The City of Fire
Grace Livingston Hill
Part 6 out of 6
Marilyn was to spend only a month in New York, as at first planned, but
the month lengthened into six weeks before the friend whose place she
was taking was able to return, and two days before Marilyn was
expecting to start home there came a telephone message from her mother:
"Lynn, dear, Mrs. Carter is very low, dying, we think, and we must find
Mark at once! There is not a minute to lose if he wants to see her
alive. It is a serious condition brought on by excitement. Mrs.
Harricutt went there to call yesterday while everybody else was at
Ladies' Aid. And Lynn, _she told her about Mark!_ Now, Lynn, can
you get somebody to go with you and find Mark right away? Get him to
come home at once? Here is the last address he gave, but they have no
telephone and we dare not wait for a telegram. See what you can do
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when this message came. Lynn put
on a uniform of dark blue serge and a poke bonnet that was at her
disposal whenever she had need of protection, and hurried out.
She found the address after some trouble, but was told that the young
gentleman was out. No one seemed to know when he would return.
Two or three other lodgers gathered curiously, one suggesting a
restaurant where he might be found, another a club where he sometimes
went and a third laughed and called out from half way up the stairs:
"You'll find him at the cabaret around the corner by ten o'clock
to-night if you don't find him sooner. He's always there when he's
Sick at heart Lynn went on her way, trying carefully each place that
had been suggested but finding no trace of him. She met with only
deference for her uniform wherever she went, and without the slightest
fear she travelled through streets at night that she would scarcely
have liked to pass alone in the daytime in her ordinary garb. But all
the time her heart was praying that she might find Mark before it was
too late. She tried every little clue that was given her, hoping
against hope that she would not have to search for her old friend in a
cabaret such as she knew that place around the corner must be. But it
was almost ten o'clock and she had not found Mark. She went back to the
first address once more, but he had not come, and so she finally turned
her steps toward the cabaret.
Sadly, with her heart beating wildly, hoping, yet fearing to find him,
she paused just inside the doors and looked around, trying to get used
to the glare and blare, the jazz and the smoke, and the strange lax
garb, and to differentiate the individuals from the crowd.
Food and drink, smoke and song, wine and dance, flesh and odd perfumes!
Her soul sank within her, and she turned bewildered to a servitor at
"I wonder, is there any way to find a special person here? I have a
very important message."
The man bent his head deferentially as though to one from another
world, "Who did you want, Miss?"
"Mr. Mark Carter," said Marilyn, feeling the color rise in her cheeks
at letting even this waiter see that she expected to find Mark Carter
The man looked up puzzled. He was rather new at the place. He summoned
another passing one of his kind:
"Carter, Carter?" the man said thoughtfully, "Oh, yes, he's the guy
that never drinks! He's over there at the table in the far corner with
the little dancer lady--" The waiter pointed and Lynn looked, "Would
you like me to call him, Miss?" Lynn reflected quickly. Perhaps he
might try to evade her. She must run no risks.
"Thank you, I will go to him," she said, and straight through the maze
of candle lighted tables, and whirling dancers, in her quiet holy garb,
she threaded her way hastily, as one might have walked over quicksands,
with her eye fixed upon Mark.
She came and stood beside him before he looked up and saw her, and then
he lifted his eyes from the face of the girl with whom he was talking,
and rose suddenly to his feet, his face gone white as death, his eyes
dark with disapproval and humiliation.
"Marilyn!" His voice was shaking. He knew her instantly in spite of
poke bonnet and uniform. She was the one thought present with him all
the while, perhaps for years wherever he had been. But he did not look
glad to see her. Instead it was as if his soul shrank shamedly from her
clear eyes as she looked at him:
Marilyn had not known what she was going to say to him when she found
him. She did not stop to think now.
"Mark, your mother wants you. She is dying! You must come quick or she
will be gone!"
Afterwards she repeated over the words to herself again and again as
one might do penance, blaming herself that she had not softened it,
made it more easy for him to bear. Yet at the time it seemed the only
thing there was to say, at such a time, in such a place. But at the
stricken look upon his face her heart grew tender. "Come," she said
compassionately, "We will go!"
