The City of Fire
Grace Livingston Hill
Part 5 out of 6
trying her best to make out anything written therein. She justified
this to her conscience by saying that it might give a clue to Billy's
whereabouts. Billy never got letters. Maybe, it might be from his long
lost father, though they had all reason to believe him dead. Or maybe--
Oh, what if Albert Gaston had come back and kidnapped Billy! The
thought was too awful. She dropped right down in the kitchen where she
stood by the old patchwork rocking chair that always stood handy in the
window when she wanted to peel potatoes, and prayed: "Oh, God, don't
let it be! Don't bring that bad man back to this world again! Take care
of my Billy and bring him back to me, Amen!" Over and over again she
prayed, and it seemed to comfort her. Then she rose, and put the tea
kettle on and carefully steamed open the letter. She had not lost all
hope when she took time to steam it open in place of tearing it, for
she was still worse afraid that Billy might return and scold her for
meddling with his precious letter, then she was afraid he would not
return. While the steam was gathering she tried to justify herself in
Billy's eyes for opening it at all. After her prayer it seemed a sort
of desecration. So the kettle had almost boiled away before she
mustered courage to hold the envelope over the steam, and while she did
this she noticed for the first time significantly that the postmark was
New York. Perhaps it was from Mark. Then Billy was not with Mark! But
perhaps the letter would tell.
So she opened the flap very carefully, and pulled out the single sheet
of paper, stepping nearer the window to read it in the late afternoon
light. It read: "Dear Kid, shut your mouth and saw wood. Buddy." That
Aunt Saxon lifted frightened eyes and stared at the lilac bush outside
the window, the water spout where Billy often shinned up and down, the
old apple tree that he would climb before he was large enough to be
trusted, and then she read the letter again. But it meant nothing to
her. It seemed a horrible riddle. She took a pencil and a scrap of
paper and quickly transcribed the mysterious words, omitting not even
the punctuation, and then hurriedly returned the letter to its
envelope, clapped the flap down and held it tight. When it was dry she
put the letter up in plain sight on the top of the old secretary where
Billy could find it at once when he came in. She was taking no chances
on Billy finding her opening his mail. It never had happened before,
because Billy never had had a letter before, except notices about base
ball and athletic association, but she meant it never should happen.
She knew instinctively that if it ever did she would lose Billy, if not
immediately, then surely eventually, for Billy resented above all
things interference. Then Aunt Saxon sat down to study the
transcription. But after a long and thorough perusal she folded it
carefully and pinned it in her bosom. But she went more cheerily down
to the market to get something for supper. Billy might come any time
now. His letter was here, and he would surely come home to get his
Down at the store she met Marilyn, who told her she looked better
already, and the poor soul, never able to hold her tongue, had to tell
the girl about the letter.
"He's had a letter," she said brightening, "about a job I guess. It was
there when I got back. It's sawing wood. The letter doesn't have any
head. It just says about sawing wood. I 'spose that's where he is, but
he ought to have let me know. He was afraid I'd make a fuss about it, I
always do. I'm afraid of those big saws they use. He's so careless. But
he was set on a grown-up job. I couldn't get him to paste labels on
cans at the factory, he said it was too much of a kid game."
"Oh," said Marilyn, wondering, "Sawing wood. Well, that's where he is
of course, and it's good healthy work. I wouldn't worry. Billy is
pretty careful I think. He'll take care of himself."
But to herself on the way home she said: "How queer for Billy to go off
sawing wood just now! It doesn't seem like him. They can't be so hard
up. There must be something behind it all. I hope I didn't start
anything asking him to stick by Mark! Oh, _where_ is Mark?"
That afternoon Marilyn took a horseback ride, and touched all the
points she knew where there might be likely to be woodsawing going on,
but no Billy was on the job anywhere.
As she rode home through Economy she saw Mrs. Fenner scuttling down a
side street from the jail, and hurrying into her own side gate like a
little frightened lizard.
Marilyn came back home heart sick and sad, and took refuge in the
church and her bells. At least she could call to Billy across the hills
somewhere by playing the songs he loved the best. And perhaps their
echoes would somehow cross the miles to Mark too, by that strange
mysterious power that spirit can reach to spirit across space or years
or even estrangement, and draw the thoughts irresistibly. So she sat at
the organ and played her heart out, ringing all the old sweet songs
that Mark used to love when the bells first were new and she was
learning to play them; Highland Laddie, Bonnie Bonnie Warld,
Mavourneen, Kentucky Home, songs that she had kept fresh in her heart
and sometimes played for Billy now and then. And then the old hymns.
Did they echo far enough to reach him where he had gone, Mark sitting
alone in his inferno? Billy holding his breath and trying to find a way
out of his? Did they hear those bells calling?
"Oh, God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come!
Our refuge from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!"
The soul of the girl in the little dusky church went up in a prayer
with the bells.
"Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God!
A thousand years the same!"
Every mortal in the village knew the words, and in kitchens now,
preparing savory suppers, or down in the mills and factories, or out on
the street coming home, they were humming them, or repeating them over
in their hearts. The bells did not ring the melody alone. The message
was well known and came to every heart. Mark and Billy knew them too.
Perhaps by telepathy the tune would travel to their minds and bring
their words along:
"Under the shadow of Thy wings
Thy saints have dwelt secure,
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And Thy defense is sure!"
The bells ceased ringing and the vibration slowly died away, hill
answering to hill, in waves of softly fading sound, while the people
went to their suppers with a light of blessing and uplift on their
faces. But in the darkened church, Marilyn, with her fingers on the
keys and her face down upon her hands was praying, praying that God
would shelter Mark and Billy.
High in the tree over Billy's head a little chipmunk whisked with a nut
in his mouth. He selected a comfortable rocking branch, unfurled his
tail for a wind shield at his back, and sat up to his supper table as
it were with the nut in his two hands. Something unusual caught his
attention as he was about to attack the nutshell, and he cocked his
little striped head around, up, and down, and took in Billy. Then a
squirrel smile overspread his furry face and a twinkle seemed to come
in his eye. With a wink down toward Billy he went to work. Crack,
crack, crack! The shell was open. Crack! And a large section fell,
whirling spinning down, straight down. The squirrel paused in his
nibbling and cocked an eye again with that mischievous twinkle as if he
enjoyed the joke, watching the light bit of shell in its swift descent,
plump on the end of Billy's nose. It couldn't have hit straighter if
Chippie had been pitcher for the Sabbath Valley base ball team.
Billy opened his eyes with a start and a scowl, and there before him,
glaring like a wild beast, thick lips agap showing gnarled yellow
teeth, wicked eyes, red glittering and murderous, was Pat, ugly,
formidable and threatening!
"Come outta there you little varmint you!" roared Pat. "Come out and
I'll skin the nasty yella hide off'n ya. I gotcha good and hard now
right where I wantcha an' ye won't--"
Billy had been lying among the thick undergrowth, flat on his back, his
left arm flung above his head, but his right arm was thrust out from
his body under a thick clump of laurel, and his right hand held the gun
ready for any emergency when he inadvertently went to sleep. The gun
was pointed down the Valley along the ground and his fingers wrapped
knowingly, loving around the weapon,--he had so long wanted to own one
of his own. That gun was not included in the blood money and was not to
be returned. It was a perquisite of war.
Billy was all there always, and even awakening suddenly from much
needed sleep he was on the job. One glance at Pat's devilish face and
his fingers automatically pulled the trigger. The report roared out
along the Valley like a volley from a regiment.
Billy hardly felt the rebound of the weapon before he realized that
Patrick was no more between his vision and the sun's last rays. Patrick
was legging it down the Valley with all the strength he had left, and
taking no time to look back. Billy had presence of mind to let off
another volley before he rose to investigate; but there was nothing
left of Pat but a ruffled path in the undergrowth and a waving branch
or two he had turned aside in his going. So that was that! Doggone it,
why did he have to go to sleep? If he had only been ready he could have
managed this affair so much better for his own ends. He wanted a heart
to heart talk with Pat while he had him good and frightened, and now it
was too late. He must get back to the other job. He shinned up a tree
and observed the broad shoulders of Pat wallowing up the bank over by
the railroad. He was going back to the station. It was as well. He
might see him again tomorrow perhaps, for Pat he must have as evidence.
And besides, Pat might read the note and conclude to come back and
Billy parted the bushes to see if Pat had taken the money and note with
him, and lo, here was the rude mountain telephone box wide open with
the bunch of keys in the lock just as Pat must have left it when he
discovered the paper and money, or perhaps Pat had been going to report
to Sam what had happened, who knew? You see Billy knew nothing of his
little red and brown striped partner up in the tree who had dropped a
nut to warn him of danger, and did not realize that Chippie had also
startled Pat, and set him looking among the bushes for the sources of
But Billy knew how to take advantage of a situation if he didn't know
what made it, and in a trice he was down on his knees with the crude
receiver in his hands. It was too late to ride down to the Blue Duck
and telephone, but here was a telephone come to him, and now was a
chance to try if it was a telephone at all, or only a private wire run
secretly. He waited breathless with the long hum of wires in his ears,
and then a quick click and "Number please." Billy could hardly command
his voice but he murmured "Economy 13" in a low growl, his hard young
hands shaking with excitement. "Your letter please!" Billy looked
wildly at the rough box but could see no sign of number. "Why, it's the
station, doncha know? What's thamatterwithya?" His spirits were rising.
"J" stated the operator patiently. "Well, jay then," said Billy,
"WhaddoIcare?" "Just-a-minute-please," and suddenly the Chief's voice
boomed out reassuringly. Billy cast a furtive eye back of him in the
dusk and fell to his business with relief.
"Say, Chief, that you? This's Bill! Say, Chief, I wantcha he'p right
away pretty quick! Got a line on those guys! You bring three men an'
ge'down on the Lone Valley Road below Stark mountain an' keep yer eye
peeled t'ward the hanted house. Savvy? Yes, old hanted house, you know.
You wait there till I signal. Yes, flash! Listen, one wink if you go to
right, two come up straight, and three to the left. If it's only one
repeated several times, you spread all round. Yep. I'm goin' up there
right now. No, Chief, I wouldn't call ye f'I didn't think t'was pretty
sure. Yep! I think they'll come out soon's it gets real dark. Yep, I
think they ben there all day. I ain't sure, but I think. You won't fail
me, will you Chief. No, sure! I'll stick by. Be sure to bring three
men, there's two of 'em, I ain't rightly sure but three. I jus' stirred
another up. Whatssay? No, I'm 'lone! Aw, I'm awright! Sure. I'll be
careful. Whatssay? Where? Oh' I'm at a hole in the ground. Yes, down
below Pleasant Valley station. Some telephone! I'll show it to you
t'morra! S'long, Chief, I gotta go! It's gettin' dark, goobbye!"
