The City of Fire
Grace Livingston Hill
Part 3 out of 6
"The mistakes of my life have been many,
The sins of my heart have been more,
But I come as He has bidden.
And enter the open door.
I know I am weak and sinful,
It comes to me more and more
But since the dear Saviour has bid me come in
I'll enter the open door."
It was one of the songs they used to sing together, Mark and she, on
Sunday afternoons just as the sun was dropping behind the western
mountain, and Marilyn played it till the bells seemed to echo out a
heart's repentance, and a great forgiveness to one far, far away.
At its first note the song was recognized by Mark Carter as he drove
along through the night and it thrilled him to his sad sick soul. It
was as if she had spoken to him, had swept his heart strings with her
white fingers, had given him her sweet wistful smile, and was calling
to him through the dark. As they came in sight of the church Billy
pulled his cap a little lower and tried to keep the choke out of his
throat. Somehow the long hours without sleep or food, the toil, the
anxiety, the reaction, had suddenly culminated in a great desire to
cry. Yes, _cry_ just like a baby! Why, even when he was a baby he
didn't cry, and now here was this sickening gag in his throat, this
smarting in his eyelids, this sinking feeling. He cast an eye at Cart.
Why, Cart looked that way too. Cart was feeling it also. Then he wasn't
ashamed. He gulped and smudged his dirty hand across his smarting eyes,
and got a long streak of wet on the back of his hand which he hastily
dried on the side of his sweater, and so they sat, two still dark
figures travelling along quietly through the night, for Carter had shut
off the engine and let the natural incline of the road carry them down
almost in front of the church.
When they reached the church they saw a figure standing with a lifted
hand. The janitor, ordered by Harricutt to keep a watch.
The car stopped at once.
"Mark, they're wantin' ye in there," he said with a flirt of his thumb
over his shoulder and a furtive glance behind, "Keep yer eyes peeled,
fer old Cutter-up is bossin' the job, an' _you know him!"_
Billy sat up and took notice.
Mark got out with a grave old look upon his face, and started up the
walk. Billy made a move to follow, hesitated, drew back, held himself
in readiness and watched, all his boy instincts and prejudices keen on
the trail again.
And so to the old sad song of his mistakes and sins Mark entered the
door of the sessions room where once he and Marilyn had gone one happy
summer morning to meet the session and confess their faith in Christ.
As he had passed the window by the organ loft he gave one look up where
Lynn's face was framed in the ivy of the window under the light. He
drank in the sight hungrily. But the next instant he caught the vision
of the young stranger standing with admiring eyes, saw Marilyn turn and
look up and answer him, but could not see how far away and sad her
And with this shadow upon his heart he passed in to that waiting group
of hard critical men, with the white faced minister in their midst, and
stood to meet their challenge.
The janitor had gone in to put the church in order for the night and
hover about to find out what was going on in the session room. He never
told but he liked to know. The moon had gone under a cloud. Billy
slipped out of the car, and slid up the side path like a wraith, his
tired legs seeming to gather new vigor with the need. He gave a glance
of content up to the window. He was glad the bells were ringing, and
that _she_ was there. He wished she knew what peril their friend
had been in last night, and how he was rescued and safe.
And then _he_ sighted the stranger!
_Who_ was that guy! Some sissy, that was sure! Aw _gee!_
He slid into the shadow out of sight and flattened himself against the
wall with an attentive ear to the door of the session room. He raised
himself by chinning up to the window ledge and got a bird's eye view of
the situation at a glance. Aw Gee! That old Hair-cut! He wished the
bells would stop. That sissy in there with _her_, and all these
here with Cart, and no telling what's up next? Aw _gee!_ Life was
jest one--! He slumped his back to the wall and faced the parsonage.
Say, what were those two cars over there in front of the parsonage?
_Say!_ That must be the guy, the rich guy! Aw gee! In there with
_her!_ If he only hadn't put up that detour! Pat knew what he was
about after all, a little sissy guy like that--! _Aw, gee!_ But
_two_ cars! What did two cars mean?
And over on the parsonage piazza, at the far end in the shelter of the
vines sat Aunt Saxon in the dark crying. Beside her was Mrs. Severn
with her hand on the woman's shoulder talking in her gentle steady
voice. Everybody loved the minister's wife just as much as they loved
"Yes, he went away on his wheel last night just after dark," she
sobbed. "Yes! he came home after the baseball game, and he made a great
fuss gettin' some paint and brushes and contrapshions fixed on his old
bicycle, and then he went off. Oh, he usually goes off awhile every
night. I can't seem to stop him. I've tried everything short of lockin'
him out. I reckon if I did he'd never come back, an' I can't seem to
bring myself to lock out my sister's baby--!"
"Of course not!" said Mrs. Severn tenderly.
"Well, he stuck his head back in the door this time, an' he said mebbe
he wouldn't be back till mornin', but he'd be back all right for Sunday
School. That's one thing, Mrs. Severn," she lifted her tear stained
face, "That's one thing he does like--his Sunday School, Billy does,
and I'm that glad! Sometimes I just sit down an' cry about it I'm so
glad. You know awhile back when Miss Lynn was off to college that Mr.
Harricutt had the boys' class, an' I couldn't get him to go anyhow.
Why, once I offered to pay him so he could save fer a baseball bat if
he'd go, but do you know he said he'd rather go without baseball bats
fer ever than go listen to that old--Well, Mrs. Severn, I won't repeat
what he said. It wasn't respectful, not to an elder you know. But Miss
Lynn, why he just worships, an' anything she says he does. But that's
one thing worries me, Mrs. Severn, he _didn't come back for her
even!_ He said he'd be back fer Sunday School, an' he hasn't come
"Who does he go with most, Miss Saxon? Let's try to think where he
might be. Perhaps we could call up some one and find out where he is."
"Well, I tell you," wailed the Aunt, "That's just it. There's just one
person he likes as well, or mebbe better'n Miss Mary Lynn, an' that's
Mark Carter! Mrs. Severn I'm just afraid he's gone off with Mark
Carter!" she lowered her voice to a sepulchral whisper, "And Mrs.
Severn, they do say that Mark is real _wild!"_
Mrs. Severn sat up a little straighter and put a trifle of assurance
into her voice, or was it aloofness?
"Oh, Miss Saxon!" she said earnestly, "I don't think you ought to feel
that way about Mark. I've known him since he was a mere baby, and I've
always loved him. I don't believe Mark will ever do Billy any harm.
He's a boy with a strong character. He may do things that people don't
understand, but I'd trust him to the limit!"
She was speaking eagerly, earnestly, in the words that her husband had
used to her a few days before, and she knew as she said it that she
believed it was all true. It gave her a great comfort to know that she
believed it was true. She loved Mark almost as though he were her own.
Miss Saxon looked up with a sigh and mopped her pink wet face.
"Well, I certainly am relieved to hear you say that! Billy thinks the
sun rises and sets in 'Cart,' as he calls him. I guess if Cart should
call him he'd go to the ends of the earth with him. I know _I_
couldn't stop him. But you see Mrs. Severn, I oughtn't to have to bring
up children, especially boys? Billy always was headstrong, and he's
getting worse every day."
"I'm sure you do your best, Miss Saxon, and I'm sure Billy will turn
out a fine man some day. My Lynn thinks a great deal of him. She feels
he's growing very thoughtful and manly."
"Does she now?" the tired pink face was lifted damply with a ray of
Then the telephone bell rang. Mrs. Severn rose and excused herself to
"Yes? Yes, Mrs. Carter. Mrs. Severn is speaking. Is anything the matter?
Your voice sounds troubled. Oh, Mrs. Carter! I'm so sorry, but I'm sure
you can trust Mark. He's a man you know and he's always been an
unusually dependable boy, especially to us who know him well. He'll
come back all right. What? Oh, Mrs. _Carter!_ No, I haven't heard any
such reports, but I'm sure they're just gossip. You know how people
will talk. What do you say? They phoned you from Economy? Who?
The police? They asked for Mark? Well, I wouldn't let that worry you.
Mark always was helpful to the police in finding people, or going with
them after a lost car, you know. I wouldn't worry. Who? Billy? Billy
Gaston? Oh, you saw Billy this, morning? Well, that's good. His aunt
has worried all day about him. I'll tell her. Who? A sick man on the
mountain? Well, now Mrs. Carter, don't you know Mark always was
doing things for people in trouble? He'll come home safely, but of
course we'll just turn the earth upside down to find him for we are
not going to let you and Miss Saxon worry any longer. Just you wait
till Mr. Severn gets back. He's in a session meeting and it oughtn't
to last long, it was just a special meeting called hurriedly. He'll come
right over as soon as it's out and see what he can do to help. Yes,
of course he will. No don't bother to thank me. He would want to
of course. Good-bye!"
She came hopefully out to the piazza, to Miss Saxon. But just at that
instant Billy's aunt jumped to her feet, her eyes large with
excitement, and pointed toward the open session door, where framed
against the light stood Mark Carter, straight and tall facing the
circle of men, and behind him, out in the dark, with only his swaggy
old sweater shoulder and the visor of his floppy old cap showing around
the door jamb lurked Billy.
"There! There!" Whispered Mrs. Severn, patting her shoulder. "I told
you he'd come back all right. Now, don't you worry about it, and don't
you scold him. Just go home and get him some supper. He'll be likely
very hungry, and then get him to go right to bed. Wait till to-morrow
to settle up. Miss Saxon, it's always better, then we have clearer
judgment and are not nearly so likely to lose our tempers and say the
The bells had stopped ringing, and Marilyn had closed the organ and
drawn the window shut. The two strangers were trailing slowly across
the lawn, the lady laughing loudly. Miss Saxon eyed them with the kind
of fascination a wild rabbit has for a strange dog, pressed the hand of
the minister's wife with a fervent little squeeze, and scurried away
into the dark street. Marilyn lingered silently on the front steps
after the janitor had locked the door inside and gone back to the
In the session room Mark Carter, white with the experiences of the
night and day, yet alert, stern, questioning, stood looking from one
man to another, keenly, uncompromisingly. This was a man whom any would
notice in a crowd. Character, physical perfection, strength of will all
combined to make him stand out from other men. And over it all, like a
fire from within there played an overwhelming sadness that had a
transparent kind of refining effect, as if a spirit dwelt there who by
sheer force of will went on in the face of utter hopelessness.
The stillness in the session room was tense as the self appointed jury
faced their victim and tried to look him down; then slowly recognized
something that made them uneasy, and one by one each pair of eyes save
two, were vanquished and turned embarrassedly away, or sought the
pattern of the mossy carpet.
Those two pairs of eyes that were friendly Mark found out at once, and
it was as if he embraced them with his own. His friends--Duncannon and
the minister! He shot a grateful glance at them and faced the others
down, but opened not his lips.