They went out into the night and it was as if they had suddenly changed
places, as if she were the protector and he the led. She guided him the
quickest way. There was only a chance that they might catch the
midnight train, but there was that chance. Into the subway she dived,
he following, and breathless, they brought up at the Pennsylvania
station at their train gate as it was being closed, and hurried
All through that agonized night they spoke but few words, those two who
had been so much to one another through long happy years.
"But you are not going too?" he spoke suddenly roused from his daze as
the train started.
"Yes, I am going too, of course, Mark," she said.
He bowed his head and almost groaned:
"I am not worthy,--Marilyn!"
"That--has nothing to do with it!" said Marilyn sadly, "It never will
have anything to do with it! It never did!"
Mark looked at her, with harrowed eyes, and dropped his gaze. So he
sat, hour after hour, as the train rushed along through the night. And
Marilyn, with head slightly bent and meek face, beneath the poke bonnet
with its crimson band, was praying as she rode. Praying in other words
the prayer that Billy murmured beside his bed every night.
But Billy was not lying in his bed that night, sleeping the sleep of
the just. He was up and on the job. He was sitting in the Carter
kitchen keeping up the fires, making a cup of tea for the nurse and the
doctor, running the endless little errands, up to the parsonage for
another hot water bag, down to the drug store for more aromatic spirits
of ammonia, fixing a newspaper shade to dull the light in the hall, and
praying, all the time praying: "Oh, God, ain'tcha gonta leave her stay
till Mark gets here? Ain'tcha gonta send Mark quick? You know best I
'spose, but ain'tcha _gonta?_" and then "Aw Gee! I wisht Miss Lynn
In the chill before the dawning the two stepped down from the train at
a little flag station three miles from Sabbath Valley on the upper road
that ran along the Ridge. They had prevailed upon the conductor to let
them off there. Mark had roused enough for that. And now that they were
out in the open country he seemed to come to himself. He took care of
Lynn, making her take his arm, guiding her into the smooth places,
helping her over rough places. He asked a few questions too. How did
she know of his mother's condition? How long had she been this way? Had
she any idea that his mother's heart was affected? Did she have a
Lynn did not tell all she knew. It was hard enough without that. He
need not know that it was the knowledge of his disgrace that had
brought her to the brink of death.
So, walking and talking almost as in the old days, they passed into
Sabbath Valley and down the street, and Christie McMertrie listening
perhaps for this very thing, crept from her bed in her long flannel
night gown, and big ruffled night cap, and looked out the window to see
them go by. "Bless them!" she breathed and crept back to her bed again.
She had nursed all day, and all the night before, and would have been
there too to-night, only Mary Rafferty took things in her own hands and
had her go to bed, herself taking charge. Mrs. Duncannon was there too.
There really was no need of her, but Christie could not sleep, and
after they passed she rose and dressed and slipped down the street with
a hot porridge that had been cooking on the stove all night, and the
makings of a good breakfast in her basket on her arm.
Mark Carter reached home in time to take his mother in his arms and bid
her good-bye. That was all She roused at his voice and touch, and
reached out her little pretty hands toward him. He took her in his big
strong arms and held her, kissed her with tender lips and she drew a
beautiful smile of perfect content, and slipped away, with the graying
golden hair straying out over Mark's sleeve to the pillow in a long
curl, and a quiver of her last smile on the pretty curve of her lips,
as if this was all that she had waited for, the little pretty girl that
had gone to school so long ago with golden hair and a smile. Billy,
standing awed in the doorway whither he had come to say there was more
hot water ready, caught the vision of her face, remembered those school
days, and felt a strange constriction in his throat. Some day Saxy
would have to go like that, and would show the little girl in her face
too, and he maybe would have to hold her so and think of how cross he
had been. Aw Gee! Whattaqueer thing life was anyhow! Well, hadn't his
prayer been answered? Didn't Mark get here in time? Well, anyhow it was
likely better for Mrs. Carter to go. But it was rotten for Mark. Aw
Gee! _Mark_! Was _this_ the way he had to learn it? Aw Gee! Well,
God would have to show him. _He_ couldn't dope it out anyhow.