Billy gave hurried glances about and rustled under the branches like a
snake over to where old trusty lay. In ten minutes more he was worming
his way up the side of Stark mountain, while Pat was fortifying himself
well within the little station, behind tables and desks for the night,
and scanning the Valley from the dusty window panes.
Billy parked his wheel in its usual place and continued up the hill to
the opening at the back, then stood long listening. Once he thought he
heard something drop inside the kitchen door, but no sound followed it
and he concluded it had been a rat. Half way between himself and the
back door something gleamed faintly in the starlight. He didn't
remember to have seen anything there before. He stole cautiously over,
moving so slowly that he could not even hear himself. He paused beside
the gleam and examined. It was an empty flask still redolent. Ummm!
Booze! Billy wasn't surprised. Of course they would try to get
something to while away their seclusion until they dared venture forth
with their booty. He continued his cautious passage toward the house
and then began to encircle it, keeping close to the wall and feeling
his way along, for the moon would be late and small that night and he
must work entirely by starlight. It was his intention after going
around the house to enter and reconnoitre in his stocking feet. As he
neared the front of the house he dropped both hands to his sweater
pockets, the revolver in his right hand with its two precious
cartridges, the flash light which he had taken care to renew in Economy
in his left hand, fingers ready to use either instantly. He turned the
corner and stole on toward the front door, still noiseless as a mouse
would go, his rubber sneakers touching like velvet in the grass.
He was only two feet from the front stoop when he become aware of
danger, something, a familiar scent, a breathlessness, and then a
sudden stir. A dark thing ahead and the feeling of something coming
behind. Billy as if a football signal had been given, grew calm and
alert. Instantly both arms flashed up, and down the mountain shot two
long yellow winks of light, and simultaneously two sharp reports of a
gun, followed almost instantly by another shot, more sinister in sound,
and Billy's right arm dropped limply by his side, while a sick wave of
pain passed over him.
But he could not stop for that. He remembered the day when Mark had
been coaching the football team and had told them that they must not
stop for _anything_ when they were in action. If they thought
their legs were broken, or they were mortally wounded and dying, they
must not even think of it. Football was the one thing, and they were to
forget they were dead and go ahead with every whiff of punch there was
in them, blind or lame, or dead even, because when they were playing,
football was the only thing that counted. And if they were sick or
wounded or bleeding let the wound or the sickness take care of itself.
_They_ were _playing football!_ So Billy felt now.
He hurled himself viciously at the dark shadow ahead, which he mentally
registered as Link because he seemed long to tackle, and then kicked
behind at the thing that came after, and struggled manfully with a
throttling hand on his throat till a wad of vile cloth was forced into
his mouth--and just as he had a half Nelson on Shorty, too! If he could
have got Shorty down and stood on him he might have beaten off Link
until Chief got there. Where was Chief? Where was the gun? Where was
he? His head was swimming. Was it his head he had hit against the wall,
or did he bang Shorty's? How it resounded! There were winding stairs in
his head and he seemed to be climbing them, up, up, up, till he dropped
in a heap on the floor, a hard floor all dust, and the dust came into
his nostrils. He was choking with that rag! Why couldn't he pull it
out? What was cutting his wrists when he tried to raise his hand? And
what was that queer pain in his shoulder?
There were shouts outside. How did he get inside? Was that more
shooting? Perhaps he had found his gun after all. Perhaps he was
shooting the men before the Chief got there, and that was bad, because
he didn't feel competent to judge about a thing as serious as shooting
with that dirty rag in his mouth. He must get rid of it somehow.
Doggone it! He had somehow got his hands all tangled up in cords, and
he must get them out no matter if they did cut. He had to give the
Chief a signal.
He struggled again with all his might, and something somewhere gave
way. He wasn't sure what, but he seemed to be sinking down, perhaps
down stairs or down the mountain, somehow so it was down where the
Chief--! where Mark! The light in his brain went out and he lay as one
dead in the great dusty front bedroom where a man who had sinned,
hanged himself once because he couldn't bear his conscience any longer.
And outside in the front door yard five men struggled in the dark, with
curses, and shots, and twice one almost escaped, for Link was
desperate, having a record behind him that would be enough for ten men
to run away from.
But after the two were bound and secured in the car down at the foot of
the mountain, the Chief lingered, and looking up said in a low tone to
one of his men: "I wonder where that boy is!"
"Oh, he's all right," said his assistant easily, "he's off on another
piece of business by this time, Chief. He likes to seem mysterious.
It's just his way. Say, Chief, we gotta get back if we wantta meet that
train down at Unity t'night."
That was true too, and most important, so the Chief with a worried
glance toward the dark mountain turned his car and hurried his captives
away. Now that they were where he could get a glance at them in the dim
light of the car, he felt pretty sure they were a couple of "birds" he
had been looking for for quite a while. If that was so he must reward
Billy somehow. That boy was a little wonder. He would make a detective
some day. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take him on in a quiet sort of
way and train him. He might be a great help. He mustn't forget this
night's work. And what was that the kid had said about a secret
underground wire? He must look into it as soon as this murder trial was
off the docket. That murder trial worried him. He didn't like the turn
things were taking.
In the gray of the morning Billy came to himself and stared around in
the stuffy grimness everywhere. The gag was still in his mouth. He put
up his hand involuntarily and pulled it out, and then remembered that
his hands had been tied. Then he must have succeeded in breaking the
cord! The other hand was still encumbered and his feet were tied
together, but it happened that the well hand was the freed one, and so
after a hard struggle he succeeded in getting out of the tangle of
knots and upon his feet. He worked cautiously because he wasn't sure
how much of what he remembered was dream and how much was reality. The
two men might be in the house yet, very likely were, asleep somewhere.
He must steal down and get away before they awoke.
There was something warm and sticky on the floor and it had got on his
clothes, but he took no notice of it at first. He wondered what that
sick pain in his shoulder was, but he had not time to stop and see now
or even to think about it. He must call the Chief before the men were
awake. So he managed to get upon his feet land steady himself against
the wall, for he felt dizzy and faint when he tried to walk. But he
managed to get into the hall, and peer into each room, and more and
more as he went he felt he was alone in the house. Then he had failed
and the men were gone! Aw Gee! Pat too! What a fool he had been,
thinking he could manage the affair! He ought to have taken the Chief
into his confidence and let him come along, Aw Gee!
Down in the kitchen he found a pail of water and a cup. He drank
thirstily. His head felt hot and the veins in his neck throbbed. There
seemed to be a lump on his forehead. He bathed his face and head. How
good it felt! Then he found a whiskey bottle on the table half full.
This after carefully smelling he poured over his bruised wrists,
sopping it on his head and forehead, and finally pouring some down his
shoulder that pained so, and all that he did was done blindly, like one
in a dream; just an involuntary searching for means to go on and
fulfill his purpose.
After another drink of water he seemed to be able to think more
clearly. That tapping in the cellar yesterday! What had that been? He
must look and see. Yes, that was really what he had come about. Perhaps
the men were down there yet hidden away. He opened the cellar door and
listened. Doggone it where was that gun of his? But the flash light!
Yes, the flash light!
He shot the light ahead of him as he went down, moving as in a dream,
but keeping true to type, cautious, careful, stealthy. At last he was
down. No one there! He turned the little flash into every nook and
cranny, not excepting the ledges above the cellar wall whereon the
floor beams rested. Once he came on a tin box long and flat and new
looking. It seemed strange to meet it here. There was no dust upon it.
He poked it down with his torch and it sprawled open at his feet.
Papers, long folded papers printed with writing in between, like bonds
or deeds or something. He stooped and waved the flash above them and
caught the name Shafton in one. It was an insurance paper, house and
furniture. He felt too stupid to quite understand, but it grew into his
consciousness that these were the things he was looking for. He
gathered them up, stuffing them carefully inside his blouse. They would
be safe there. Then he turned to go upstairs, but stumbled over a pile
of coal out in the floor and fell. It gave him a sick sensation to
fall. It almost seemed that he couldn't get up again, but now he had
found the papers he must. He, crawled to his knees, and felt around,
then turned his light on. This was strange! A heap of coal out in the
middle of the floor, almost a foot from the rest! A rusty shovel lay
beside it, a chisel and a big stone. Ah! The tapping! He got up
forgetting his pain and began to kick away the coal, turning the flash
light down. Yes, there was a crack in the cement, a loose piece. He
could almost lift it with his foot. He pried at it with the toe of his
shoe, and then lifted it with much effort out of the way. It was quite
a big piece, more than a foot in diameter! The ground was soft
underneath as if it had been recently worked over. He stooped and
plunged the fingers of his good hand in and felt around, laying the
light on the floor so it would shed a glare over the spot where he
worked. He could feel down several inches. There seemed to be something
soft like cloth or leather. He pulled at it and finally brought it up.
A leather bag girt about with a thong of leather. He picked the knot
and turned the flash in. It sent forth a million green lights. There
seemed also to be a rope of white glistening things that reminded him
of Saxy's tears. That brought a pang. Saxy would be crying! He must
remember that and do something about it. He must have been away a long
time and perhaps those men would be coming back. But it wouldn't do to
leave these things here. They were the Shafton jewels. What anybody
wanted of a lot of shiny little stones like that and a rope of tears!
But then if they did they did, and they were theirs and they oughtta
have 'em. This was the thing he had come to do. Get those jewels and
papers back! Make up as far as he could for what he had done! And he
must do it now quick before he got sick. He felt he was getting sick
and he mustn't think about it or he would turn into Aunt Saxon. That
was the queerest thing, back in his mind he felt this _was_ Aunt
Saxon down here in the haunted cellar playing with green stones and
ropes of tears, and he must hurry quick before she found him and told
him he couldn't finish what he had to do.
He did the work thoroughly, feeling down in the hole again, but found
nothing more. Then he stuffed the bag inside his blouse and buttoned up
his sweater with his well hand and somehow got up the stairs. That arm
pained him a lot, and he found his sweater was wet. So he took his
handkerchief and tied it tight around the place that hurt the most,
holding one end in his teeth to make the knot firm.
The sun blinded him as he stumbled down the back steps and went to get
his wheel, but somehow he managed it, plunging through the brakes and
tangles, and back to the road.
It ran in his brain where the Shaftons lived out in the country on the
Jersey shore. He had a mental picture in the back of his mind how to
get there. He knew that when he struck the Highroad there was nothing
to do but keep straight on till he crossed the State Line and then he
would find it somehow, although it was miles away. If he had been
himself he would have known it was an impossible journey in his present
condition, but he wasn't thinking of impossibilities. He had to do it,
didn't he? He, Billy, had set out to make reparation for the confusion
he had wrought in his small world, and he meant to do so, though all
hell should rise against him. Hell! That was it. He could see the
flames in hot little spots where the morning sun struck. He could hear
the bells striking the hour in the world he used to know that was not
for him any more. He zigzagged along the road in a crazy way, and
strange to say he met nobody he knew, for it was early. Ten minutes
after he passed the Crossroads Elder Harricutt went across the Highway
toward Economy to his day's work, and he would have loved to have seen
Billy, and his rusty old wheel, staggering along in that crazy way and
smelling of whiskey like a whole moonshiner, fairly reeking with
whiskey as he joggled down the road, and a queer little tinkle now and
then just inside his blouse as if he carried loaded dice. Oh, he would
have loved to have caught Billy shooting crap!