At last Harricutt, his chief accuser, mustered up his sharp little eyes
again from under the overhanging eaves of rough gray brow, and shot out
a disagreeable under lip:
"We have sent for you, here, to-night, Mark Carter," he began slowly,
impressively, raising a loose jointed long forefinger accusingly, as he
gained courage, "to inquire concerning the incriminating reports that
are in circulation with regard to your character."
Mark turned his hard eyes toward the elder, and seemed to congeal into
something inflexible, impenetrable, as if he had suddenly let down a
cold sheet iron door between his soul and them, against which the
words, like shot or pebbles, rattled sharp and unharming and fell in a
shower at the feet of the speaker. There was something about his
bearing that became a prince or president, and always made a fault
finder feel small and inadequate. The minister felt his heart throb
with a thrill of pride in the boy as he stood there just with his
presence hurling back the suspicions that had met to undo him. His
stern young face was like a mask of something that had once been
beautiful with life, whose utter sorrow and hopelessness pierced one at
the sight. And so he stood and looked at Elder Harricutt, who shot him
one glance and then looking down began to fiddle with his watch chain,
halting in his speech:
"They say--" he began again with a hiss, as he lifted his eyes, strong
in the consciousness that he was not alone in his accusation,--"They
"Please leave what they say out of the question, Mr. Harricutt. What do
_you_ say?" Mark's voice was cold, incisive, there was nothing
quailing in his tone.
"Young man, we can't leave what they say out of the question! It plays
a very important part in the reputation of the Church of Christ of
which you are an unworthy part," shot back the hard old man, "We are
here to know what you have to say concerning the things that are being
said openly about you."
"A man does not always know what is being said about him, Mr.
Harricutt." Still that hard cold voice, still indifferent to the main
issue, and ready to fight it.
"A man ought to!" snapped Harricutt impatiently.
Suddenly, without warning, the mask lifted, the curve of the lips drew
up at the left corner revealing the row of even white teeth, and a
twinkle at the corners of the gray, thoughtful eyes, giving in a flash
a vision of the merry mischief-loving boy he had been, and his whole
countenance was lit. Mark was never so attractive as when smiling. It
brought out the lovingness of his eyes, and took away the hard oldness
of his finely cut features.
"Mr. Harricutt, I have often wondered if _you_ knew all that
people say about _you?"_
There was sudden stir in the session room. The elders moved their
chairs with a swishing sound, cleared their throats hastily, and put
sudden hands up to hide furtive smiles. Elder Duncannon grinned
broadly, there was a twinkle in even the minister's eyes, and outside
the door Billy manfully stifled a snicker. Elder Harricutt shot his
angry little eyes around in the mirthful atmosphere, starting at Mark's
quizzical smile, and going around the uneasy group of men, back to Mark
again. But the smile was gone! One could hardly be sure it had been
there at all. Mark was hard cold steel again, a blank wall,
impenetrable. There was no sign that the young man intended to repeat
the mocking offense.
"Young man! This is no time for levity!" he roared forth menacingly.
"You are on the verge of being arrested for murder. Did you know it?"
The minister watching, thought he saw a quiver go through the steady
eyes, a slight contracting of the pupil, a hardening of the sensitive
mouth, that was all. The boy stood unflinching, and spoke with steady
"I did not."
"Well, you are!" reiterated the elder, "And even if the man doesn't
die, there is plenty else. Answer me this question. It's no use beating
around the bush. Where were you at three o'clock this morning?"
The answer came without hesitation, steadily, frankly:
"On Stark's Mountain, as nearly as I can make out."
Billy held his breath and wondered what was coming next. He caught his
hands on the window ledge and chinned himself again, his eyes and the
fringe of his dishevelled brown hair appearing above the window sill,
but the startled session was not looking out the window just then. Mr.
Harricutt looked slightly put out. Stark's Mountain had nothing to do
with this matter, and the young man was probably trying to prove an
alibi. He sat up jerkily and placed his elbows on the chair arms,
touching the tips of his long bony fingers, fitting them together
carefully and speaking in aggravated detached syllables in rhythm with
the movement of his fingers.
"Young--man! An--swer me!--_Ware_--you--or ware you--_not_--
Blue and red lights seemed to flicker in the cold steel eyes of the
"A--hemmm!" The elder glanced around triumphantly, and went on with the
"Well,--young _man!_--Ware you--or--ware you _not_--
accompanied--by a young wumman--of--notorious--I may say--infamous
character? In other words--a young girl--commonly called--Cherry?
Cherry Fenner I believe is her whole name. Ware you with her?"
Mark's face was set, his eyes were glaring. The minister felt that if
Harricutt had dared look up he would almost be afraid, now.
But after an instant's hesitation when it almost looked as if Mark were
struggling with desire to administer corporal punishment to the little
old bigot, he lifted his head defiantly and replied in hard tones as
"There!" said Elder Harricutt, wetting his lips and smiling fiendishly
around the group, "There! Didn't I tell you?"
"May I inquire," asked Mark startlingly, "What business of yours it
"What business? What _business?"_ he repeated severely, "Why, this
business, young man. Your name is on our church roll as a member in
good and regular standing! For sometime past you have been dragging the
name of our Lord and Saviour in the dust of dishonor by your goings on.
It is our responsibility as elders of this church to see that this goes
on no longer."
"I see!" said Mark, "I haven't heard from any of the other elders on
the subject, but assuming that you are all of one mind--" he swept the
room with his glance, omitting the stricken faces of the minister and
Mr. Duncannon, "I will relieve you of further responsibility in the
matter by asking you to strike my name from the roll at once."
He was turning, his look of white still scorn fell upon them like fire
that scorches. Outside the door Billy, forgetful that he might be seen,
was peering in, his brows down in deep scawls, his lower jaw protruded,
his grimy fists clenched. A fraction of a second longer and Billy would
butt into the session like some mad young goat. Respect for the
session? Not he! They were bullying his idol, Cart, who had already
gone through death and still lived! They should see! Aw Gee!
But a diversion occurred just in the nick of time. It was Joyce, the
new member, the owner of the canneries, who had just built a new house
with electric appliances, and owned the best car in town. He was a
stickler for proprieties, but he was a great admirer of the minister,
and he had been watching Mr. Severn's face. Also, he had watched
"Now, now, _now,_ young brother!" he said soothingly, rising in
his nice pleasant gentlemanly way, "don't be hasty! This can all be
adjusted I am sure if we fully understand one another. I am a
comparative stranger here I know, but I would suggest taking this thing
quietly and giving Mr. Carter a chance to explain himself. You must
own, Brother Carter, that we had some reason to be anxious. You know,
the Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil."
Mark turned with perfect courtesy to this new voice:
"The Bible also tells us not to judge one another!" he replied quickly.
"Mr. Joyce, you are a stranger here, but I am not. They have known me
since childhood. Also there are some items that might be of interest to
you. Cherry Fenner five years ago was a little girl in this Sunday
School. She stood up in that pulpit out there one Children's Sunday and
sang in a sweet little voice, 'Jesus loves me this I know, for the
Bible tells me so.' She was an innocent little child then, and
everybody praised her. Now, because she has been talked about you are
all ready to condemn her. And who is going to help her? I tell you if
that is the kind of Christ you have, and the kind of Bible you are
following I want no more of it and I am ready to have my name taken off
the roll at once."
Harricutt rose in his excitement pointing his long-flapping forefinger:
"You see, gentlemen, you see! He defies us! He goes farther! He defies
Suddenly the minister rose with uplifted hand, and the voice that never
failed to command attention, spoke:
"Let us pray!"
With sudden startled indrawing of breath, and half obedient bowing of
the heads, the elders paused, standing or sitting as they were, and
Mark with high defiant head stood looking straight at his old friend.
"Oh, God, our Father, O Jesus Christ our Saviour," prayed the minister
in a voice that showed he felt the Presence near, "Save us in this
trying moment from committing further sin. Give us Thy wisdom, and Thy
loving-kindness. Show us that only he that is without sin among us may
cast the first stone. Put thy love about us all. We are all Thy
Into the silence that followed this prayer his voice continued quietly:
"I will ask Mr. Harricutt to take the chair for a moment. I would like
to make a motion."
The elders looked abashed.
"Why,--I,--" began Harricutt, and then saw there was nothing else for
him to do, and stepped excitedly over to the minister's seat behind the
table, and sank reluctantly down, trying to think how he could best
make use of his present position to further his side of the question.
The minister was still standing, seeming to hold within his gaze the
eyes of every one in the room including Mark.
"I wish to make a motion," said the minister, "I move that we have a
rising vote, expressing our utmost confidence in Mr. Carter, and
leaving it to his discretion to explain his conduct or not as he
pleases! I have known this dear young brother since he was a boy, and I
would trust him always, anywhere, with anything!"
A wonderful shiny look of startled wonder, and deep joy came into the
eyes of the young man, followed by a stabbing cloud of anguish, and
then the hard controlled face once more, with the exception of a
certain tenderness as he looked toward the minister.
"Mr. Duncannon, will you second my motion?" finished Severn.
The long gaunt dark elder was on his feet instantly:
"Sure, Brother Severn, I second that motion. If you hadn't got ahead of
me I'd have firsted it myself. I know Mark. He's _all right!_" and
he put out a hairy hand and grasped Mark's young strong fingers, that
gripped his warmly.
Harricutt was on his feet, tapping on the table with his pencil:
"I think this motion is out of order," he cried excitedly--but no one
listened, and the minister said calmly, "Will the chair put the
Baffled, angry, bitter, the old stickler went through the hated words:
"It is moved and seconded that we express our confidence--"
"Utmost confidence, Brother Harricutt--" broke in the minister's voice.
"The red came up in the elder's face, but he choked out the words
"utmost confidence," on through the whole motion, and by the time it
was out four elders were on their feet, Duncannon and Joyce first,
thank God, Gibson, more slowly, Fowler pulled up by the strong wiry
hand of Duncannon who sat next him.
"Stop!" suddenly spoke Mark's clear incisive voice, "I cannot let you
do this. I deeply appreciate the confidence of Mr. Severn and Mr.
Duncannon," he paused looking straight into the eyes of the new elder
and added--"and Mr. Joyce, who does not know me. But I am not worthy of
so deep a trust. I ask you to remove my name from your church roll that
in future my actions shall not be your responsibility!" With that he
gave one lingering tender look toward the minister, pressed hard the
hairy hand of the old Scotch elder, and went out of the room before
anyone realized he was going.
Billy, with a gasp, and a look after his beloved idol, hesitated, then
pulled himself together and made a dash into the session room, like a
catapult landing straight in the spot where Mark had stood, but
ignoring all the rest he looked up at the minister and spoke rapidly:
"Mr. Severn, please sir. Mark was with me last night from twelve
o'clock on. Me an' him passed the Pleasant View Station in a car going
over to Stark's Mountain, just as the bells was ringing over here fer
midnight, cause I counted 'em, and Mark was over to Stark's Mountain
till most noon to-day, and I come home with him!"