During the days that followed Mark hardly stirred from the side of the
pretty little clay that had been his mother except when they forced him
for a little while. An hour before the service he knelt alone beside
the casket, and the door opened and Marilyn came softly in, closing it
behind her. She walked over to Mark and laid her hand on his hand that
rested over his mother's among the flowers, and she knelt beside him
and spoke softly:
"Oh, God, help Mark to find the light!"
Then the soul of Mark Carter was shaken to the depths and suddenly his
self control which had been so great was broken. His strong shoulders
began to shake with sobs, silent, hard sobs of a man who knows he has
sinned, and tears, scalding tears from the depths of his self-contained
Marilyn reached her arm out across his shoulders as a mother would try
to protect a child, and lifted her face against his, wet with tears and
kissed him on his forehead. Then she left him and went quietly out.
* * * * *
"Well," said Mrs. Harricutt with satisfaction as she walked home after
the funeral with Christie McMertrie, "I'm glad to see that Mark Carter
has a little proper feeling at last. If he'd showed it sooner his Ma
mighta ben in the land of the living yet."
Christie's stern face grew sterner as she set her teeth and bit her
tongue before replying. Then she said with more brrrr than usual in her
"Martha Harricutt, there's na land that's sa livin' as tha land where
Mark Carter's mither has ganged tae, but there's them that has mair
blame to bear fer her gaein' than her bonny big son, I'm thinkin', an'
there's them in this town that agrees with me too, I know full well."
Down in front of the parsonage the minister had his arm around Mark
Carter's shoulders and was urging him:
"Son, come in. We want you. Mother wants you, I want you. Marilyn wants
you. Come son, come!"
But Mark steadily refused, his eyes downcast, his face sad, withdrawn:
"Mr. Severn, I'll come to-morrow. I can't come tonight. I must go home
"And you will promise me you will not leave without coming, Mark?"
asked the minister sadly when he saw that it was no use.
"Yes, I will promise!" Mark wrung the minister's hand in a warm grip
that said many things he could not speak, and then he passed on to his
lonely home. But it was not entirely empty. Billy was there, humbly,
silently, with dog-true eyes, and a grown up patient look on his tired
young face. He had the coffee pot on the stove and hot sausages cooking
on the stove, and a lot of Saxy's doughnuts and a pie on the table.
Billy stayed all night with Mark. He knew Saxy would understand.
In the middle of the night the fire bell rang out wildly. Three minutes
later Mark and Billy were flying down the street, with Tom McMertrie
and Jim Rafferty close after and a host of other tried and true, with
the minister on the other side of the street. The Fire Company of
Sabbath Valley held a proud record, and the minister was an active
member of it.
The fire was up in the plush mill and had already spread to a row of
shackley tenements that the owners of the mills had put up to house the
foreign labor that they had put in. They called them "apartment"
houses, but they were so much on the order of the city tenements of
several years back that it made Lynn's heart ache when she went there
to see a little sick child one day. Right in the midst of God's trees
and mountains, a man _for money_ had built a death trap, tall, and
grim and dark, with small rooms and tiny windows, built it with timbers
too small for safety, and windows too few for ventilation, and here an
increasing number of families were herded, in spite of the complaints
of the town.
"I ben thenkin' it would coom," said Tom as he took long strides. "It's
the apartmints fer sure, Jimmy. We better beat it. There'll be only a
meenit er so to get the childer oot, before the whole thing's smoke!"
They were all there, the doctor, the blacksmith, the postmaster, the
men from the mills, and the banks, and the stores. Economy heard the
bells for Marilyn had hurried to the church and added the fire chime to
the call and came over with their little chemical engine. Monopoly
heard and hurried their brand new hook and ladder up the valley road,
but the fire had been eating long in the heart of the plush mill and
laughed at their puny streams of water forced up from the creek below,
laughed at the chemicals flung in its face like drops of rain on a
sizzling red hot stove. It licked its lips over the edge of the cliff
on which it was built, and cracked its jaws as it devoured the mill,
window by window, section by section, leaping across with an angry red
tongue to the first tall building by its side.