But he was too late, and Billy swam on, the sun growing hotter on his
aching head, the light more blinding to his blood shot eyes, the lump
bigger and bluer on his grimy forehead.
About ten o'clock a car came by, slowed down, the driver watching
Billy, though Billy took no note of him. Billy was looking on the
ground dreaming he was searching for the state line. He had a crazy
notion it oughtta be there somewhere.
The man in the car stopped and called to him:
"How about putting your wheel in the back seat and letting me give you
a lift? You look pretty tired."
Billy lifted bleared eyes and stopped pedalling, almost falling off his
wheel, but recovering himself with a wrench of pain and sliding off.
"Awwright!" said Billy, "Thanks!"
"You look all in, son," said the man kindly.
"Yep," said Billy laconically, "'yam! Been up all night. Care f'I
"Help yourself," said the man, giving a lift with the wheel, and
putting it in behind.
Billy curled down in the back seat without further ceremony.
"Where are you going son?"
Billy named the country seat of the Shaftons, having no idea how far
away it was. The man gave a whistle.
"What! On that wheel? Well, go to sleep son. I'm going there myself, so
don't worry. I'll wake you up when you get there."
So Billy slept through the first long journey he had taken since he
came to live with Aunt Saxon, slept profoundly with an oblivion that
almost amounted to coma. Sometimes the man, looking back, was tempted
to stop and see if the boy was yet alive, but a light touch on the hot
forehead showed him that life was not extinct, and they whirled on.
Three hours later Billy was awakened by a sharp shake of his sore
shoulder and a stinging pain that shot through him like fire. Fire!
Fire! He was on fire! That was how he felt as he opened his eyes and
glared at the stranger:
"Aw, lookout there, whatterya doin'?" he blazed, "Whadda ya think I am?
A football? Don't touch me. I'll get out. This the place? Thanks fer
tha ride, I was all in. Say, d'ya know a guy by the name of Shafton?"
"Shafton?" asked the man astonished, "are you going to Shafton's?"
"Sure," said Billy, "anything wrong about that? Where does he hang
out?" The look of Billy, and more than all the smell of him made it
quite apparent to the casual observer that he had been drinking, and
the man eyed him compassionately. "Poor little fool! He's beginning
young. What on earth does he want at Shaftons?"
"I'spose you've come down after the reward," grinned the man, "I could
have saved you the trouble if you'd told me. The kidnapped son has got
home. They are not in need of further information."
Billy gave him a superior leer with one eye closed:
"You may not know all there is to know about that," he said impudently,
"where did you say he lived?"
The man shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
"Suit yourself," he said, "I doubt if they'll see you. They have had
nothing but a stream of vagrants for two days and they're about sick of
it. They live on the next estate and the gateway is right around that
"I ain't no vagrant," glared Billy, and limped away with old trusty
under his left arm.
No one molested him as he walked in the arched and ivied gateway, for
the gate keeper was off on a little private errand of his own at a
place where prohibition had not yet penetrated. Billy felt too heavy
and dizzy to mount his wheel, but he leaned on the saddle as he walked
and tried to get things straight in his head. He oughtn't to have gone
to sleep, that's what he oughtn't. But this job would soon be over and
then he would hike it for home. Gee! Wouldn't home feel good! And Aunt
Saxon would bathe his head with wych hazel and make cold things for him
to drink! Aw, Gee!
The pedigreed dogs of which the place boasted a number came suddenly
down upon him in a great flare of noise, but dogs were always his
friends, why should he worry? A pity he couldn't stop to make friends
with them just now. Some dogs! Here pup! Gee! What a dog to own! The
dogs whined and fawned upon him. Pedigree or no pedigree, rags and
whiskey and dirt notwithstanding, they knew a man when they saw one,
and Billy hadn't batted an eyelid when they tried their worst tramp
barks on him. They wagged their silky tails and tumbled over each other
to get first place to him, and so escorted proudly he dropped old
trusty by a clump of imported rhododendrons and limped up the marble
steps to the wide vistas of circular piazzas that stretched to
seemingly infinite distances, and wondered if he should ever find the
An imposing butler appeared with a silver tray, and stood aghast.
"Shafton live here?" inquired Billy trying to look business like. "Like
to see him er the missus a minute," he added as the frowning vision
bowed. The butler politely but firmly told him that the master and
mistress had other business and no desire to see him. The young
gentleman had come home, and the reward had been withdrawn. If it was
about the reward he had come he could go down to the village and find
the detective. The house people didn't want to interview any more
"Well, say," said Billy disgusted, "after I've come all this way too!
You go tell 'er I've brought her jewels! You go tell 'er I've _gottum
The butler opened the door a little wider: he suggested that seeing was
"Not on yer tin type!" snapped Billy, "I show 'em to nobody an' I give
'em to nobody but the owner! Where's the young fella? He knows me. Tell
'im I brang his ma's string o' beads an' things."
Billy was weary. His head was spinning round. His temper was rising.
"Aw,--you make me tired! Get out of my way!" He lowered his head and
made a football dive with his head in the region of the dignified
butler's stomach, and before that dignitary had recovered his poise
Billy with two collies joyously escorting him, stood blinking in wonder
over the great beautiful living room, for all the world as pretty as
the church at home, only stranger, with things around that he couldn't
make out the use of.
"Where'ur they at? Where are the folks?" he shouted back to the butler
who was coming after him with menace in his eye.
"What is the matter, Morris? What is all this noise about?" came a
lady's voice in pettish tones from up above somewhere. "Didn't I tell
you that I wouldn't see another one of those dreadful people to-day?"
Billy located her smooth old childish face at once and strode to the
foot of the stairs peering up at the lady, white with pain from his
contact with the butler, but alert now to the task before him:
"Say, Miz Shaf't'n, I got yer jools, would ya mind takin' 'em right
now? 'Cause I'm all in an' I wantta get home."
His head was going around now like a merry-go-round, but he steadied
himself by the bannister:
"Why, what do you mean?" asked the lady descending a step or two, a
vision of marcelled white hair, violet and lace negligee, and well
preserved features, "You've got them _there_? Let me see them."
"He's been drinking, Sarah, can't you smell it?" said a man's voice
higher up, "Come away and let Morris deal with him. Really Sarah, we'll
have to go away if this keeps up."
"Say, you guy up there, just shut yer trap a minute won't ya! Here, Miz
Shaf't'n, are these here yours?"
Billy struggled with the neck of his blouse and brought forth the
leather bag, gripped the knot fiercely in his teeth, ran his fingers in
the bag as he held it in his mouth, his lamed arm hanging at his side,
and drew forth the magnificent pearls.
"William! My pearls!" shrieked the lady.
The gentleman came down incredulous, and looked over her shoulder.
"I believe they are, Sarah," he said.
Billy leered feverishly up at him, and produced a sheaf of papers,
seemingly burrowing somewhere in his internal regions to bring them
"And here, d'these b'long?"
The master of the house gripped them.
"Sarah! The bonds! And the South American Shares!" They were too busy
to notice Billy who stood swaying by the newel post, his duty done now,
the dogs grouped about him.
"Say, c'n I get me a drink?" he asked of the butler, who hovered near
uncertain what to be doing now that the tide was turned.
The lady looked up.
He scarcely heard the lady's words but almost immediately a tall slim
glass of frosty drink, that smelled of wild grapes, tasted of oranges,
and cooled him down to the soul again, was put into his hand and he
gulped it greedily.
"Where did you say you found these, young man?" The gentleman eyed him
sternly, and Billy's old spirit flamed up:
"I didn't say," said Billy.
"But you know we've got to have all the evidence before we can give the
"Aw, cut it out! I don't want no reward. Wouldn't take it if you give
it to me! I just wantta get home. Say, you gotta telephone?"
"Why certainly." This was the most astonishing burglar!
"Well, where is't? Lemme call long distance on it? I ain't got the tin
now, but I'll pay ya when I git back home!"
"Why, the idea! Take him to the telephone Morris. Right there! This
But Billy had sighted one on a mahogany desk near at hand and he
toppled to the edge of the chair that stood before it. He took down the
receiver in a shaky hand, calling Long Distance.
"This Long Distance? Well, gimme Economy 13."
The Shaftons for the instant were busy looking over the papers,
identifying each jewel, wondering if any were missing. They did not
notice Billy till a gruff young voice rang out with a pathetic tremble
in it: "That you Chief? This is Billy. Say, c'n I bother you to phone
to Miss Severn an' ast her to tell m'yant I'm aw'wright? Yes, tell her
I'll be home soon now, an' I'll explain. And Chief, I'm mighty sorry
those two guys got away, but I couldn't help it. We'll get 'em yet.
Hope you didn't wait long. Tell you more when I see ya, S'long--!"
The boyish voice trailed off into silence as the receiver fell with a
crash to the polished desk, and Billy slipped off the chair and lay in
a huddled heap on the costly rug.
"Oh, mercy!" cried the lady, "Is he drunk or what?"
"Come away Sarah, let Morris deal--"
"But he's sick, I believe, William. Look how white he is. I believe he
is dead! William, he may have come a long way in the heat! He may have
had a sunstroke! Morris, send for a doctor quick! And--call the
ambulance too! You better telephone the hospital. We can't have him
here! William, look here, what's this on his sleeve? Blood? Oh,
William! And we didn't give him any reward--!"
And so, while the days hastened on Billy lay between clean white sheets
on a bed of pain in a private ward of a wonderful Memorial Hospital put
up by the Shaftons in honor of a child that died. Tossing and moaning,
and dreaming of unquenchable fire, always trying to climb out of the
hot crater that held him, and never getting quite to the top, always
knowing there was something he must do, yet never quite finding out
what it was. And back in Sabbath Valley Aunt Saxon prayed and cried and
waited and took heart of cheer from the message the Chief had sent to
Lynn. And quietly the day approached for the trial of Mark Carter, but
his mother did not yet know.
Mrs. Gibson, the wife of the comparatively new elder of the Sabbath
Valley church was a semi-invalid. That is she wasn't able to do her own
work and kept "help." The help was a lady of ample proportions whose
husband had died and whose fortunes were depleted. She consented to
assist Mrs. Gibson provided she were considered one of the family, and
she presented a continual front of offense so that the favored family
must walk most circumspectly if they would not have her retire to her
room with hurt feelings and leave them to shift for themselves.