The minister's face was blazing with glory, and old Duncannon patted
Billy on the shoulder, and beamed, but Harricutt arose with menace in
his eye and advanced on the young intruder. However, before anyone could
do anything about it a strong firm hand reached out from the doorway
and plucked Billy by the collar:
"That'll do, Kid, Keep your mouth shut and don't say another word!" It
was Mark and he promptly removed Billy from the picture.
"I move we adjourn," said Elder Duncannon, but the minister did not
even wait for the motion to be seconded. He followed Mark out into the
moonlight, and drew him, Billy and all, across the lawn toward the
parsonage, one arm thrown lovingly across Mark's shoulder. He had
forgotten entirely the two guests parked on the piazza smoking
As the shades of evening had drawn down two figures that had been
lurking all day in the fastnesses of Lone Valley over beyond the state
Highway, stole forth and crept stealthily under cover to Stark
A long time they lingered in the edge of the woods till the dark was
velvet black around them, before the moon arose. Then slowly,
cautiously they drew near the haunted house, observing it long and
silently from every possible angle, till satisfied that no enemy was
about. Yet taking no chances even then, the taller one crept forth from
shelter while the other watched. So stealthily he went that even his
companion heard no stir.
It was some ten minutes that Shorty waited there in the bushes scarcely
daring to breathe, while Link painfully quiet, inch by inch encircled
the house, and listened, trying the front door first and finding it
fast; softly testing the cellar windows one by one, beginning from the
eastern end, going toward the front first, and so missing the window by
which Billy had entered. A hundred times his operation was halted by
the sound of a rat scuttling across the floor, or racketing in the
wall, but the hollow echoes assured him over and over again that the
house was not occupied, at least not by anyone awake and in his senses.
Link had been in the business so long that he "felt" when there was an
enemy near. That was what vexed him now. He had "felt" that morning
that someone was near, but he had laid it to nerves and the reported
ghost, and had not heeded his trained faculties. He was back now doubly
alert to discover the cause and make good his failure in the morning.
He had undertaken to look after this guy and see this job through and
there was big money in it. He was heavily armed and prepared for any
reasonable surprise. He meant to get this matter straight before
morning. So, feeling his way along in the blackness, listening, halting
at every moment with bated breath, he came at last to the back door,
and drawing himself up to the steps, took the knob in his hand and
turned it. To his surprise it yielded to his touch, and the door came
open. And yet it was some seconds of tense listening before he let
himself down to the ground again, and with his hand in the grass let
out a tiny winking flashlight, no more than a firefly would flicker,
and out again.
This was answered by a wink from the bushes, as if the same firefly or
its mate might be glowing, and after an instant another wink from the
ground near the house. Slowly Shorty arrived without noise, his big
bulk muffling in fat the muscles of velvet. It was incredible how light
his step could be--_professionally._ It was as if he had been
wafted there like down. Silently still and without communication the
two drifted into the open door, sent a searching glowworm ahead into
the crannies of the dusty, musty kitchen, surprising a mouse that had
stolen forth domestically. The door being shut and fastened cautiously,
the key in Link's pocket, they drifted through the swing door, as air
might have circulated, identifying the mouse's scuttle, the rattle of a
rat among the loose coal in the cellar bin, the throaty chirp of a
cricket outside in the grass, and drifting on.
Thus they searched the lower floor, even as Billy had done, though more
thoroughly, and mounted to the landing above, here they divided, Shorty
at watch in the hall, while Link went to the front rooms first and
searched each hastily, not omitting closets, ending at the back room
where the prisoner had been.
"He's gone!" said Link in a hoarse whisper, speaking for the first time
after a hasty scanning of the shadowy place.
Shorty took the precaution to turn the key of the door leading to the
third story before he entered to investigate.
"Do you think it was him fired that shot?"
Link shook his head.
"Couldn't! I had him lifted up in my arms and was just handing him some
more dope when the sound come. It seemed it was out front. It must a
been somebody in the front room. Sure! That guy never coulda got them
bracelets off hisself. Looka here! Them was filed off!" They stood with
the flash light between them examining the handcuffs, and then turned
their attention to the rest of the room, studying the bed and floors
carefully for any traces of the possible assistant to the runaway but
finding none. Then they went in the front room again, and this time
discovered the lowered window and the little half moon aperture in the
"How do you figger it?" asked Shorty turning a ghastly face toward Link
in the plaided darkness of the flash light.
"Pat!" said Link laconically.
"Pat. He's yella! I told Sam, but he would have him! I ain't sure but
Sam's yella! I think I'm about done with this outfit!"
"But Pat? What would he do it for?"
"Goin to run the whole game hisself, perhaps, or then again he might be
in with Sam, so they won't have to divvy up. He could say we hadn't
kept out contrac' you know, runnin' away like that."
"We ain't to blame. How'd we know it want the police? We had a mighty
close shave over that state line this A.M."
"Well, that's what he could say, an' refuse to divvy up. But b'lieve
me, Shorty! Nobody's goin' to do me dirty like that! Somebody's been
doing us dirty, you and me, and it's good and right we beat 'em to it."
"Yes, but how ya goin' to do it?"
"I ain't sure yet, but I'm goin' to do it. The first thing, Shorty, is
fer us to get outta here mighty good an' quick. Ef anybody's watchin'
round, we better not be here. We'll fade away. See?"
Without flash or noise they faded, going cautiously out by the front
door this time and disappearing into the dark of the woods just as the
horizon over Lone Valley began to show luminous in the path of the
They walked several miles, stealthily, and a mile or two more
naturally, before they ventured on a word, and then Shorty impatiently:
"I don't see what you can do. Whattirya goin' ta do?"
"Don't get excited, Shorty, I see my way out," said Link affably, "I
didn't come off here half cocked. I investigated before I took on the
"Well, I just looked up the parties in the blue book before I come off.
Didn't have much time, but I just looked 'em up. Great thing that blue
book. Gives ya lots of information. Then I got another thing, a
magazine I always buy and keep on hand. It's called The House Lovely,
an' it has all these grand gentlemen's places put down in pictures,
with plans and everything. It's real handy when you wantta find out how
to visit 'em sort of intimate like, and it kind of broadens yer mind.
It's a real pity you never learned to read, Shorty. There's nothing
like it fer getting valuable information. I read a lot and I always
remember anything that's worth while."
"I don't see how that's doin' us any good now," growled Shorty.
"Don't get hasty, Shorty, I'm comin' to it. You see these here Shaftons
have been on my mind fer some while back. I make it a point to know
about guys like that. I read the society columns and keep posted about
little details. It pays, Shorty. Now see! I happen to know that these
here Shaftons have several summer homes, one in the mountains, one at
the seashore, one up at an island out in the ocean, and a farm down in
Jersey, where they go at Christmas fer the holidays sometimes. Well,
just now I happen to know Mrs. Shafton--that's this guy's mother, is
down at the Jersey house all alone with the servants. Real handy fer
our purposes, ain't it? Not so far we can't get there by mornin' if we
half try, and the old man is off out West on a business trip."
"What you gonta do?" asked Shorty.
"Well, I haven't exactly got it all doped out yet, but I reckon our
business is with the old lady. Let's beat it as fast as we can to a
trolley and dope it out as we go. You see this here old woman is nuts
on her son, and she's lousy with money and don't care how she spends
it, so her baby boy is pleased. Now, I figger if we could come off with
five thousand apiece, you'n I we'd be doin' a good night's work and no
mistake. Whaddayou say?"
"Sure thing," grumped Shorty unbelievingly.
"You see," continued Link, "We're in bad, this guy escaping and all,
and like as not Pat swiping all the boodle and layin' the blame onto
us. You can't tell what might happen with Pat an' Sam, the dirty
devils. They might even let it come to a trial and testify against us.
Sam has it in fer me an' you this long time, 'count of that last pretty
little safe blow-out that didn't materialize. See?"
Shorty growled gloomily.
"Now on the other hand if we can step in before it is too late, or
before the news of his havin' escaped gets to his fond parents, and get
in our little work, we might at least make expenses out of it and beat
it out of the country fer a while. I been thinkin' of South America fer
my health fer some time past. How 'bout you?"
"Suits me. But how you gonta work it?"
"Well, you see I know a little bit about wimmen. An' I seen this woman
oncet. If she was one of these here newfangled political kind you
couldn't do nothin' with her, she'd be onta you in no time an' have you
up before the supreme court 'fore she goddone, but this here woman is
one o' them old fashioned, useless kind that's afraid of everything and
cries easy, and gets scairt at her shadder. I seen her on the board
walk once with her husband, took notice to her, thought I might need it
sometime. She has gray hair but she ain't never growed up. She was
ridin' in a wheeled chair, an' him walkin' beside her an' a man behind
pushin' her, an' a maid comin' along with a fur coat. She never done a
thing fer herself, not even think, an' that's the kind you can put
anything over on from a teaparty to a blizzard without her suspectin' a
thing. Shorty, I'm gonta make up to Mrs. Shafton an' see what I can get
out of her. But we gotta get a trolley line down to Unity an' catch
that evenin' train. See?"
About half-past ten that night, with the moon at full sail, Shorty and
Link, keeping the shady side of the street, slunk into a little
obscure, and as yet unsuppressed saloon in a back street in a dirty
little manufacturing city not many miles from Unity. Just off the side
entrance was a back hall in which lurked a dark smelly little telephone
booth under a staircase, too far removed from the noisy crowd that
frequented the place to be heard. Here Link took instant refuge with
Shorty bulking largely in front of the door, smoking a thin black
twisted cigar, and looking anything but happy. He had figured greatly
on getting his share of a million, and now at a single shot he had let
it go through his fingers. There were reasons why he needed that part
of a million at once. Link had all sorts of nerve. He called up the
Shafton home in New Jersey and jollied the maid, calling her girlie,
and saying he was in the employ of young Laurie Shafton and had a
special private message from the young man to his mother. It was not
long before a peevish elderly voice in his ear said:
"Well? Mrs. Shafton at the phone."
And Link sailed in:
"Mrs. Shafton, I got a message from your son, a very private message.
He said, would you please send your maid out of the room first before I
She seemed annoyed and hesitant at this, but finally complied:
"Now, Mrs. Shafton, you don't need to get worried at what I'm tellin'
you. Your son ain't dead, nor nothing like that you know, but he's just
met with a little accident. No, now, wait a minute till I tell you. You
don't need to get excited ner nothing. If you just keep calm an' do as
I tell you it'll all come out right in the end--"
He could tell by her voice that she was much excited and that so far
his scheme was working well. If he could only pull the rest off! He
winked one eye jauntily at Shorty who was standing wide-mouthed,
bulging-eyed listening, and went on:
"No, he didn't have no collision, ma'am, he just got kidnapped you see.
