not even seem to know who he was--or care. How strange. What a very
strange girl! And really a beautiful girl, too, she saw, now that her
natural jealousy was for the moment averted. How extremely amusing.
Laurie Shafton interested in a girl who didn't care a row of pins about
him. What a shouting joke! She must take it back to his friends at the
shore, who would kid him unmercifully about it. The thing had never
been known in his life before. Perhaps, too, she would amuse herself a
little, just as a pastime, by opening the eyes of this village maiden
to the opportunity she was missing? Why not? Just on the verge of his
And now, with tender touch, the music grew softer and dropped into the
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