On the morning of the trial she settled herself at her side of the
breakfast table, after a number of excursions to the kitchen for things
she had forgotten, the cream, the coffee, and the brown bread, of which
Mr. Gibson was very fond. She was prepared to enjoy her own breakfast.
Mr. Gibson generally managed to bolt his while these excursions of
memory were being carried on and escape the morning news, but Mrs.
Gibson, well knowing which side her bread was buttered, and not knowing
where she could get another housekeeper, usually managed to sit it out.
"Well, this is a great day for Sabbath Valley," said Mrs. Frost
mournfully, spreading an ample slice of bread deep with butter, and
balancing it on the uplifted fingers of one hand while she stirred the
remainder of the cream into her coffee with one of the best silver
spoons. She was wide and bulgy and her chair always seemed inadequate
when she settled thus for nourishment.
"A great day," she repeated sadly, taking an audible sip of her coffee.
"A great day?" repeated little Mrs. Gibson with a puzzled air, quickly
recalling her abstracted thoughts.
"Yes. Nobody ever thought anybody in Sabbath Valley would ever be tried
"Oh!" said Mrs. Gibson sharply, drawing back her chair as if she were
in a hurry and rolling up her napkin quickly.
"Yes, poor Mark Carter! I remember his sweet little face and his long
yellow curls and his baby smile as if it were yesterday!" narrowing her
eyes and harrowing her voice, "I wonder if his poor mother knows yet."
"I should hope not!" said Mrs. Gibson rising precipitately and
wandering over to the window where hung a gilded canary cage. "Mrs.
Frost, did you remember to give the canary some seed and fresh water?"
"Yes, I b'lieve so," responded the fat lady, "But you can't keep her
from knowing it always. Whatt'll you do when he's _hung?_ Don't
you think it would be easier for; her to get used to it little by
"Mrs. Frost, if you were a dog would you rather have your tail cut off
all at once, or little by little?" said Mrs. Gibson mischievously.
"I shouldn't like to have it cut off at all I'm quite sure," said Mrs.
"Well, perhaps Mrs. Carter might feel that way too," said the lady
bending over a rose geranium and pinching a leaf to smell.
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Frost from her coffee cup, "Oh, you
mean that perhaps Mark may not be convicted? Why, my dear lady, there
isn't a chance at all, not a chance in the world for Mark, and while
I'm real sorry I can't say I'd approve. Think of how he's carried on,
going with that little huzzy of a Cherry. Mrs. Harricutt says she saw
him have her out riding in his automobile one day--!"
"Oh,--_Mrs. Harricutt!"_ said Mrs. Gibson impatiently, "Mrs.
Frost, let's find something pleasanter to talk about. It's a wonderful
morning. The air's like wine. I wonder If I couldn't take a little
walk. I mean to ask the doctor."
"My dear woman," said Frost patronizingly, "You can't get away from the
unpleasant things in this world by just not talking about them!"
"It seems not," said the Gibson lady patiently, and wandered out on the
Down the street Marilyn lingered by her mother's chair:
"Are you--going to Economy to-day, mother?"
"Yes, dear, your father and I are both going. Did you--think you
ought--wanted to--go dear?"
"Oh, I should _hate it!"_ cried Lynn flinging out her hands with a
terrible little gesture of despair, "But I wanted to go just to stand
by Mark. I shall be there anyway, wherever I am, I shall see everything
and feel everything in my heart I know. But in the night it came to me
that some one ought to stay with Mrs. Carter!"
"Yes, dear! I had hoped you would think of that. I didn't want to
mention it because I wanted you to follow your own heart's leading, but
I think she needs you. If you could keep her from finding out until it
"Yes, dear, it is possible. I've thought of that, and if it comes there
will be a way I'm sure, but until it does--_then_ suppose--"
"Yes, mother, I'll go and make her have one happy day first anyway." If
any of those old vultures come around I'll play the piano or scream all
the while they are there and keep them from telling her a thing!"
"I think, dear, the vultures will all be in Economy to-day."
"All except Mrs. Frost, mother dear. She can't get away. But she can
always run across the street to borrow a cup of soda."
So Lynn knelt for a moment in her quiet room, then came down, kissed
her mother and father with a face of brave serenity, and went down the
maple shaded street with her silk work bag in her hand. And none too
soon. As she tapped at the door of the Carter house she saw Mrs. Frost
ambling purposefully out of the Gibson gate with a tea cup in her hand.
"Oh, hurry upstairs and stay there a minute till I get rid of Mrs.
Frost," Lynn whispered smiling as her hostess let her in. "I've come to
spend the day with you, and she'll stay till she's told you all the
news and there won't be any left for me."
Mrs. Carter, greatly delighted with Lynn's company, hurried obediently
up the stairs and Lynn met the interloper, supplied her with the cup of
salt she had come for this time, said Mrs. Carter was upstairs making
the beds and she wouldn't bother her to come down,--_beds,_ mind
you, as if Mark was at home of course--and Mrs. Frost went back across
the street puzzled and baffled and resolved to come back later for an
egg after that forward young daughter of the minister was gone.
Lynn locked the front door and ran up stairs. She tolled her hostess up
to the attic to show her some ancient gowns and poke bonnets that she
hadn't seen since she was a little girl in which she and Mark used to
dress up and play history stories.
Half the morning she kept her up there looking at garments long folded
away, whose wearers had slept in the church yard many years; trinkets
of other days, quaint old pictures, photographs and daguerreotypes, and
a beautiful curl of Mark's--:
"Marilyn, I'm going to give that to you," the mother said as she saw
the shining thing lying in the girl's hand, "There's no one living to
care for it after I'm gone, and you will keep it I know till you're
sure there's no one would want it I--mean--!"
"I understand what you mean," said Marilyn, "I will keep it and love
it--for you--and for him. And if there is ever anybody else that--
deserves it--why I'll give it to them--!" Then they both laughed to
hide the tears behind the unspoken thoughts, and the mother added a
little stubbed shoe and a sheer muslin cap, all delicate embroidery and
"They go together," she said simply, and Lynn wrapped them all
carefully in a bit of tissue paper and laid them in her silk bag. As
she turned away she held it close to her heart while the mother closed
the shutters. She shuddered to think of the place where Mark was
sitting now, being tried for his life. Her heart flew over the road,
entered the court and stood close by his side, with her hand on his
shoulder, and then slipped it in his. She wondered if he knew that she
was praying, praying, praying for him and standing by him, taking the
burden of what would have been his mother's grief if she had known, as
well as the heavy burden of her own sorrow.
The air of the court room was heavy for the place was crowded. Almost
everybody from Sabbath Valley that could come was there, for a great
many people loved Mark Carter, and this seemed a time when somehow they
must stand by him. People came that liked him and some that did not
like him, but more that liked him and kept hoping against hope that he
would not be indicted.
The hum of voices suddenly ceased as the prisoner was led in and a
breath of awe passed over the place. For until that minute no one was
quite sure that Mark Carter would appear. It had been rumored again and
again that he had run away. Yet here he was, walking tall and straight,
his fine head held high as had been his wont. "For all the world like
he walked when he was usher at Mary Anne's wedding, whispered Mrs.
Hulse, from Unity."
The minister and his wife kept their eyes down after the first glimpse
of the white face. It seemed a desecration to look at a face that had
suffered as that one had. Yet the expression upon it now was more as if
it had been set for a certain purpose for this day, and did not mean to
change whatever came. A hopeless, sad, persist look, yet strong withal
and with a hint of something fine and high behind it.
He did not look around as he sat down, merely nodded to a few close to
him whom he recognized. A number, pressed close as he passed, and
touched him, as if they would impress upon him their loyalty, and it
was noticeable that these were mostly of a humble class, working men,
boys, and a few old women, people to whom he had been kind.
Mrs. Severn wrote a little note and sent it up to him, with the
message, "Lynn is with your mother." Just that. No name signed. But his
eyes sought hers at once and seemed to light, and soon, without any
apparent movement on his part a card came back to her bearing the
words: "I thank you," But he did not look that way again all day it
seemed. His bearing was quiet, sad, aloof, one might almost have said
Mark's lawyer was one whom he had picked out of the gutter and
literally forced to stop drinking and get back on his job. He was a man
of fine mind and deep gratitude, and was having a frantic time with his
client, for Mark simply wouldn't talk:
"I wasn't there, I was on Stark mountain, I am, not guilty," he
persisted, "and that is all I have to say."
"But my dear friend, don't you realize that mere statements unadorned
and uncorroborated won't get you anywhere in court?"
"All right, don't try to defend me then. Let the thing go as it will.
That is all I have to say." And from this decision no one had been able
to shake him. His lawyer was nearly crazy. He had raked the county for
witnesses. He had dug into the annals of that night in every possible
direction. He had unearthed things that it seemed no living being would
have thought of, and yet he had not found the one thing of which he was
in search, positive evidence that Mark Carter had been elsewhere and
otherwise employed at the time of the shooting.
"Don't bother so much about it Tony," said Mark once when they were
talking it over, or the lawyer was talking it over and Mark was
listening. "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters any more!" and his voice
was weary as if all hope had vanished from him.
Anthony Drew looked at him in despair:
"Sometimes I almost think you _want_ to die," he said. "Do you
think I shall let you go when you pulled me back from worse than death?
No, Mark, old man, we're going to pull you through somehow, though I
don't know how. If I were a praying man I'd say that this was the time
to pray. Mark, what's become of that kid you used to think so much of,
that was always tagging after you? Billy,--was that his name?"
A wan smile flitted across Mark's face, and a stiff little drawing of
the old twinkle about eyes and lips:
"I think he'll turn up some time."
The lawyer eyed him keenly:
"Mark, I believe you've got something up your sleeve. I believe that
kid knows something and you won't let him tell. Where is he?"
"I don't know, Tony" and Mark looked at him straight with clear eyes,
and the lawyer knew he was telling the truth.
Just at the last day Anthony Drew found out about the session meeting.
But from Mark he got no further statement than the first one. Mark
would not talk. An ordinary lawyer, one that had not been saved
himself, would have given up the defense as hopeless. Anthony simply
wouldn't let Mark go undefended. If there were no evidence he would
make some somehow, and so he worked hoping against hope up to the very
last minute. He stood now, tall, anxious, a fine face, though showing
the marks of wreck behind him, dark hair silvered at the edges, fine
deep lines about his eyes and brows, looking over the assembled throng
with nervous hurrying eyes. At last he seemed to find what he wanted
and came quickly down to where the minister sat in an obscure corner,
whispering a few words with him. They went out together for a few
minutes and when they came back the minister was grave and thoughtful.
He himself had scoured the country round about quietly for Billy, and
he was deeply puzzled. He had promised to tell what he knew.