And not wanting to get found out, natchelly the kidnappers give him a
little dope to keep his mouth shut fer a while. What's that? Who'm I?
Well, now, Mrs. Shafton, that's tellin,' ain't it? I wouldn't want to
go so far as that 'thout I was sure of your cooperation. What's that?
You'll reward me? Oh, thanks, that's what I was figgering about. You
see I'm in rather of a hole myself. That's what. You see, much against
my will I was one of the kidnappers myself ma'am. Yes ma'am, much
against my will! You see I'm a farmer's son myself, good an' honest and
respectable. Never had nothin' to do with such doin's in my life, my
word of honor, lady. But I come to town just to look around an' have a
bit of fun an' I got in with a bad lot, an' they pract'cally
_compelled_ me to assist 'em in this here kidnappin.' Oh, I didn't
do nothin', jest helped to carry him--Oh, ma'am, it ain't that bad.
He's still livin' an' he'll be awwright if you just he'p me to get him
away 'thout their knowin'. Yes ma'am. I'm honest. I'm offerin' to help
you. You see, when I see him layin' there on the bed--Oh, yes, he's on
a bed, I ain't sayin' how comfortable it is, but it's a bed, an' he
ain't sufferin' now,--but of course if they don't get what they want
they may put him to the torture jest to get more outta you all--No,
ma'am don't scream that way ur I'll have to hang up. This is on the
q.t. you know. What? You don't understand? Why, I was sayin' you
mustn't let a soul know what's happened. Not a _soul._ If it
should get out an' his kidnappers should find it out they'd kill him
easy as a fly an' no mistake. You gotta go slow on this. Yes, lady,
they're desperate characters, _I'm sayin' it!_ an' the sooner you
get your son outta their han's the better fer his future, lady, fer
even if he should escape after they'd been found out they'd probably
lame him fer life or put out his eyes or some little old thing like
that, so you see, lady, you gotta talk low an' take care you don't let
on to no one. If you should turn yella it ud be all up with little
Laurie an' no mistake, so keep yer mouth shet an' do as I tell ye, and
I'll help ye out. Yes, as I was sayin' when I seen little Laurie layin'
there so still an' white, my conscience--There, there, lady, don't you
take on--as I was sayin' my conscience troubled me, an' I says, I'm
agonta get this fella free! So I figgered out a way. You see lady,
there's two of us, me'n another feller set to watch 'im, an' feed him
dope if he tries to wake up, an' when I get feelin' worried about it I
says to the other fella I was agonta tell his folks, an' he says he'll
shoot me, but I keeps on tellin' him how sinful 'twas to make a poor
mother suffer--I gotta mother myself ma'am! Yes ma'am a good old
mother, an' she taught me to be honest, so I says to thother fella, I
says what'll you take an' git out, an' he says ten thousand dollars,
an' I says, awwright, I'll get it fer ya, an' so now lady, 'f I was you
I'd pay it right down quick 'fore he changes his mind. Cause the other
fellas they was goin' to ast a million, an' kill 'im if you didn't fall
fer it right to oncet. No ma'am I don't want nothin' fer myself. I just
want to go back to the old farm with a clean conscience. What? Oh, yes,
I want the money right away, that is before mornin'. If we can't get
him out before mornin' it ain't no use, fer the other fellas is comin'
back an' move him an' we can't do nothin'? What? Where is he? I
couldn't' really say, lady, it wouldn't be allowed, an' my mate he's
outside the telephone booth with a loaded revolver holdin' it up to my
head, and he's listenin' an' ef I give anythin' away he'd shoot me on
the spot. So where would your nice lookin' son be then? Mrs. Shafton
hadn't you better--? That's right lady, I knew you'd thank me, an' yes,
now I'll tell you what to do. First place, how much money ya got in the
house? No, that's not 'nough. That wouldn't do a mite of good, it
wouldn't be a drop in the bucket. Ain't ya got any bonds, ur jewels or
papers? Yes, that's the talk! Now yer shoutin'--Yes, lady, that would
do. No,--not that. You gotta have something that he can't get caught
with. I know you're loosin' a lot lady, but you got lots left, and
what's money an' jewels compared to your only son, ma'am? Why, think
how he used to look when he wore little white dresses an' used to come
to have his head kissed when he fell down! Wasn't he sweet, lady, and
he had a pair of little blue shoes didn't he? I thought so. Say, lady,
you'r the right sort! I knowed you must be to be a mother of such a
handsome son. Now, lady, could you hustle those things together you
spoke of an' any more you may happen to come on, and just put 'em in a
little box or basket, and tie a string on 'em an' let 'em down outta
yer winda? It's all I'll ask. Let 'em down outta yer winda. Then you
turn out the lights and turn 'em on again three times real quick, out
an' in, an' that'll be the signal. An' after ten minutes you look out
yer front winda an' off as fur as ye can see an' I'll flash a signal
light to ya jest to let ya know it's all right. An' I'll promise you on
my word of honor that you'll hear your own son's voice over the
telephone good an' early tomorrow mornin' an' no mistake. But lady, ye
mustn't turn yella an' holler ner nothin or we'll fling yer jewels an'
paper back in yer yard an' let yer son die. We ain't goin' to run no
chances ye know. You ain't got no dogs, have ye? And which side is yer
room on? The front? Yes, an' which is the easiest way to get to the
house without comin' near the servants' quarters? To the right? Yes, I
see. An' you'll play straight? All right lady. Your son's as good as
home now. I'll give you just one hour by the clock to get yer stuff
together, but mind ya, if ya weaken an' try to put the p'lice onto me,
I got a way to signal my pal, an' he'll have that boy o' yours shot
within five minutes after you call fer help? Understand? Oh, yes, I
know lady, you wouldn't do no such a thing, but my pal he made me say
that. He's a desperate man lady, an' there ain't no use toyin' with
him. All right. One hour. It's just quarter to 'leven. Good-bye!"
Link came lounging out of the booth mopping his wet forehead:
"She fell fer it all right," he said jerking a wan smile, but he looked
as though the last of his own nerve had gone into the telephone
receiver. "She wanted to put in an extra check, but I told her we'd be
generous and let it go at what she could find without her name on it.
Gosh, what fools some wommen are! I thought I got her number all right,
a whimperin' fool! A whimperin' little old fool! Now, Shorty, all we
gotta do is collect the boodle. It's up to you to watch outside the
hedge. I'm takin' all the risks this time m'self, an' I'm goin' to
ferret my way under that there madam's winder. You stay outside and
gimme the signal. Ef you get cold feet an' leave me in the lurch you
don't get no dividends, See?"
Billy, with that fine inner sense that some boys have, perceived that
there was deep emotion of a silent sort between the minister and Mark,
and he drifted away from them unnoticed, back toward the car.
"Billy!" whispered Lynn, rising from the upper step in the shadow of
The boy turned with a quick silent stride and was beside her:
"I couldn't help it, Miss Lynn, I really couldn't--There was something
very important--Cart--That is--Cart needed me! I knew you'd
"Yes, Billy, I understand. Somehow I knew you were with Mark. It's good
to have a friend like you, Billy!" She smiled wanly.
Billy looked up half proud, half ashamed:
"It's nothin'!" said Billy, "I just had to. Cart--well, I had to."
"I know, Billy--Mark needed you. And Billy,--if there's any trouble--
any--any--that is if Mark ever needs you, you'll stick by him I know?"
"Sure!" said Billy looking up with a sudden searching glance, "Sure,
I'll stick by him!"
"And if there's anything--anything that ought to be done--why--I mean
anything _we_ could do--Billy,--you'll let us know?"
"Sure, I will!" There was utmost comprehension in the firm young voice.
Billy kicked his heel softly into the grass by the walk, looking down
embarrassedly. He half started on toward the car and then turning back
he said suddenly, "Why doncha go see Cherry, Miss Lynn?"
"Cherry?" she said startled, her face growing white in the darkness.
The boy nodded, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets and regarding
her with sudden boldness. He opened his lips as if he would speak
further, then thought better of it and closed them again firmly,
dropping his eyes as if he were done with the topic. There was a bit of
silence, then Lynn said gravely:
"Perhaps I will," and "Thank you, Billy."
Billy felt as though the balm of Gilead had suddenly been poured over
his tired heart.
"G'night!" he murmured, feeling that he had put his troubles into
capable hands that would care for them, as he would himself.
There had been no word spoken between the minister and Mark as they
went together toward the parsonage, but there had seemed to each to be
a great clearing of the clouds between them, and a tender love
springing anew, with warm understanding and sympathy. Mark felt himself
a boy again, with the minister's arm across his shoulder, and a strong
yearning to confide in this understanding friend, swept over him. If
there had been a quiet place with no one about just then there is no
telling what might have happened to change the story from that point
on, but their silent intercourse was rudely interrupted by the voice of
Laurie Shafton breaking in:
"Oh, I say, Mr. Severn, who did you say that man was that could fix
cars? I'd like to call him up and see if he doesn't happen to have some
bearings now. He surely must have returned by this time hasn't he? I'd
like to take these girls a spin. The moon is perfectly gorgeous. We
could go in the lady's car, only it is smaller and I thought I'd ask
your daughter to go along."
"Oh!" said the minister suddenly brought back into the world of trivial
things? "Why, _this_ is Mr. Carter, Mr. Shafton. He can speak for
Mark stood with lifted head and his princely look regarding the
interloper with cold eyes. He acknowledged the introduction almost
haughtily, and listened to the story of the burnt out bearings without
a change of countenance, then said gravely:
"I think I can fix you up in the morning."
"Not to-night?" asked the spoiled Laurie with a frown of displeasure.
"Not to-night," said Mark with a finality that somehow forbade even a
Shafton from further parley.
Opal had regarded Mark from the vine covered porch as he stood with
bared head in the moonlight and clattered down on her tiny patent
leather pumps to be introduced. She came and stood hanging pertly on
Laurie Shafton's arm as if he were her private property, with her large
limpid eyes fixed upon the stranger, this prince of a man that had
suddenly turned up in this funny little country dump.
She put her giddy little tongue into the conversation, something about
how delicious it would be to take a little ride to-night, implying that
Mark might go along if he would fix up the car. She was dressed in a
slim, clinging frock of some rich Persian gauzy silk stuff, heavy with
beads in dull barbaric patterns, and girt with a rope of jet and jade.
Her slim white neck rose like a stem from the transparent neck line,
and a beaded band about her forehead held the fluffy hair in place
about her pretty dark little head. She wore long jade earrings which
nearly touched the white shoulders, and gave her the air of an Egyptian
princess. She was very gorgeous, and unusual even in the moonlight, and
she knew it, yet this strange young man gave her one cold scrutinizing
glance and turned away.
"I'll see you again in the morning, Mr. Severn," he said, and wringing
the minister's hand silently, he went back across the lawn. The spell
was broken and the minister knew it would be of no use to follow. Mark
would say no more of his trouble tonight.
It was so that Lynn, coming swiftly from her shadow, with troubled
thoughts, came face to face with Mark:
He stopped suddenly as if something had struck him.
"Oh, Mark!" she breathed softly, and put out her hand.
He made a swift motion away from her, and said quickly:
"Don't touch me, Marilyn,--I-am--not--_worthy_!"
Then quickly turning he sprang into his car and started the engine.
The minister stood in the moonlight looking sadly after the wayward boy
whom he had loved for years.
Lynn came swiftly toward her father, scarcely seeing the two strangers.
She had a feeling that he needed comforting. But the minister, not
noticing her approach, had turned and was hurrying into the house by
the side entrance.
"Come on girls, let's have a little excitement," cried Laurie Shafton
gaily, "How about some music? There's a piano in the house I see, let's
boom her up!"
He made a sudden dive and swooped an arm intimately about each girl's
waist, starting them violently toward the steps, forgetting the lame
ankle that was supposed to make him somewhat helpless.
The sudden unexpected action took Marilyn unaware, and before she could
get her footing or do anything about it she caught a swift vision of a
white face in the passing car. Mark had seen the whole thing! She drew
back quickly, indignantly flinging the offending arm from her waist,
and hurried after her father; but it was too late to undo the
impression that Mark must have had. He had passed by.
Inside the door she stopped short, stamping her white shod foot with
quick anger, her face white with fury, her eyes fairly blazing. If
Laurie had seen her now he would scarcely have compared her to a saint.
To think that on this day of trouble and perplexity this gay insolent
stranger should dare to intrude and presume! And before Mark!
But a low spoken word of her mother's reached her from the dining-room,
turning aside her anger:
"I hate to ask Lynn to take her into her room. Such a queer girl! It
seems like a desecration! Lynn's lovely room!"
"She had no right to put herself upon us!" said the father in troubled
tones. "She is as far from our daughter as heaven is from the pit. Who
is she, anyway?"
"He merely introduced her as his friend Opal."
"Is there nothing else we can do?"
"We might give her our room, but it would take some time to put it in
order for a guest. There would be a good many things to move--and it
would be rather awkward in the morning, cots in the living-room. I
suppose Lynn could come in with me and you sleep on a cot--!"
"Yes, that's exactly it! Do that. I don't mind."
"I suppose we'll have to," sighed the mother, "for I know Lynn would
hate it having a stranger among her pretty intimate things--!"
Marilyn sprang up and burst into the dining-room:
"Mother! Did you think I was such a spoiled baby that I couldn't be
courteous to a stranger even if she was a detestable little vamp?
You're not to bother about it any more. She'll come into my room with
me of course. You didn't expect me to sail through life without any
sacrifices at all did you, Motherie? Suppose I had gone to Africa as I
almost did last year? Don't you fancy there'd have been some things
harder than sharing my twin beds with a disagreeable stranger? Besides,
remember those angels unaware that the Bible talks about. I guess this
is up to me, so put away your frets and come on in. It's time we had
worship and ended this day. But I guess those two self-imposed boarders
of ours need a little religion first. Come on!"
She dropped a kiss on each forehead lightly and fled into the other
"What a girl she is!" said her father tenderly putting his hand gently
on the spot she had kissed, "A great blessing in our home! Dear child!"
The mother said nothing, but her eyes were filled with a great content.
Marilyn, throwing aside her hat and appearing in the front door called
pleasantly to the two outside:
"Well, I'm ready for the music. You can come in when you wish."
They sauntered in presently, but Marilyn was already at the piano
playing softly a bit from the Angel Chorus, a snatch of Handel's Largo,
a Chopin Nocturne, one of Mendelssohn's songs without words. The two
came in hilariously, the young man pretending to lean heavily on the
girl, and finding much occasion to hold her hands, a performance to
which she seemed to be not at all averse. They came and stood beside
"Now," said Opal gaily, when Marilyn came to the end of another
Nocturne: "That's enough gloom. Give us a little jazz and Laurie and
I'll dance awhile."
Marilyn let her hands fall with a soft crash on the keys and looked up.
Then her face broke up into a smile, as if she had put aside an
unpleasant thought and determined to be friendly:
"I'm sorry," she said firmly, "We don't play jazz, my piano and I. I
never learned to love it, and besides I'm tired. I've been playing all
day you know. You will excuse anything more I'm sure. And it's getting
late for Sabbath Valley. Did you have any plans for to-night?"
Opal stared, but Marilyn stared back pleasantly, and Laurie watched
"Why, no, not exactly," drawled Opal, "I thought Laurie would be
hospitable enough to look me up a place. Where is your best hotel? Is
it possible at all?"
"We haven't a sign of a hotel," said Marilyn smiling.
"Oh, horrors, nothing but a boarding house I suppose. Is it far away?"
"Not even a boarding house."
"Oh, heavens! Well, where do you stop then?"
"We don't stop, we live," said Marilyn smiling. "I'm afraid the only
thing you can do unless you decide to go back home tonight is to share
my room with me,--I have twin beds you know and can make you quite
comfortable. I often have a college friend to stay with me for a few
Opal stared round eyed. This was a college girl then, hidden away in a
hole like this. Not even an extra spare room in the house!
"Oh my gracious!" she responded bluntly, "I'm not used to rooming with
some one, but it's very kind of you I'm sure."
Marilyn's cheeks grew red and her eyes flashed but she whirled back to
her keyboard and began to play, this time a sweet old hymn, and while
she was playing and before the two strangers had thought of anything to
say, Mr. Severn came in with the Book in his hand, followed by his
wife, who drew a small rocker and sat down beside him.
Marilyn paused and the minister opened his Bible and looked around on
"I hope you'll join us in our evening worship," he said pleasantly to
the two guests, and then while they still stared he began to read: "Let
not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me," on
through the beautiful chapter.
It was as Greek to the strangers, who heard and did not comprehend, and
they looked about amazed on this little family with dreamy eyes all
listening as if it meant great treasures to them. It was as if they saw
the Severns for the first time and realized them as individuals, as a
force in the world, something complete in itself, a family that was not
doing the things they did, not having the things considered essential
to life, nor trying to go after any of the things that life had to
offer, but living their own beautiful lives in their own way without
regard to the world, and actually enjoying it! That was the queer part
about it. They were not dull nor bored! They were happy! They could get
out from an environment like this if they choose, and _they did
not_. They _wanted_ to stay here. It was incredible!
Laurie got out his cigarette case, selected a cigarette, got out his
match box, selected a match, and all but lit it. Then somehow there
seemed to be something incongruous about the action and he looked
around. No one was seeing him but Opal, and she was laughing at him. He
flushed, put back the match and the cigarette, and folded his arms,
trying to look at home in this strange new environment. But the girl
Marilyn's eyes were far away as if she were drinking strange knowledge
at a secret invisible source, and she seemed to have forgotten their
Then the family knelt. How odd! Knelt down, each where he had been
sitting, and the minister began to talk to God. It did not impress the
visitors as prayer. They involuntarily looked around to see to whom he
was talking. Laurie reddened again and dropped his face into his hands.
He had met Opal's eyes and she was shaking with mirth, but somehow it
affected him rawly. Suddenly he felt impelled to get to his knees. He
seemed conspicuous reared up in a chair, and he slid noiselessly to the
floor with a wrench of the hurt ankle that caused him to draw his brows
in a frown. Opal, left alone in this room full of devout backs, grew
suddenly grave. She felt almost afraid. She began to think of Saybrook
Inn and the man lying there stark and dead! The man she had danced with
but a week before! Dead! And for her! She cringed, and crouched down in
her chair, till her beaded frock swept the polished floor in a little
tinkley sound that seemed to echo all over the room, and before she
knew it her fear of being alone had brought her to her knees. To be
like the rest of the world--to be even more alike than anybody else in
the world, that had always been her ambition. The motive of her life
now brought her on her knees because others were there and she was
afraid to sit above lest their God should come walking by and she
should see Him and die! She did not know she put it that way to her
soul, but she did, in the secret recesses of her inner dwelling.
Before they had scarcely got to their knees and while that awkward hush
was yet upon them the room was filled with the soft sound of singing,
started by the minister, perhaps, or was it his wife? It was
unaccompanied, "Abide with me, Fast falls the eventide, the darkness
deepens, Lord with me abide!" Even Laurie joined an erratic high tenor
humming in on the last verse, and Opal shuddered as the words were
sung, "Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the
dark and point me to the skies." Death was a horrible thing to her. She
never wanted to be reminded of death. It was a long, long way off to
her. She always drowned the thought in whatever amusement was at hand.
The song died away just in time or Opal might have screamed. She was
easily wrought up. And then this strange anomoly of a girl, her young
hostess, turned to her with a natural smile just as if nothing
extraordinary had been going on and said:
"Now, shall we say good-night and go upstairs? I know you must be tired
after your long ride, and I know father has had a hard day and would
like to get the house settled for the night."
Opal arose with a wild idea of screaming and running away, but she
caught the twinkle of Laurie's eyes and knew he was laughing at her. So
she relaxed into her habitual languor, and turning haughtily requested:
"Would you send your maid to the cyar for my bag, please?"
Before anyone could respond the minister stepped to the door with a
courteous "Certainly," and presently returned with a great blue leather
affair with silver mountings, and himself carried it up the stairs.
At the head of the stairs Marilyn met him, and put her head on his
shoulder hiding her face in his coat, and murmured, "Oh, Daddy!"
Severn smoothed her soft hair and murmured gently: "There, there little
girl! Pray! Pray! Our Father knows what's best!" but neither of them
were referring to the matter of the unwelcome guests.
Mrs. Severn was solicitous about asking if there was anything the guest
would like, a glass of milk, or some fruit? And Opal declined curtly,
made a little moue at Shafton and followed up the stairs.
"Well!" she said rudely, as she entered the lovely room and stared
around, "so this is your room!" Then she walked straight to the wall on
the other side of the room where hung a framed photograph of Mark at
twelve years old; Mark, with all the promise of his princely bearing
already upon him.
"So this is the perfect icicle of a stunning young prince that was down
on the lawn, is it? I thought there was some reason for your frantic
indifference to men. Is his name Billy or Mark? Laurie said it was
either Billy or Mark, he wasn't sure which."
Mark Carter and Billy as they rode silently down the little street
toward Aunt Saxon's cottage did not speak. They did not need to speak,
these two. They had utmost confidence in one another, they were both
troubled, and had no solution to offer for the difficulty. That was
enough to seal any wise mouth. Only at the door as Billy climbed out
Mark leaned toward him and said in a low growl:
"You're all right, Kid! You're the best friend a man ever had! I
appreciate what you did!"
"Aw!" squirmed Billy, pulling down his cap, "That's awright! See you
t'morra' Cart! S'long!" And Billy stalked slowly down the street
remembering for the first time that he had his aunt yet to reckon with.