The business of the day went forward in the usual way with all the red
tape, the cool formalities, as if some trifling matter were at stake,
and those who loved Mark sat with aching hearts and waited. The Severns
in their corner sat for the most part with bended heads and praying
hearts. The witnesses for the prosecution were most of them companions
of the dead man, those who had drank and caroused with him, frequenters
of the Blue Duck, and they were herded together, an evil looking crowd,
but with erect heads and defiant attitude, the air of having donned
unaccustomed garments of righteousness for the occasion, and making a
great deal of it because for once every one must see that they were in
the right. They were fairly loud mouthed in their boasting about it.
There was the little old wizened up fellow that had been sitting with
the drinks outside the booth the night Billy telephoned. There were the
serving men who had waited on Mark and Cherry. There was the proprietor
of the Blue Duck himself, who testified that Mark had often been there
with Cherry, though always early in the evening. Once he had caught him
outside the window looking in at the dancers as late as two o'clock at
night, the same window from which the shot was fired that brought Dolph
to his death. They testified that Mark had been seen with Cherry much
of late driving in his car, and that she had often been in deep
converse as if having a hot argument about something.
The feeling was tense in the court room. Tears were in many eyes,
hopeless tears in the eyes of those who had loved the boy for years.
But the grilling order marched on, and witness after witness came,
adding another and another little touch to the gradually rising
structure that would shut Mark Carter away from the world that loved
him and that he loved forever.
Cherry was called, a flaunting bit of a child with bobbed golden hair
and the air of a bold young seraph, her white face bravely painted, her
cherry lips cherrier even than the cherry for which she had been named.
She wore a silk coat reaching to the bottom of her frock, which was
shorter than the shortest, and daring little high-heeled many strapped
shoes with a myriad of bright buckles. Her hat was an insolent affair
of cherry red. She made a blinding bit of color in the dreary court
room. She appeared half frightened, half defiant. Her sharp little face
seemed to have lost its round curves and childlike sweetness. She
testified that she had been with Mark on the night of the shooting, but
that he had taken her home early and she had seen no more of him that
night. She admitted that she had returned later to the Blue Duck Tavern
with Dolph and had danced late and eaten supper with him afterwards,
and that it was while they were eating that the shot was fired and
Dolph fell over on the table. No, she didn't see any face at the
window. She had covered her face with her hands and screamed. She
guessed she fainted. Questioned further she admitted that she had had
an argument with Mark earlier in the evening, but she "didn't remember
what it was about." They often argued. Yes, Dolph was jealous of Mark
and tried to stop her going with him. Yes, Mark had tried to stop her
going with Dolph too, but he never acted jealous--On and on through the
sorry little details of Cherry's career. The court room vultures
receiving it avidly, the more refined part of the company with distaste
and disgust. Mark sat with stern white face looking straight at Cherry
all the time she was on the stand as if he dared her to say other than
the truth. When she happened to look that way she gave a giggling
little shudder and half turned her shoulder away, avoiding his eyes.
But when she was done she had said nothing against Mark, and nothing to
clear him either.
The sharp unscrupulous lawyer who acted for the prosecution had secured
some fellows "of the baser sort" who testified that they had seen Mark
Carter buying a gun, that they had seen him creep softly to the window,
peer into the room, and take aim. They had been on their way home, had
seen Mark steal along in a very suspicious manner and had followed him
to find out what it meant. There were three of them; fellows whom Mark
had refused to play against on a County team because they were what is
called "dirty" players. There had been hot words between Mark and them
once when one of them had kicked a man in the face with spiked shoes
who was just about to make a goal. Mark had succeeded in winning the
umpire to his point of view and the others had lost their game and
incidentally some money, and they had a grudge against him. Moreover
there was money in this testimony for The Blue Duck Tavern could not
afford to have its habitues in the public eye, and preferred to place
the blame on a man who belonged more to the conservative crowd. The
Blue Duck had never quite approved of Mark, because though he came and
went he never drank, and he sometimes prevented others from doing so.
This was unprofitable to them. So matters stood when the noon-hour came
and court adjourned for lunch.
And while the long morning dragged itself away in Economy listening to
a tale of shame, over on the bright Jersey coast the waves washed
lazily on a silver strand reflecting the blueness of the September sky,
and soft breezes hovered around the classic little hospital building
that stood in a grove of imported palms, and lifted its white columns
picturesquely like some old Greek temple.
There was nothing in the life he was living now to remind Billy of
either hell or Sabbath Valley, yet for long days and weeks he had
struggled through flames in a deep dark pit lighted only by lurid glare
and his soul had well nigh gone out under the torture. Once the doctors
and nurses had stood around and waited for his last breath. This was a
marked case. The Shaftons were deeply interested in it. The boy had
mysteriously brought back all their valuable papers and jewels that had
been stolen from them, and they were anxious to put him on his feet
again. It went sadly against the comfortable self-complacent grain of a
Shafton to feel himself under such mortal obligation to any one.
But Billy was tougher than anyone knew, and one night after he had made
the usual climb through the hot coals on his bare knees to the top of
the pit, and come to the place where he always fell back, he held on a
little tighter and set his teeth a little harder, and suddenly, with a
long hard pull that took every atom of strength in his wasted young
body, he went over the top. Over the top and out into the clean open
country where he could feel the sea breeze on his hot forehead and know
that it was good. He was out of hell and he was cooling off. The first
step in the awful fight that began that night in the old haunted house
on the mountain had been won.
For three days he lay thus, cooling off and resting. He was fed and
cared for but he took no cognizance of it except to smile weakly.
Swallowing things was like breathing. You had to do it and you didn't
think about it. The fourth day he began to know the nurses apart, and
to realize he was feeling better. As yet the past lay like a blurr of
pain on his mind, and he hadn't a care about anything save just to lie
and know that it was good to smell the salt, and see the shimmer of
blue from the window. At times when he slept the sound of bells in old
hymns came to him like a dream and he smiled. But on the fifth morning
he lifted his light head uncertainly and looked out of the window. Gee!
That was pretty! And he dropped back and slept again. When he awoke
there was a real meal for him. No more slops. Soup, and potato and a
bit of bread and butter. Gee! It tasted good! He slept again and it was
morning, or was it the same morning? He didn't know. He tried to figure
back and decided he had been in that hospital about three days, but
when the next morning dawned and he felt the life creeping back into
his veins he began to be uncertain. He asked the nurse how soon he
could get up and get dressed. She smiled in a superior way and said the
doctor hadn't said. It would likely be sometime yet, he had been pretty
sick. He told her sharply he couldn't spare much more time, and asked
her where his clothes were.
She laughed and said:
"Oh, put away. You'll have some new clothes when you get well. I heard
Mrs. Shafton talking about it this morning when she was in the office.
She's coming to see you pretty soon, and they mean to do a lot for you.
You brought back her jewels didn't you? Well, I guess you'll get your
reward all right."
Billy looked at her blankly. Reward! Gosh! Was that reward going to
meet him again?
"Say," said he frowning, "I want my own clothes. I don't want any new
ones. I want my own! Say, I got some stuff in my pockets I don't wantta
have monkeyed with!"
"All right," she said cheerily, "They're put away safe. You can have
them when you're well." But when he asked her suddenly what day it was
she said vaguely "Tuesday," and went away. He was so tired then he went
to sleep again and slept till they brought his dinner, a big one,
chicken and fixings and jelly, and a dish of ice cream! Oh, Gee! And
then he went to sleep again. But in the morning--how many days was it
then? He woke to sudden consciousness of what he had to do and to
sudden suspicion of the time. Billy was coming back to his own. His
wilyness had returned. He smiled at the nurse ravishingly and asked for
a newspaper, but when she brought it he pretended to be asleep, so she
laid it down and went away softly. But he nabbed that paper with a weak
hand as soon as her back was turned and read the date! His heart fell
down with a dull thud. The third! This was the day of the trial! It
couldn't be! He read again. Was it really the day of the trial? The
paper that had the court program had been in his trousers pocket. He
must have it at once. Perhaps he had made a mistake. Oh, gee! What it
was to be helpless! Why, he was weaker than Aunt Saxon!
He called the nurse crossly. She bustled in and told him the doctor had
just said he might sit up to-morrow if he kept on without a temperature
for twenty-four hours longer. But he paid no heed to her. He demanded
his clothes with a young roar of a voice that made her open her eyes.
Billy had heretofore been the meekest of meek patients. She was getting
the voice and manner now that he generally retained for family use. He
told her there was something in the pocket he must see right away, and
he made such a fuss about it that she was afraid he would bring up his
temperature again and finally agreed to get the clothes if he would lie
real still and rest afterward. Billy dropped his head back on the
pillow and solemnly said: "Aw'wright!" He had visions of going to court
in blue and white striped pajamas. It could be done, but he didn't
relish it. Still, if he had to--!
The nurse brought his jacket and trousers. The sweater was awfully
dirty she said, but she was finally prevailed upon to bring that too,
and Billy obediently lay down with closed eyes and his arm stretched
out comfortingly over the bundles. The nurse hovered round till he
seemed to be asleep and then slipped out for a moment, and the instant
her white skirt had vanished from the doorway Billy was alert. He
fumbled the bundles open with nervous fingers and searched eagerly for
the bit of paper. Yes, there it was and the date the third of
September. Aw Gee!
He flung back the neatly tucked sheets, poked a slim white foot that
didn't look like his at all into a trouser leg, paused for breath and
dove the other in, struggled into his jacket and lay down again quickly
under the sheet. Was that the nurse?
He had to admit that he felt queer, but it would soon pass off, and
anyhow if it killed him he had to go. Aw bah! What was a little
sickness anyhow? If he stayed in the hospital any longer they'd make a
baby out of him!
The nurse had not returned. He could hear the soft plunk, plunk of her
rubber heels on the marble steps. She was going down stairs. Now was
his time! Of course he had no shoes and stockings, but what was a
little thing like that? He grasped the bundle of sweater tightly and
slid out of bed. His feet felt quite inadequate. In fact he began to
doubt their identity. They didn't seem to be there at all when he stood
on them, but he was not to be foiled by feet. If they meant to stick by
him they'd gotta obey him.
Slowly, cautiously, with his head swimming lightly on ahead of him and
a queer gasp of emptiness in the region of his chest that seemed to
need a great deal of breath, he managed a passage to the door, looked
down the long white corridor with its open doors and cheerful voices,
saw a pair of stairs to the right quite near by, and with his steadying
hands on the cool white wall slid along the short space to the top
step. It seemed an undertaking to get down that first step, but when
that was accomplished he was out of sight and he sat down and slid
slowly the rest of the way, wondering why he felt so rotten.