With the man's way of taking the bull by the horns he stormed in:
"Aw, Gee! I'm tired! Now, I'spose you'll bawl me out fer a nour, an' I
couldn't help it! You always jump on me worst when I ain't to blame!"
Aunt Saxon turned her pink damp face toward the prodigal and broke into
a plaintive little smile:
"Why, Willie, is that you? I'm real glad you've come. I've kept supper
waiting. We've got cold pressed chicken, and I stirred up some waffles.
I thought you'd like something hot."
Billy stared, but the reaction was too much. In order to keep the
sudden tears back he roared out crossly:
"Well, I ain't hungry. You hadn't oughtta have waited. Pressed chicken,
did ya say? Aw _Gee_! Just when I ain't hungry! Ef that ain't
_luck_! An' waffles! You oughtta known better! But bring 'em on.
I'll try what I can do," and he flung himself down in his chair at the
table and rested a torn elbow on the clean cloth, and his weary head on
a grimy hand. And then when she put the food before him, without even
suggesting that he go first and wash, he became suddenly conscious of
his dishevelled condition and went and washed his hands and face
_without being sent_! Then he returned and did large justice to
the meal, his aunt eyeing furtively with watery smiles, and a sigh of
relief now and then. At last she ventured a word by way of
"How is the man on the mountain?" Billy looked up sharply, startled out
of his usual stolidity with which he had learned from early youth to
mask all interest or emotion from an officious and curious world.
Miss Saxon smiled:
"Mrs. Carter told me how you and Mark went to help a man on the
mountain. It was nice of you Billy."
"Oh! _that_!" said Billy scornfully, rallying to screen his
agitation, "Oh, he's better. He got up and went home. Oh, it wasn't
nothing. I just went and helped Cart. Sorry not to get back to Sunday
School Saxy, but I didn't think 'twould take so long."
After that most unusual explanation, conversation languished, while
Billy consumed the final waffle, after which he remarked gravely that
if she didn't mind he'd go to bed. He paused at the foot of the stair
with a new thoughtfulness to ask if she wanted any wood brought in for
morning, and she cried all the time she was washing up the few dishes
at his consideration of her. Perhaps, as Mrs. Severn had told her,
there was going to come a change and Billy was really growing more
Billy, as he made his brief preparation for bed told himself that he
couldn't sleep, he had too much to worry about and dope out, but his
head had no more than touched the pillow till he was dead to the world.
Whatever came on the morrow, whatever had happened the day before,
Billy had to sleep it out before he was fit to think. And Billy slept.
But up the street in the Carter house a light burned late in Mark's
window, and Mark himself, his mother soothed and comforted and sent to
sleep, sat up in his big leather chair that his mother had given him on
the last birthday before he left home, and stared at the wall opposite
where hung the picture of a little girl in a white dress with floating
hair and starry eyes. In his face there grew a yearning and a
hopelessness that was beyond anything to describe. It was like a face
that is suffering pain of fire and studying to be brave, yet burns and
suffers and is not consumed. That was the look in Mark Carter's eyes
and around his finely chiseled lips. Once, when he was in that mood
travelling on a railway carriage, a woman across the aisle had called
her husband's attention to him. "Look at that man!" she said, "He looks
like a lost soul!"
For a long time he sat and stared at the picture, without a motion of
his body, or without even the flicker of an eyelash, as if he were set
there to see the panorama of his thoughts pass before him and see them
through to the bitter end. His eyes were deep and gray. In boyhood they
had held a wistful expectation of enchanting things and doing great
deeds of valor. They were eyes that dream, and believe, and are happy
even suffering, so faith remain and love be not denied. But faith had
been struck a deadly blow in these eyes now, and love had been cast
away. The eyes looked old and tired and unbelieving, yet still
searching, searching, though seeing dimly, and yet more dim every day,
searching for the dreams of childhood and knowing they would never come
again. Feeling sure that they might not come again because he had shut
the door against them with his own hand, and by his own act cut the
bridge on which they might have crossed from heaven to him.
A chastened face, humbled by suffering when alone, but proud and
unyielding still before others. Mark Carter looking over his past knew
just where he had started down this road of pain, just where he had
made the first mistake, sinned the first sin, chosen pride instead of
humility, the devil instead of God. And to-night Mark Carter sat and
faced the immediate future and saw what was before him. As if a painted
map lay out there on the wall before him, he saw the fire through which
he must pass, and the way it would scorch the faces of those he loved,
and his soul cried out in anguish at the sight. Back, back over his
past life he tramped again and again. Days when he and Lynn and her
father and mother had gone off on little excursions, with a lunch and a
dog and a book, and all the world of nature as their playground. A
little thought, a trifling word that had been spoken, some bit of
beauty at which they looked, an ant they watched struggling with a
crumb too heavy for it, a cluster of golden leaves or the scarlet
berries of the squaw vine among the moss. How the memories made his
heart ache as he thought them out of the past.
And the books they had read aloud, sometimes the minister, sometimes
his wife doing the reading, but always he was counted into the little
circle as if they were a family. He had come to look upon them as his
second father and mother. His own father he had never known.
His eyes sought the bookcase near at hand. There they were, some of
them birthday gifts and Christmases, and he had liked nothing better
than a new book which he always carried over to be read in the company.
Oh, those years! How the books marked their going! Even way back in his
little boyhood! "Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates." He touched its
worn blue back and silver letters scarcely discernible. "The Call of
the Wild." How he had thrilled to the sorrows of that dog! And how many
life lessons had been wrapped up in the creature's experience! How had
he drifted so far away from it all? How could he have done it? No one
had pushed him, he had gone himself. He knew the very moment when after
days of agony he had made the awful decision, scarcely believing
himself that he meant to stick by it; hoping against hope that some
great miracle would come to pass that should change it all and put him
back where he longed to be! How he had prayed and prayed in his
childish faith and agony for the miracle, and--_it had not come!_
God had gone back on him. He had not kept His promises! And then he had
deliberately given up his faith. He could think back over all the days
and weeks that led up to this. Just after the time when he had been so
happy; had felt that he was growing up, and understanding so many of
the great problems of life. The future looked rosy before him, because
he felt that he was beginning to grasp wisdom and the sweetness of
things. How little he had known of his own foolishness and sinfulness!
It was just after they had finished reading and discussing Dante's
Vision. What a wonderful man Mr. Severn was that he had taken two
children and guided them through that beautiful, fearful, wonderful
story! How it had impressed him then, and stayed with him all these
awful months and days since he had trodden the same fiery way--!
He reached his hand out for the book, bound in dull blue cloth, the
symbol of its serious import. He had not opened the book since they
finished it and Mr. Severn had handed it over to him and told him to
keep it, as he had another copy. He opened the book as if it had been
the coffin of his beloved, and there between the dusty pages lay a bit
of blue ribbon, creased with the pages, and jagged on the edges because
it had been cut with a jack knife. And lying smooth upon it in a golden
curve a wisp of a yellow curl, just a section of one of Marilyn's, the
day she put her hair up, and did away with the curls! He had cut the
ribbon from the end of a great bow that held the curls at the back of
her head, and then he had laughingly insisted on a piece of the curl,
and they had made a great time collecting the right amount of hair, for
Marilyn insisted it must not make a rough spot for her to brush. Then
he had laid it in the book, the finished book, and shut it away
carefully, and gone home, and the next day,--the very next day, the
thing had happened!
He turned the leaves sadly:
"In midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct:--"
It startled him, so well it fitted with his mood. It was himself, and
yet he could remember well how he had felt for the writer when he heard
it first. Terrible to sit here to-night and know it was himself all the
time the tale had been about! He turned a page or two and out from the
text there stood a line:
"All hope abandon ye who enter here."
That was the matter with himself. He had abandoned all hope. Over the
leaf his eye ran down the page:
"This miserable fate
Suffer the wretched souls of those who lived
Without praise or blame, with that ill band
Of angels mixed, who nor rebellious proved
Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
How well he remembered the minister's little comments as he read, how
the sermons had impressed themselves upon his heart as he listened, and
yet here he was, himself, in hell! He turned over the pages again
quickly unable to get away from the picture that grew in his mind, the
vermilion towers and minarets, the crags and peaks, the "little brook,
whose crimson'd wave, yet lifts my hair with horror," he could see it
all as if he had lived there many years. Strange he had not thought
before of the likeness of his life to this. He read again:
"O Tuscan! thou who through the city of fire
Alive art passing,--"
Yes, that was it. A City of Fire. He dwelt in a City of Fire! Hell!
There was a hell on earth to-day and mortals entered it and dwelt
there. He lived in that City of Fire continually now. He expected to
live there forever. He had sinned against God and his better self, and
had begun his eternal life on earth. It was too late ever to turn back.
"All Hope abandon, ye who enter here." He had read it and defied it. He
had entered knowing what he was about, and thinking, poor fool that he
was, that he was doing a wise and noble thing for the sake of another.
Over in the little parsonage, the white souled girl was walking in an
earthly heaven. Ah! There was nothing, _nothing_ they had in
common now any more. She lived in the City of Hope and he in the City
He flung out the book from him and dropped his face into his hands
crying softly under his breath, "Oh, Lynn, Lynn--Marilyn!"
For one instant Lynn stood against the closed door, flaming with anger,
her eyes flashing fire as they well knew how to flash at times. Then
suddenly her lips set close in a fine control the fire died out of her
eyes, she drew a deep breath, and a quick whimsical smile lighted up
her face, which nevertheless did not look in the least like one
"You know I could get very angry at that if I chose and we'd have all
kinds of a disagreeable time, but I think it would be a little
pleasanter for us both if you would cut that out, don't you?" She said
it in a cool little voice that sounded like one in entire command of
the situation, and Opal turned around and stared at her admiringly.
Then she laughed one of her wild silvery laughs that made them say she
had a lute-like voice, and sauntered over toward her hostess:
"You certainly are a queer girl!" she commented, "I suppose it would be
better to be friends, inasmuch as we're to be roommates. Will you smoke
with me?" and out from the depths of a beaded affair that was a part of
her frock and yet looked more like a bag than a pocket, she drew forth
a gold cigarette case and held it out.
Marilyn controlled the growing contempt in her face and answered with
"No, I don't smoke. And you won't smoke either--_not in here!_ I'm
sorry to seem inhospitable, but we don't do things like that around
here, and if you have to smoke you'll have to go out doors."
"Oh, really?" Opal arched her already permanently arched, plucked brows
and laughed again. "Well, you certainly have lots of pep. I believe I'm
going to like you. Let's sit down and you tell me about yourself?"
"Why don't _you_ tell me about _yourself_?" hedged Marilyn
relaxing into a chair and leaving the deep leather one for her guest,
"I'm really a very simple affair, just a country girl very glad to get
home after four years at college. There's nothing complex and nothing
to tell I assure you."