At the foot of the long stairs there was a door, and strange it was
made so heavy! He wondered a nurse could swing it open, just a mere
girl! But he managed it at last, almost winded, and stumbled out on the
portico that gave to the sea, a wide blue stretch before him. He
stopped, startled, as if he had unexpectedly sighted the heavenly
strand, and gazed blinking at the stretch of blue with the wide white
shore and the boom of an organ following the lapping of each white
crested wave. Those palm trees certainly made it look queer like Saxy's
Pilgrim's Progress picture book. Then the panic for home and his
business came upon him and he slid weakly down the shallow white steps,
and crunched his white feet on the gravel wincing. He had just taken to
the grass at the edge and was managing better than he had hoped when a
neat little coupe rounded the curve of the drive, and his favorite
doctor came swinging up to the steps, eyeing him keenly. Billy started
to run, and fell in a crumpled heap, white and scared and crying real
tears, weak, pink tears!
"Why Billy! What are you doing here?" The stern loving voice of his
favorite doctor hung over him like a knife that was going to cut him
off forever from life and light and forgiveness and all that he counted
But Billy stopped crying.
"Nothin," he said, "I just come out fer a walk!"
The doctor smiled.
"But I didn't tell you you might, Billy boy!"
"Had to," said Billy.
"Well, you'll find you'll have to go back again, Billy. Come!" and the
doctor stooped his broad strong shoulders to pick up the boy. But Billy
beat him off weakly:
"Say, now, Doc, wait a minute," he pleaded, "It's jus' this way. I
simply _gotta_ get back home t'day. I'm a very 'mportant witness
in a murder case, See? My bes' friend in the world is bein' tried fer
life, an' he ain't guilty, an' I'm the only one that knows it fer sure,
an' can prove it, an' I gotta be there. Why, Doc, the trial's _going
on now_ an' I ain't there! It ud drive me crazy to go back an' lay
in that soft bed like a reg'lar sissy, an' know he's going to be
condemned. I put it to you, Doc, as man to man, would you stand fer a
thing like that?"
"But Billy, suppose it should be the end of you!"
"I sh'd worry, Doc! Ef I c'n get there in time an' say what I want I
ain't carin' fer anythin' more in life I tell ye. Say, Doc, you
wouldn't stop me, would ya? Ef you did I'd get thar anyhow
The earnestness of the eager young face, wan in its illness, the light
of love in the big gray eyes, went to the doctor's heart. He gave the
boy a troubled look.
"Where is it you want to go, Billy?"
"Economy, Doc. It ain't far, only two or three hours' ride. I c'n get a
jitney somewheres I guess ta take me. I'll pay up ez soon as I get
home. I got thirty dollars in the bank my own self."
"Economy!" said the Doctor. "Impossible, Billy, it would kill you--!"
"Then I'm goin' anyhow. Good-by Doc!" and he darted away from the
astonished doctor and ran a rod or so before the doctor caught up with
him and seized him firmly by his well shoulder:
"Billy, look here!" said the Doctor, "If it's as bad as that I'll take
"Oh, would ya, Doc? Would ya? I'll never forget it Doc--!"
"There now, Billy, never mind, son, you save your strength and let me
manage this thing the right way. Couldn't I telephone and have them
hold up things a few days? That can be done you know."
"Nothin' doing Doc, there's them that would hurry it up all the more if
they thought I was comin' back. You get in Doc and start her up. I c'n
drive myself if you'll lend me the m'chine. P'raps you ain't got time
to go off 'ith me like this."
"That's all right, Billy. You and I are going on a little excursion.
'But first I've got to tell the nurse, or there'll be all kinds of a
time. Here, you sit in the machine." The doctor picked him up and put
him in and ran up the steps. Billy sat dizzily watching and wondering
if he hadn't better make his escape. Perhaps the Doc was just fooling
him, but in a moment back he came again, with a nurse trailing behind
with blankets and a bottle.
"We're going to get another car, son, this one's no good for such a
trip. We'll fix it so you can lie down and save your strength for when
you get there. No,--son--I don't mean the ambulance," as he saw the
alarm in Billy's face, "just a nice big car. That's all right, here she
The big touring car came round from the back almost immediately, and
the back seat was heaped with pillows and blankets and Billy tenderly
placed among them where he was glad enough to lie down--and close his
eyes. It had been rather strenuous. The nurse went back for his shoes,
bringing a bottle of milk and his medicine. The Doctor got in the front
seat and started.
"Now, son," he said, "You rest. You'll need every, bit of strength when
you get there if we're going to carry this thing through. You just
leave this thing to me and I'll get you there in plenty of time. Don't
Billy with a smile of heavenly bliss over his newly bleached freckles
settled back with dreamy eyes and watched the sea as they were passing
swiftly by it, his lashes drooping lower and lower over his thin young
cheeks. The doctor glancing back anxiously caught that look the mothers
see in the young imps when they are asleep, and a tenderness came into
his heart for the staunch loyal little sinner.
Doctor Norris was a good scout. If he had got a soft snap of a job in
that Shafton hospital, it was good practice of course, and a step to
really big things where he wouldn't be dependent upon rich people's
whims, but still he was a good scout. He had not forgotten the days of
the grasshopper, and Billy had made a great appeal to his heart. He
looked at his watch, chose his roads, and put his machine at high
speed. The sea receded, the Jersey pines whirled monotonously by, and
by and by the hills began to crop up. Off against the horizon Stark
mountain loomed, veiled, with a purple haze, and around another curve
Economy appeared, startlingly out of place with its smug red brick
walks and its gingerbread porches and plastered tile bungalows. Then
without warning Billy sat up. How long had that young scamp been awake?
Had he slept at all? He was like a man, grave and stern with business
before him. The doctor almost felt shy about giving him his medicine.
"Son, you must drink that milk," he said firmly. "Nothing doing unless
you drink that!" Billy drank it.
"Now where?" asked the doctor as they entered the straggling dirty
"That red brick building down the next block," pointed Billy, his face
white with excitement, his eyes burning like two dark blue coals.
The big car drew up at the curb, and no one there to notice, for every
body was inside. The place was jammed to the door.
Cherry had come back late after lunch, her hat awry and signs of tears
on her painted face. Her eyes were more obviously frightened and she
whispered a message which was taken up to Mark. Mark lifted a haggard
face to hear it, asked a question, bowed his head, and continued
listening to the cross-examination of a man who said he had heard him
threaten to kill Dolph the week before the murder down at Hagg's Mills.
When the witness was dismissed Mark whispered a word to his lawyer, the
lawyer spoke to the judge and the judge announced that the prisoner
wished to speak. Every eye was turned toward Mark as he rose and gave a
sweeping glance around the room, his eyes lingering for just a shadow
of an instant wistfully on the faces of the minister and his wife, then
on again as if they had seen no one, and round to the judge's face.
It was just at this instant that Billy burst into the room and wedged
his way fiercely between elbows, using his old football methods, head
down and elbows out, and stood a moment breathless, taking it all in.
Then Mark spoke:
"Your Honor, I wish to plead guilty to the charge!"
A great sigh like a sob broke over the hush in the court room and many
people half rose to their feet as if in protest, but Billy made a dive
up the aisle, self and sickness forgotten, regardless of courts or law
or anything, and stood between the Judge and Mark:
"It ain't so, an' I can prove it!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.
The prosecuting attorney rose to a point of order like a bull dog
snapping at his prey, the sergeant-at-arms rushed around like corn
popping off in a corn popper, but Anthony Drew whispered a word to the
Judge, and after order was restored Billy was called to the witness
stand to tell his story.
Doctor Norris standing squeezed at the back of the room looking for his
quondam patient, recognized with a thrill the new Billy standing
unafraid before all these people and speaking out his story in a clear
direct way. Billy had etherealized during his illness. If Aunt Saxon
had been there--she was washing for Gibsons that day and having her
troubles with Mrs. Frost--she would scarcely have known him. His
features had grown delicate and there was something strong and sweet
about his mouth that surely never had been there before. But the same
old forceful boy speech wherewith he had subdued enemies on the
athletic fields, bullied Aunt Saxon, and put one over on Pat at the
station, was still his own. He told the truth briefly and to the point,
not omitting his own wrong doing in every particular, and he swayed
that crowd as a great orator might have been proud to sway a
congregation. They laughed till they cried and cried till they laughed
again at Billy's quaint phrases, and they enjoyed the detour--Oh how
they enjoyed that detour! Even the Judge had twinkles in his eyes.
For the first time since the trial began Mark was sitting up proudly, a
warm look of vivid interest in his face, the cold mask gone. His eyes
dwelt upon Billy with a look almost fatherly, at least brotherly. It
was a startling contrast to what he had been all day. This was a
Suddenly from the corner of the prosecution the low growl which had
been gradually rising like a young storm, broke, and the prosecuting
attorney arose and lifted his voice above all others:
"I protest your Honor, against this witness. He has mentioned no less
than five different lies which he has told, and has narrated a number
of episodes in which he deliberately broke the law. Is it or is it not
a misdemeanor for anyone to meddle with our Highroads in the manner
that has just been described? By his own confession this young man is
disqualified for a witness! By his own confession he is a law breaker
and a liar!"
"Aw Gee!" broke forth Billy furiously, "Didn't I tell ya I come here to
tell the truth n' get it off'n my chest?"
Someone put a strong hand on Billy and silenced him, and some one else
rose to protest against the protestor, and the air grew tense with
excitement once more.
The prosecution declared that Billy was in league with Mark, that
everybody knew he trailed him everywhere, therefore his testimony was
worthless. He was probably bribed; there was nothing, absolutely
nothing in the story the boy had told to prove anything.
Billy was growing whiter and angrier, his eyes flashing, his fists
clenched. His testimony was not going to be accepted after all! It had
been vain to bear the shame himself. Nothing, _nothing_ that he
could do would blot out the trouble because he had unfitted himself to
blot it out. It had to be a witness who told the truth who would be
believed. It had to be one with a good record to take away the shame!
That was something like what Miss Marilyn said in Sunday School once,
that only Jesus Christ could take the place of a sinner and make it
right about our sinning because He had never sinned. It had sounded
like rot when she said it, but he began to understand what she meant
now. Yes, that was it. Only God's Son could do that and he, Billy
Gaston, had tried to do it himself!
The court room seemed to be very dark now. His head was whirling away
and getting beyond his control. When he looked up he seemed to see it
on the other side of the room. He did not recognize the two men in
handcuffs that the Chief was bringing into the room. He did not hear
what the Judge was saying. He had slumped in a little heap on the
witness stand with his eyes closed, and his hands groping together. He
thought that he was praying to God's Son to come and help Mark because
he had failed. _He_ wasn't good enough and he _had failed!_
The doctor had come with a bound up the aisle and was kneeling with
Billy in his arms. Mark was leaning over the rail with a white anxious
face. The minister was trying to make a way through the crowd, and the
sergeant-at-arms was pushing the crowd back, and making a space about
the unconscious boy. Some-one opened a window. The Chief and one of his
men brought a cot. There was a pillow from the car, and there was that
medicine again--bringing him back--just as he thought he had made God
hear--! Oh, _why_ did they bother him?
Suddenly down by the door a diversion occurred. Someone had entered
with wild burning eyes dressed in a curious assortment of garments.
They were trying to put him out, but he persisted.
The word was brought up: "Someone has a very important piece of
evidence which he wishes to present."
Billy's gray eyes opened as the man mounted to the witness stand. He
was lying on the cot at one side and his gaze rested on the new
witness, dazedly at first, and then with growing comprehension. Old Ike
Fenner, the tailor, Cherry Fenner's father!
Mark was looking at Billy and had not noticed:
But the man began to speak in a high shrill voice:
"I came to say that I'm the man that killed Dolph Haskins! Mark Carter
had nothin' to do with it. I done it! I _meant_ to kill him
because he ruined the life of my little girl! _My baby!_"
There was a sudden catch in his voice like a great sob, and he clutched
at the rail as if he were going to fall, but he went on, his eyes
burning like coals:
"I shot him with Tom Petrie's gun that I found atop o' the door, an' I
put it back where I found it. You take my finger prints and compare 'em
with the marks on the gun an' the winder sill. You ask Sandy Robison!
He seen me do it. You ask Cherry! She seen me too. She was facin' the
winder eatin' her supper with that devil, and I shot him and she seen
me! _I_ did it--"
His voice trailed off. He swayed and got down from the stand, groping
his way as if he could not see. The crowd gave way with a curious
shudder looking into his wild burning eyes as he passed. A girl's
scream back by the door rang through the court. The man moaned, put out
his hands and fell forward. Kindly hands reached to catch him. The
doctor left Billy and came to help.
They carried him outside and laid him on the grass in front of the
court house. The doctor used every restorative he had with him. Men
hurried to the drug store. They tried everything, but all to no avail.
Ike Fenner the tailor was dead! He had gone to stand before a higher
When it was all over, the finger prints and the red tape, and the case
had been dismissed, Mark came to Billy where he was lying in the big
car waiting, with his eyes closed to keep back weak tears that would
slip out now and then. He knelt beside the boy and touched his hand,
the hand that looked so thin and weak and so little like Billy's:
"Kid," he said gently, "Kid, you've been a wonder! It was really you
that saved me, Buddy! _My Buddy!"_
Billy's tears welled over at the tone, the words, the proud intimate
name, but he shook his head slowly, sadly.
"No," he said, "No, it wasn't me. I tried, but I wasn't fit! It had to
be _Him_. I didn't understand! They wouldn't believe me. But
_He_ came as soon as I ast!"
Mark looked at the doctor.
"Is he wandering a little?" he asked in a low tone:
"I shouldn't wonder. He's been through enough to make anyone wander.
Here, son, take this."
Billy smiled and obediently accepted his medicine. Mark held his hand
all the way home. He knew that Mark didn't understand but he was too
tired to tell him now. Sometime he would explain. Or perhaps Miss Lynn
would explain it for him. He was going home, home to Saxy and Sabbath
Valley and the bells, and Mark was free! He hadn't saved him, but Mark
It was like a royal passage through the village as they came into
Sabbath Valley, for everybody came out to wave at Mark and Billy. Even
Mrs. Harricutt watched grimly from behind her Holland shades. But Billy
was too weak to notice much, except to sense it distantly, and Mark
would only lift his hat and bow, gravely, quietly as if it didn't
matter, just as he used to do when they carried him round on their
shoulders after a football game, and he tried to get down and hide. Why
did Mark still have that sad look in his eyes? Billy was too tired to
think it out. He was glad when they reached Aunt Saxon's door and Mark
picked him up as he used to do when he was just a little kid, and
carried him up to his room. Carried him up and undressed him, while
Saxy heard the story from the doctor's lips, and laughed and cried and
laughed again. The nervy little kid! He would always be a "little kid"
to Saxy, no matter what he did.
He turned over in his own bed, _his bed_, and smelt the sweet
breath of the honeysuckle coming in at the window, heard the thrushes
singing their evening song up the street. The sea had been great, but
Oh, you Sabbath Valley! Out there was the water spout, and some day he
would be strong enough to shin down it, and up it again. He would play
football this Fall, and run Mark's car! Mark, grave, gentle, quiet,
sitting beside him till he got asleep, and his mother not knowing, down
the street, and Miss Lynn--!
"Mark--you'll tell Miss Marilyn about it all?" He opened his eyes to
murmur lazily, and Mark promised still gravely.
He shut his eyes and drifted away. What was that the Chief had told him
down at Economy in the car? Something about three strange detectives
stepping off the train one day and nabbing Pat? And Pat was up at Sing
Sing finishing his term after A.W.O.L. Was that straight or only a
dream? And anyhow he didn't care. He was home again, Home--_and
Night settled sweetly down upon Sabbath Valley, hiding the brilliant
autumn tinting of the street. Lynn had made a maple nut cake and set
the table for two before she left the Carters, for her mother had
slipped out of the court room and telephoned her, and a fire was
blazing in the little parlor with the lace curtains and asters in every
vase all gala for the returning son. The mother and son sat long before
the fire, talking, pleasant converse, about the time when Mark would
send for her to come and live with him, but not a word was said about
the day. He saw that his friends had helped to save his mother this one
great sorrow that she could not have borne, and he was grateful.
Marilyn, up at the parsonage, with a great thankfulness upon her, went
about with smiling face. The burden seemed to have lifted and she was
But that night at midnight there came the doctor from Economy driving
hard and stopping at the parsonage. Cherry Fenner was dying and wanted
to see Miss Marilyn. Would she come?
Cherry's little bedroom under the roof was bright with the confusion of
cheap finery scattered everywhere and swept aside at the sudden
entrance of the death angel. A neighbor had done her best to push away
the crude implements of complexion that were littering the cheap oak
bureau top, and the doctor's case and bottles and glasses crowded out
the giddy little accessories of beauty that Cherry had collected. Two
chairs piled high with draggled finery, soiled work aprons and dresses
made a forlorn and miscellaneous disorder in one corner, and the closet
door sagged open with visions of more clothing hung many deep upon the
Mrs. Fenner stood at the head of the bed wringing her hands and moaning
uncontrolledly, and Cherry, little Cherry, lay whitely against the
pillow, the color all gone from her ghastly pretty little face, that
had lately hid its ravished health and beauty behind a camouflage of
paint. There were deep dark circles under the limpid eyes that now were
full of mortal pain, and pitiful lines around the cherry mouth that had
been wont to laugh so saucily.
The doctor stood by the window with the attitude of grave waiting. The
helpful neighbor lingered in the doorway, holding her elbows and taking
minute note of Marilyn's dress. This might be a sad time, but one had
to live afterward, and it wasn't every day you got to see a simple
little frock with an air like the one the minister's daughter wore. She
studied it from neck to hem and couldn't see what in the world there
was about it anyway to make her look so dressed up. Not a scratch of
trimming, not even a collar, and yet she could look like that!
Mercy! Was that what education and going to college did for folks?
The light of a single unshaded electric bulb shone startlingly down to
the bed, making plain the shadow of death even to an inexperienced eye.
Marilyn knelt beside the bed and took Cherry's cold little hand in her
own warm one. The waxen eyelids fluttered open, and a dart of something
between fright and pain went over her weird little face.
"Can I do anything for you Cherry?" Marilyn's voice was tender,
"It's _too late_," whispered the girl in a fierce little whisper,
"Send 'em out--I--wantta--tell--you--someth--!" The voice trailed away
weakly. The doctor stepped over and gave her a spoonful of something,
motioned her mother and the neighbor away, tiptoeing out himself and
closing the door. The mother was sobbing wildly. The doctor's voice
could be heard quieting her coldly:
The girl on the bed frowned and gathered effort to speak:
"Mark Carter--didn't mean no harm--goin'--with me--!" she broke out,
her breath coming in gasps, "He was tryin'--to stop me--goin'--with--
_Dolph--!_" The eyes closed wearily. The lips were white as chalk.
She seemed to have stopped breathing!
"It's all right--Cherry--" Marilyn breathed softly, "It's all right--I
understand! Don't think any more about it!"
The eyes opened fiercely again, a faint determination shadowed round
the little mouth:
"You gotta know--!" she broke forth again with effort. "He was good to
me--when I was a little kid, and when he found I was in trouble--" the
breath came pitifully in gasps--"he--offered--to--_marry me!_"
Marilyn's fingers trembled but she held the little cold hand warmly and
tried to keep back the tears that trembled in her eyes.
"He--didn't--_want to_--! He--just--_done it to be kind!_ But
I--couldn't--see--it--! That's--what--we--_argued--!_" Her voice
grew fainter again. Marilyn with gentle controlled voice pressed the
little cold hand again:
"Never mind, Cherry dear--it's all right!"
Cherry's eyes opened with renewed effort, anxiously:
"You won't--blame--Mark--? He never--did--nothin'--wrong--!" He's--
"No, Cherry! It's all right!"
The girl seemed to have lost consciousness again, and Marilyn wondered
if she ought not to call the doctor, but suddenly Cherry screamed out:
"There he is again! He's _come for me!_ Oh--I'm--a--gon' ta--
_die!_ An' I'm _afrrrr-aid!"_
Cherry clutched at Marilyn's arm, and looked up with far off gaze in
which terror seemed frozen.
The minister's daughter leaned farther over and gathered the fragile
form of the sick girl in her arms tenderly, speaking in a soothing
"Listen Cherry. Don't be afraid. Jesus is here. He'll go with you!"
"But I'm afraid of Jesus!" the sharp little voice pierced out with a
shudder, "I haven't been--_good!"_
"Then tell Him you are sorry. You _are_ sorry, aren't you?"
"Oh, _yes!"_ the weak voice moaned. "I--never--_meant_--no--
harm! I only--wanted--a little--good time--!"
The eyes had closed again and she was almost gone. The doctor had come
in and he now gave her another spoonful of medicine. Marilyn knew the
time was short.
"Listen, Cherry, say these words after me!" Cherry's eyes opened again
and fastened on her face, eagerly:
"Jesus, I'm sorry--!"
"Jesus--I'm--sor-ry--!" repeated the weak voice in almost a whisper.
"Please forgive me," said Marilyn slowly, distinctly.
"Please--for--give--!" the slow voice repeated.
"And save me."
"--save--!" the voice was scarcely audible.
The doctor came and stood close by the bed, looking down keenly, but
Cherry roused once more and looked at them, her sharp little voice
stabbing out into the silence piercingly,
"That is all," said Marilyn with a ring in her voice, "Jesus died to
take care of all the rest! You can just rest on Him!"
"_Oh-h!_" The agony went out of the pinched little face, a half
smile dawned and she sank into rest.