"You're entirely too sophisticated for all that simplicity," declared
Opal, "I suppose it's college that has given you so much poise. But why
aren't you impressed with Laurie? Simply _everybody_ is impressed
with Laurie! I don't believe you even know who he is!"
"How should I? And what difference would it make any way? As for being
impressed, he gave me the impression of a very badly spoiled boy out
trying to have his own way, and making a great fuss because he couldn't
"And you didn't know that his father is William J. Shafton, the
multi-millionaire?" Opal brought the words out like little sharp
points that seemed to glitter affluently as she spoke them.
"No," said Marilyn, "I didn't know. But it doesn't matter. We hadn't
anything better to offer him than we've given, and I don't know why I
should have been impressed by that. A man is what he is, isn't he? Not
what his father is. He isn't your--_brother_--is he? I was over at
the church when you arrived and didn't hear the introductions. I didn't
even get your name."
Opal laughed uproariously as if the subject were overwhelmingly
"No," she said recovering, "I'm just Opal. Fire Opal they call me
sometimes, and Opalescence. That's Laurie's name for me, although
lately he's taken to calling me Effervescence. No, he's not my brother
little Simple Lady, he's just one of my friends. Now don't look
shocked. I'm a naughty married lady run off on a spree for a little
fun." Marilyn regarded her thoughtfully:
"Now stop looking at me with those solemn eyes! Tell me what you were
thinking about me! I'd lots rather hear it. It would be something
original, I'm sure. You're nothing if not original!"
"I was just wondering why," said Marilyn still thoughtfully.
"_Why._ Why you did it. Why you wanted to be that kind of a
married woman when the real kind is so much more beautiful and
"What do you know about it?" blazed Opal, "You've never been married,
"My mother has had such a wonderful life with my father--and my father
with my mother!"
Opal stared at her amazed for an instant, then shrugged her shoulders
"Oh, _that!_" she said and laughed disagreeably, "If one wants to
be a saint, perhaps, but there aren't many _men_-saints I can tell
you! You haven't seen my husband or you wouldn't talk like that!
Imagine living a saintly life with Ed Verrons! But my dear, wait till
you're married! You won't talk that rubbish any more!"
"I shall never marry unless I can," said Lynn decidedly, "It would be
terrible to marry some one I could not love and trust!"
"Oh, love!" said Opal contemptuously, "You can love any one you want to
for a little while. Love doesn't last. It's just a play you soon get
tired to death of. But if that's the way you feel don't pin your trust
and your love as you call it to that princely icicle we saw down on the
lawn. He's seen more of the world than you know. I saw it in his eyes.
There! Now don't set your eyes to blazing again. I won't mention him
any more to-night. And don't worry about me, I'm going to be good and
run back to-morrow morning in time to meet my dear old hubby in the
evening when he gets back from a week's fishing in the Adirondacks, and
he'll never guess what a frolic I've had. But you certainly do amuse me
with your indifference. Wait till Laurie gets in some of his work on
you. I can see he's crazy already about you, and if I don't decide to
carry him off with me in the morning I'll miss my guess if he doesn't
show you how altogether charming the son of William J. Shafton can be.
He never failed to have a girl fall for him yet, not one that he
_went_ after, and he's been after a good many girls I can tell
Lynn arose suddenly, her chin a bit high, a light of determination in
her eyes. She felt herself growing angry again:
"Come and look at my view of the moon on the valley," she said
suddenly, pulling aside the soft scrim curtain and letting in a flood
of moonlight. "Here, I'll turn out the light so you can see better.
Isn't that beautiful?"
She switched off the lights and the stranger drew near apathetically,
gazing out into the beauty of the moonlight as it touched the houses
half hidden in the trees and vines, and flooded the Valley stretching
far away to the feet of the tall dark mountains.
"I hate mountains!" shuddered Opal, "They make me afraid! I almost ran
over a precipice when I was coming here yesterday. If I have to go back
that same way I shall take Laurie, or if he won't go I'll cajole that
stunning prince of yours if you don't mind. I loathe being alone.
That's why I ran down here to see Laurie!"
But Lynn had switched on the lights and turned from the window. Her
face was cold and her voice hard:
"Suppose we go to bed," she said, "will you have the bed next the
window or the door? And what shall I get for you? Have you everything?
See, here is the bathroom. Father and mother had it built for me for my
birthday. And the furniture is some of mother's grandmother's. They had
it done over for me."
"It's really a dandy room!" said Opal admiringly, "I hadn't expected to
find anything like this," she added without seeming to know she was
patronizing. "You are the only child, aren't you? Your father and
mother just dote on you too. That must be nice. We had a whole houseful
at home, three girls and two boys, and after father lost his money and
had to go to a sanitarium we had frightful times, never any money to
buy anything, the girls always fighting over who should have silk
stockings, and mother crying every night when we learned to smoke. Of
course mother was old fashioned. I hated to have her weeping around all
the time, but all our set smoked and what could I do? So I just took
the first good chance to get married and got out of it all. And Ed
isn't so bad. Lots of men are worse. And he gives me all the money I
want. One thing the girls don't have to fight over silk stockings and
silk petticoats any more. I send them all they want. And I manage to
get my good times in now and then too. But tell me, what in the world
do you do in this sleepy little town? Don't you get bored to death? I
should think you'd get your father to move to the city. There must be
plenty of churches where a good looking minister like your father could
get a much bigger salary than out in the country like this. When I get
back to New York I'll send for you to visit me and show you a real good
time. I suppose you've never been to cabarets and eaten theatre
suppers, and seen a real New York good time. Why, last winter I had an
affair that was talked of in the papers for days. I had the whole lower
floor decorated as a wood you know, with real trees set up, and mossy
banks, and a brook running through it all. It took days for the
plumbers to get the fittings in, and then they put stones in the
bottom, and gold fish, and planted violets on the banks and all kinds
of ferns and lilies of the valley, everywhere there were flowers
blossoming so the guests could pick as many as they wanted. The stream
was deep enough to float little canoes, and they stopped in grottoes
for champagne, and when they came to a shallow place they had to get
out and take off their shoes and stockings and wade in the brook. On
the opposite bank a maid was waiting with towels. The ladies sat down
on the bank and their escorts had to wipe their feet and help them on
with their shoes and stockings again, and you ought to have heard the
shouts of laughter! It certainly was a great time! Upstairs in the ball
room we had garden walks all about, with all kinds of flowers growing,
and real birds flying around, and the walls were simply covered with
American beauty roses and wonderful climbers, in such bowers that the
air was heavy with perfume. The flowers alone cost thousands--What's
the matter? Did you hear something fall? You startled me, jumping up
like that! You're nervous aren't you? Don't you think music makes
Marilyn smiled pathetically, and dropped back to the edge of her bed:
"Pardon me," she said, "I was just in one of my tempers again. I get
them a lot but I'm trying to control them. I happened to think of the
little babies I saw in the tenement districts when I was in New York
last. Did you ever go there? They wear one little garment, and totter
around in the cold street trying to play, with no stockings, and shoes
out at the toes. Sometimes they haven't enough to eat, and their
mothers are so wretchedly poor and sorrowful--!"
"Mercy!" shuddered Opal, "How morbid you are! What ever did you go to a
place like that for? I always keep as far away from unpleasant things
as I can. I cross the street if I see a blind beggar ahead. I just
loathe misery! But however did you happen to think of them when I was
telling you about my beautiful ball room decorations?"
"I guess you wouldn't understand me," she said slowly, "but I was
thinking of all the good those thousands of dollars would have done if
they had been spent on babies and not on flowers."
"Gracious!" said Opal. "I _hate_ babies! Ed is crazy about them,
and would like to have the house full, but I gave him to understand
what I thought about that before we were married."
"I _love_ babies," said Marilyn. "They want me to go this Fall and
do some work in that settlement, and I'm considering it. If it only
weren't for leaving father and mother again--but I do love the babies
and the little children. I want to gather them all and do so many
things for them. You know they are all God's babies, and it seems
pitiful for them to have to be in such a dreadful world as some of them
"Oh, _God_!" shuddered Opal quite openly now, "Don't talk about
God! I _hate_ God! He's just killed one of my best men friends! I
wish you wouldn't talk about God!"
Marilyn looked at her sadly, contemplatively, and then twitched her
mouth into a little smile:
"We're not getting on very well, are we? I don't like your costly
entertainments, and you don't like my best Friend! I'm sorry. I must
seem a little prude to you I'm afraid, but really, God is not what you
think. You wouldn't hate Him, you would love Him,--if you _knew_
"Fancy knowing God--as you would your other friends! How
_dreadful_! Let's go to bed!"
Opal began to get out her lovely brushes and toilet paraphernalia and
Lynn let down her wonderful golden mane and began to brush it, looking
exquisite in a little blue dimity kimona delicately edged with'
valenciennes. Opal made herself radiant in a rose-chiffon and old-point
negligee and went through numerous gyrations relating to the
complexion, complaining meanwhile of the lack of a maid.
But after the lights were out, and Lynn kneeling silently by her bed in
the moonlight, Opal lay on the other bed and watched her wonderingly,
and when a few minutes later, Marilyn rose softly and crept into bed as
quietly as possible lest she disturb her guest, Opal spoke:
"I wonder what you would do if a man--the man you liked best in all the
world,--had got killed doing something to please you. It makes you go
_crazy_ when you think of it--someone you've danced with lying
dead that way all alone. I wonder what _you'd do_!"
Lynn brought her mind back from her own sorrows and prayers with a jerk
to the problem of this strange guest. She did not answer for a moment,
then she said very slowly:
"I think--I don't know--but I _think_ I should go right to God and
ask Him what to do. I think nobody else could show what ought to be
done. There wouldn't be anything else to do!"
"Oh, _murder_!" said Opal turning over in bed quickly, and hiding
her face in the pillow, and there was in the end of her breath just the
suggestion of a shriek of fear.
But far, far into the night Marilyn lay on her sleepless pillow, her
heart crying out to God: "Oh, save Mark! Take care of Mark! Show him
the way back again!"
Afar in the great city a message stole on a wire through the night, and
presently the great presses were hot with its import, printing
thousands and thousands of extras for early morning consumption, with
headlines in enormous letters across the front page:
"LAURENCE SHAFTON, SON OF WILLIAM J. SHAFTON, KIDNAPPED!"
"Mrs. Shafton is lying in nervous collapse as the result of threats from
kidnappers who boldly called her up on the phone and demanded a king's
ransom, threatening death to the son if the plot was revealed before
ten o'clock this morning. The faithful mother gathered her treasures
which included the famous Shafton Emeralds, and a string of pearls
worth a hundred thousand dollars, and let them down from her window as
directed, and then fainted, knowing nothing more till her maid hearing
her fall, rushed into the room and found her unconscious. When roused
she became hysterical and told what had happened. Then remembering the
threat of death for telling ahead of time she became crazy with grief,
and it was almost impossible to soothe her. The maid called her family
physician, explaining all she knew, and the matter was at once put into
the hands of capable detectives who are doing all they know how to
locate the missing son, who has been gone only since Saturday evening;
and also to find the missing jewels and other property, and it is hoped
that before evening the young man will be found."