As Marilyn went home in the dawn with the morning star beginning to
pale, and the birds at their early worship, something in her own heart
was singing too. Above the feeling of awe over standing at the brink of
the river and seeing a little soul go wavering out, above even the
wonder that she had been called to point the way, there sang in her
soul a song of jubilation that Mark was exonerated from shame and
disgrace. Whatever others thought, whatever she personally would always
have believed, it still was great that God had given her this to make
her know that her inner vision about it had been right. Perhaps,
sometime, in the days that were to come, Mark would tell her about it,
but there was time enough for that. Mark would perhaps come to see her
this morning. She somehow felt sure that at least he would come to say
he was glad she had stayed with his mother. It was like Mark to do
that. He never let any little thing that was done for him or his pass
But the morning passed and Mark did not come. The only place that Mark
went was to see Billy.
"Billy, old man," he said, sitting down by the edge of the bed where
Billy was drowsing the early morning away, just feeling the bed, and
sensing Saxy down there making chicken broth, and knowing that the
young robins in the apple tree under the window were grown up and flown
away. "Billy, I can't keep my promise to you after all. I've got to go
away. Sorry, kid, but she'll come to see you and I want you to tell her
for me all about it. I'm not forgetting it, Kid, either, and you'll
know, all the rest of my life, _you and I are buddies!_ Savvy,
Billy looked at Mark with big understanding eyes. There was sadness and
hunger and great self control in that still white face that he
worshipped so devotedly. All was not well with his hero yet. It came to
him vaguely that perhaps Mark too had even yet something to learn, the
kind of thing that was only learned by going through fire. He struggled
for words to express himself, but all he could find were:
"I say, Mark, why'n't'tya get it off'n yer chest? It's _great!_"
Perhaps there wouldn't have been another human in Sabbath Valley,
except perhaps it might have been Marilyn who would have understood
that by this low growled suggestion Billy was offering confession of
sin as a remedy for his friend's ailment of soul, but Mark looked at
him keenly, almost tenderly for a long minute, and shook his head, his
face taking on a grayer, more hopeless look as he said:
"I can't, Kid. It's _too late!_"
Billy closed his eyes for a moment. He felt it wasn't quite square to
see into his friend's soul that way when he was off his guard, but he
understood. He had passed that way himself. It came to him that nothing
he could say would make any difference. He would have liked to tell of
his own experience in the court room and how he had suddenly known that
all his efforts to right his wrong had been failures, that there was
only One who could do it, but there were no words in a boy's vocabulary
to say a thing like that. It sounded unreal. It had to be _felt_,
and he found his heart kept saying over and over as he lay there
waiting with closed eyes for Mark to speak: "Oh, God! Why'n'tchoo show
him Yerself? Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself?" He wondered if Miss Lynn
couldn't have shown Mark if he had only gone and talked it over with
her. But Mark said it was too late, "Well, Why'n'tchoo show him
Yerself, then? Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself, God,--_please!_"
Mark got up with a long sigh:
"Well, s'long, Kid, till I see you again. And I won't forget Kid, you
know I won't forget! And Kid, I'm leaving my gun with you. I know
you'll take good care of it and not let it do any damage. You might
need it you know to take care of your Aunt, or--or--Miss Severn--or!"
"Sure!" said Billy with shining eyes clasping the weapon that had been
Mark's proud possession for several years. "Aw Gee! Ya hadn't oughtta
give me this! You might need it yourself."
"No, Kid, I'd rather feel that you have it. I want to leave someone
here to kind of take my place--watching--you know. There'll be
"Sure!" said Billy, a kind of glory overspreading his thin eager face.
"_Aw Gee!_ Mark!"
And long after Mark had gone, and the sound of his purring engine had
died away in the distance, Billy lay back with the weapon clasped to
his heart, and a weird kind of rhythm repeating itself over and over
somewhere in his spirit: "Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself, God?
Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself? You will! I'll bet You _will_! yet!"
And was that anything like the prayer of faith translated into
Aunt Saxon went up tiptoe with the broth and thought he was asleep and
tiptoed down again to keep it warm awhile. But Billy lay there and felt
like Elisha after the mantle of the prophet Elijah had fallen upon him.
It gave him a grand solemn feeling, God and he were somehow taking
Mark's place till Mark got ready to come back and do it himself. He was
to take care of Sabbath Valley as far as in him lay, but more
particularly of Miss Marilyn Severn.
And then suddenly, without warning, Miss Marilyn herself went away, to
New York she said, for a few weeks, she wasn't sure just how long. But
there was something sad in her voice as she said it, and something
white about the look she wore that made him sure she was not going to
the part of New York where Mark Carter lived.
Billy accepted it with a sigh. Things were getting pretty dry around
Sabbath Valley for him. He didn't seem to get his pep back as fast as
he had expected. For one thing he worried a good deal, and for another
the doctor wouldn't let him play baseball nor ride a bicycle yet for
quite a while. He had to go around and act just like a "gurrull!" Aw
Gee! Sometimes he was even glad to have Mary Little come across the
street with her picture puzzles and stay with him awhile. She was real
good company. He hadn't ever dreamed before that girls could be as
interesting. Of course, Miss Marilyn had to be a girl once, but then
she was Miss Marilyn. That was different.
Then too, Billy hadn't quite forgotten that first morning that Saxy got
her arms around him and cried over him glad tears, bright sweet tears
that wet his face and made him feel like crying happy tears too. And
the sudden surprising desire he felt to hug her with his well arm, and
how she fell over on the bed and got to laughing because he pulled her
hair down in his awkwardness, and pulled her collar crooked. Aw Gee!
She was just Aunt Saxy and he had been rotten to her a lot of times.
But now it was different. Somehow Saxy and he were more pals, or was it
that he was the man now taking care of Saxy and not the little boy
being taken care of himself? Somehow during those weeks he had been
gone Saxy had cried out the pink tears, and was growing smiles, and
home was "kinda nice" after all. But he missed the bells. And nights
before he got into bed he got to kneeling down regularly, and saying
softly inside his heart: "Aw Gee, God, please why'n'tcha make Mark
understand, an' why'n'tcha bring 'em both home?"
Marilyn had not been in New York but a week before she met Opal. She
was waiting to cross Fifth Avenue, and someone leaned out of a big
limousine that paused for the congestion in traffic and cried:
"Why, if that isn't Miss Severn from Sabbath Valley. Get in please, I
want to see you."
And Lynn, much against her will, was persuaded to get in, more because
she was holding up traffic than because the woman in the limousine
"I'll take you where you want to go," she said in answer to Lynn's
protests, and they rolled away up the great avenue with the moving
"I'm dying to know what it is you're making Laurie Shafton do," said
Opal eagerly, "I never saw him so much interested in anything in my
life. Or is it you he's interested in. Why, he can't talk of anything
else, and he's almost stopped going to the Club or any of the house
parties. Everybody thinks he's perfectly crazy. He won't drink any more
either. He's made himself quite _notorious_. I believe I heard
some one say the other day they hadn't even seen him smoking for a
whole week. You certainly are a wonder."
"You're quite mistaken," said Lynn, much amused, "I had nothing to do
with Mr. Shafton's present interest, except as I happened to be the one
to introduce him to it. I haven't seen him but twice since I came to
New York, and then only to take him around among my babies at the
Settlement and once over to the Orphans' Home, where I've been helping
out while an old friend of mine with whom I worked in France is away
with her sick sister."
"For mercy's sake! You don't mean that Laurie consented to go among the
poor? I heard he'd given a lot of money to fix up some buildings, but
then all the best men are doing things like that now. It's quite the
fad. But to go himself and see the wretched little things, Ugh! I don't
see how he could. He must be quite crazy about you I'm sure if he did
all that for you."
"Oh, he seemed to want to see them," said Lynn lightly, "and he
suggested many of the improvements that he is making himself. They tell
me he has proved a great helper, he is on hand at all hours
superintending the building himself, and everybody is delighted with
"Mmmm!" commented Opal looking at Marilyn through the fringes of her
eyes. "You really are a wonder. And now that you are in New York I'm
going to introduce you to our crowd. When can you come? Let's see.
To-morrow is Sunday. Will you spend the evening with me to-morrow?
I'll certainly show you a good time. We're going to motor to--"
But Lynn was shaking her head decidedly:
"I couldn't possibly spare a minute, thank you. I'm only out on an
errand now. I'm needed every instant at the Home!"
"For mercy sake! Hire someone to take your place then. I want you.
You'll be quite a sensation I assure you. Don't worry about clothes, if
you haven't anything along. You can wear one of my evening dresses.
We're almost of a size."
"No," said Lynn smiling, "It simply isn't possible. And anyway, don't
you remember Sabbath Valley? I don't go out to play Sunday nights you
"Oh, but this is New York! You can't bring Sabbath Valley notions into
Lynn smiled again:
"You can if they are a part of you," she said, "Come in and see how
nicely I'm fixed."
Opal looked up at the beautiful building before which they were
"Why, where is this?" she asked astonished, "I thought you were down in
the slums somewhere."
"This is a Home for little orphan children kept up by the Salvation
Army. Come in a minute and see it."
Following a whim of curiosity Opal came in, and was led down a long
hall to a great room where were a hundred tiny children sitting on
little chairs in a big circle playing kindergarten games. The children
were dressed in neat pretty frocks such as any beloved children would
wear, with bright hair ribbons and neckties, and each with an
individuality of its own. The room was sunny and bright, with a great
playhouse at one end, with real windows and furniture in it and all
sorts of toboggan slides and swings and kiddy cars and everything to
delight the soul of a child. On a wide space between two windows
painted on the plaster in soft wonderful coloring blended into the gray
tint of the wall, there glowed a life size painting of the Christ
surrounded by little children, climbing upon His knees and listening to
Him as He smiled and talked to them.
Opal paused in the doorway and looked at the picture first, shyly,
shamedly, as though it were no place for her to enter, then curiously
at the little children, with a kind of wistful yearning, as if here
were something she had missed of her own fault. Lynn called out a
charming baby and made her shake hands and bow and say a few listing
smiling words. Opal turned to Lynn with a strangely subdued look and
spoke in a moved tone:
"I guess you're right," she said, "You wouldn't fit at my company.
You're different! But some day I'm coming after you and bring you home
all by yourself for a little while. I want to find out what it is you
have that I need."
Then she turned with swift steps and went down the hall and out the
door to her waiting limousine, and Lynn smiled wonderingly as she saw
her whirled away into the world again.
Lynn had not seen Mark.
Laurie Shafton had called upon her many times since those two trips
they had taken around the settlements and looking over his condemned
property, but she had been busy, or out somewhere on her errands of
mercy, so that Laurie had got very little satisfaction for his trouble.
But Mark had seen Lynn once, just once, and that the first time she had
gone with Laurie Shafton, as they were getting out of his car in front
of one of his buildings. Mark had slipped into a doorway out of sight
and watched them, and after they passed into the building had gone on,
his face whiter and sadder than before. That was all.
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