Meantime, Laurence Shafton slept soundly and late in the minister's
study, and knew nothing of the turmoil and sorrow of his doting family.
Though Mark had scarcely slept at all the night before he was on hand
long before the city-bred youth was awake, taking apart the big machine
that stood in front of the parsonage. Like a skillful physician he
tested its various valves and compartments, went over its engine
carefully, and came at last to the seat of the trouble which the
minister had diagnosed the night before.
Lynn with dark circles under her eyes had wakened early and slipped
down to the kitchen to help her mother and the little maid of all work
who lived down the street and was a member of the Sunday School and an
important part of the family. It was Naomi who discovered the young
mechanic at the front door. There was not much that Naomi did not see.
She announced his presence to Marilyn as she was filling the salt
cellars for breakfast. Marilyn looked up startled, and met her mother's
eyes full of comfort and reassurance. Somehow when Mark came quietly
about in that helpful way of his it was impossible not to have the old
confidence in him, the old assurance that all would soon be right, the
old explanation that Mark was always doing something quietly for others
and never taking care for himself. Marilyn let her lips relax into a
smile and went about less heavy of heart. Surely, surely, somehow, Mark
would clear himself of these awful things that were being said about
him. Surely the day would bring forth a revelation. And Mark's action
last night when he refused to speak with her, refused to let her touch
his arm, and called himself unworthy was all for her sake; all because
he did not want her name sullied with a breath of the scandal that
belonged to him. Mark would be that way. He would protect her always,
even though he did not belong to her, even though he were not her
She was almost cheerful again, when at last the dallying guests
appeared for a late breakfast. Mark was still working at the car,
filing something with long steady grinding noises. She had seen him
twice from the window, but she did not venture out. Mark had not wished
her to speak to him, she would not go against his wish,--at least not
now--not until the guests were out of the way. That awful girl should
have no further opportunity to say things to her about Mark. She would
keep out of his way until they were gone. Oh, pray that the car would
be fixed and they pass on their way at once! Later, if there were
opportunity, she would find a way to tell Mark that he should not
refuse her friendship. What was friendship if it could not stand the
strain of falsehood and gossip, and even scandal if necessary. She was
not ashamed to let Mark know she would be his friend forever. There was
nothing unmaidenly in that. Mark would understand her. Mark had always
understood her. And so she cheered her heavy heart through the
breakfast hour, and the foolish jesting of the two that sounded to her
anxious ears, in the language of scripture, like the "crackling of
thorns under a pot."
But at last they finished the breakfast and shoved their chairs back to
go and look at the car. Mr. Severn and his wife had eaten long ago and
gone about their early morning duties, and it had been Marilyn's duty
to do the honors for the guests, so she drew a sigh of relief, and,
evading Laurie's proffered arm slid into the pantry and let them go
But when she glanced through the dining-room window a few minutes later
as she passed removing the dishes from the table, she saw Mark upon his
knees beside the car, looking up with his winning smile and talking to
Opal, who stood close beside him all attention, with her little boy
attitude, and a wide childlike look in her big effective eyes.
Something big and terrible seemed to seize Marilyn's heart with a
vise-like grip, and be choking her breath in her throat. She turned
quickly, gathered up her pile of dishes and hurried into the pantry, her
face white and set, and her eyes stinging with proud unshed tears.
A few minutes later, dressed in brown riding clothes exquisitely
tailored, and a soft brown felt hat, she might have been seen hurrying
through the back fence, if anybody had been looking that way, across
the Joneses' lot to the little green stable that housed a riding horse
that was hers to ride whenever she chose. She had left word with Naomi
that she was going to Economy and would be back in time for lunch, and
she hoped in her heart that when she returned both of their guests
would have departed. It was perhaps a bit shabby of her to leave it all
on her mother this way, but mother would understand, and very likely be
So Lynn mounted her little brown horse and rode by a circuitous way,
across the creek, and out around the town to avoid passing her own
home, and was presently on her way up to the crossroads down which
Laurie Shafton had come in the dark midnight.
As she crossed the Highway, she noticed the Detour, and paused an
instant to study the peculiar sign, and the partly cleared way around.
And while she stood wondering a car came swiftly up from the Economy
way past the Blue Duck Tavern. The driver bowed and smiled and she
perceived it was the Chief of Police from Economy, a former resident of
Sabbath Valley, and very much respected in the community, and with him
in the front seat, was another uniformed policeman!
With a sudden constriction at her heart Marilyn bowed and rode on. Was
he going to Sabbath Valley? Was there truth in the rumor that Mark was
in trouble? She looked back to see if he had turned down the Highway,
but he halted the car with its nose pointed Sabbath Valleyward and got
out to examine the Detour on the Highway. She rode slowly and turned
around several times, but as long as she was in sight his car remained
standing pointed toward the Valley.
Billy awoke to the light of day with the sound of a strange car going
by. The road through Sabbath Valley was not much frequented, and Billy
knew every car that usually travelled that way. They were mostly
Economy and Monopoly people, and as there happened to be a mountain
trolley between the two towns higher up making a circuit to touch at
Brooktown, people seldom came this way. Therefore at the unusual sound
Billy was on the alert at once. One movement brought him upright with
his feet upon the floor blinking toward his window, a second carried
him to shelter behind the curtain where he could see the stranger go
Billy had reduced the science of dressing to a fine degree. He could
climb into the limited number of summer garments in less time than any
boy in the community, and when he saw that the car had halted just
above the house and that the driver was interviewing Jim Rafferty, he
reached for a handful of garments, and began to climb, keeping one eye
out the window for developments. Was that or was it not the Chief's car
out there? If it was what did it want?
Billy was in socks, trousers and shirt by the time the car began to
puff again for starting, and he stove his feet into his old shoes and
dove down stairs three steps at a stride and out the door where he
suddenly became a casual observer of the day.
"Hullo, Billy! That you?" accosted the Chief driving slowly down the
street, "Say, Billy, you haven't seen Mark Carter, have you? They said
he had gone down to the blacksmith's to get something fixed for a car.
I thought perhaps you'd seen him go by."
Billy shook his head lazily:
"Nope," he said, "I've been busy this morning. He mighta gone by."
"Well I'll just drive down and see!" The car started on and turned into
the Lane that led to the blacksmith shop.
Billy dove into the house, made short work of his ablutions, gave his
hair a brief lick with the brush, collected his cap and sweater, bolted
the plate of breakfast Aunt Saxon had left on the back of the stove
when she went away for her regular Monday's wash, and was ready behind
the lilac bush with old trusty, down on his knees oiling her a bit,
when the Chief drove back with Mark Carter in the back seat looking
strangely white and haughty, but talking affably with the Chief.
His heart sank. Somehow he knew something was wrong with Mark. Mark was
in his old clothes with several pieces of iron in his hand as if he
hadn't taken time to lay them down. Billy remained in hiding and
watched while the Chief's car stopped at Carter's and Mark got out. The
car waited several minutes, and then Mark came out with his good
clothes on and his best hat, and got into the car and they drove off,
Mark looking stern and white. Billy shot out from his hiding and
mounting his steed flew down the road, keeping well behind the maples
and hedges, and when the Chief's car stopped in front of the parsonage
he dismounted and stepped inside Joneses' drive to listen. Mark got
out, sprang up the steps, touched the bell, and said to someone who
appeared at the door, "Mr. Shafton, I'm sorry, but I'll not be able to
get those bearings fixed up to-day. The blacksmith doesn't seem to have
anything that will do. I find I have to go over to Economy on business,
and I'll look around there and see if anybody has any. I expect to be
back by twelve o'clock, and will you tell the lady that I will be ready
to start at half-past if that will suit her. I am sure we shall have
plenty of time to get her to Beechwood by five or sooner. If anything
occurs to keep me from going I'll telephone you in an hour, so that she
can make other arrangements. Thank you, Mr. Shafton. Sorry I couldn't
fix you up right away, but I'll look after the lady for you." Mark
hurried back to the car again and they drove off.
Billy escorted the Department of Justice distantly, as far as the
Crossing at the Highway, from which eminence he watched until he saw
that they stopped at the Blue Duck Tavern for a few minutes, after
which they went on toward Economy; then he inspected the recent
clearing of his detour, obviously by the Chief, and hurried down the
Highway toward the railroad Crossing at Pleasant View. It was almost
train time, and he had a hunch that there might be something
interesting around that hidden telephone. If he only had had more time
he might have arranged to tap the wire and listen in without having to
go so near, but he must do the best he could.
When he reached a point on the Highway where Pleasant View station was
easily discernible he dismounted, parked his wheel among the
huckleberries, and slid into the green of the Valley. Stealing
cautiously to the scene of the Saturday night hold-up he finally
succeeded in locating the hidden telephone, and creeping into a well
screened spot not far away arranged himself comfortably to wait till
the trains came. He argued that Pat would likely come down to report or
get orders about the same time as before, and so in the stillness of
the morning he lay on the ground and waited. He could hear a song
sparrow high up on the telegraph wire, sing out its wild sweet lonely
strain: Sweet--sweetsweetsweet--sweetsweet--sweetsweet--! and a hum of
bees in the wild grape that trailed over the sassafras trees. Beside
him a little wood spider stole noiselessly on her busy way. But his
heart was heavy with new burdens and he could not take his usual
rhapsodic joy in the things of Nature. What was happening to Mark and
what could he do about it? Perhaps Mark would have been better off if
he had left him in the old house on Stark's mountain. The chief
couldn't have found him then and the kidnappers would have kept him
safe for a good many days till they got some money. But there wouldn't
have _been_ any money! For Mark wasn't the right man! And the
kidnappers would have found it out pretty soon and _what_ would
they have done to Mark? Killed him perhaps so they wouldn't get into
any more trouble! There was no telling! And time would have gone on and
nobody would have known what had become of Mark. And the murder trial--
if it was really a murder--would come off and they couldn't find Mark,
and of course they would think Mark had killed the man and then run
away. And Mark would never be able to come home again! No, he was glad
Mark was out and safe and free from dope. At least Mark would know what
to do to save himself. Or would he? Billy suddenly had his doubts.
Would Mark take care of himself, just himself, or not? Mark was always
looking after other people, but he had somehow always let people say
and do what they would with him. Aw gee! Now Mark wouldn't let them
locate a thing like a murder on him, would he? And there was Miss Lynn!
And Mark's mother! Mark oughtta think of them. Well, maybe he wouldn't
realize how much they did care. Billy had a sudden revelation that
maybe that was half the matter, Mark didn't know how much any of them
cared. Back in his mind there was an uncomfortable memory of Aunt
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