The fire had worked cunningly, for it had crept out of sight to the
lower floors all along the row, and unseen, unknown, had bitten a hold
on each of those doomed buildings till when the men arrived it went
roaring ghoulishly up the high narrow stairs cutting off all escape
from above, and making entrance below impossible. Up at the windows the
doomed people stood, crying, praying, wringing their hands, and some
losing their heads and trying to jump out.
The firemen were brave, and worked wonders. They flung up ladders in
the face of the flames. They risked their lives every step they took,
and brought out one after another, working steadily, grimly, rapidly.
And none were braver among them all than Mark Carter and the minister,
each working on the very top of a tall treacherous ladder, in the face
of constant danger, bringing out one after another until the last.
The next house to the mill had caved in, and Mark had come down just in
time with an old woman who was bedridden and had been forgotten. The
workers had paused an instant as the horrible sound of falling timbers
rent through the other noises of that horrible night, and then hurried
to increase their vigilance. There were people in the top floor of the
next house and it would go next. Then the word went forth that no more
must go up the ladder. The roof was about to fall in, and a young
mother shrieked, "My baby! My baby! She's up in the bed. I thought Bob
had her, but he couldn't get up!" Mark Carter looked at her sharply.
"Which window?" he asked, and was up the ladder before detaining hands
could reach him, and Billy, sliding under the arm of the Fire Chief,
swung up just behind.
The crowd watched breathless as they mounted round after round, Aunt
Saxon standing with a shawl over her head and gasping aloud, "Oh
_Willie!_" and then standing still in fear and pride, the tears
streaming down a smiling countenance on which the red glare of the fire
shone. The ladder was set crazily against the flaming window and swayed
with their weight. Every step seemed as if it would topple the
building, yet the ladder held, and Mark sprang through the blazing
window out of sight. It seemed an eternity till he returned bringing a
tiny bundle with him, and handing it out to Billy waiting below.
The boy received as it had been a holy honor, that little bundle of
humanity handed through the fire, and came solemnly down amid the
breathless gaze of the crowd, but when they looked to the top again
Mark had disappeared!
A murmur of horror went round the throng, for the flames were licking
and snapping, and the roof seemed to vibrate and quiver like a human
thing. Then before any one could stop him or even saw what he was going
to do, the minister sprang forward up the ladder like a cat, two rounds
at a time,--three! He dashed through the fire and was gone!
For an instant it seemed that the people would go mad with the horror
of it. _Those two!_ Even the Fire Chief paused and seemed
petrified. It was Billy who sensed the thing to do.
"Getcher canvas man? Are ya' asleep?"
And instantly a great piece of canvas was spread and lifted. But the
building tottered, the flames ate on, and the window seemed entirely
enveloped. The moment lasted too long for the hearts that waited. A
groan rent the air. Then suddenly a breath seemed to part the flames
and they saw the minister coming forward with Mark in his arms!
It was just at this instant that Lynn came flying down the street. She
had kept the bells going till she knew all the help had come from a
distance, and now she was coming to see if there was anything else for
her to do. There before her she saw her father standing in that awful
setting of fire, with Mark limp and lifeless in his arms! Then the
flames licked up and covered the opening once more. _Oh, God!_
Were they _both gone_?
Only for an instant more the suspense lasted, and then the cateclysm of
fire came. The roof fell carrying with it the floors as it went, down,
down, down, shuddering like a human thing as it went, the rain of fire
pouring up and around in great blistering flakes and scorching the
onlookers and lighting their livid faces as they stood transfixed with
horror at the sight.
The canvas fluttered uselessly down and fire showered thick upon it.
Timbers and beams crumbled like paper things and were no more. The
whole flimsy structure had caved in!
Paralyzed with terror and sorrow the firemen stood gazing, and suddenly
a boy's voice rang out: "Aw Gee! Git to work there! Whatterya doin'?
Playin' dominoes? Turn that hose over there! That's where they fell.
Say, you Jim, get that fire hook and lift that beam--! _Aw Gee_! Ya
ain't gonta let 'em _die,_ are ya,--? _Them two!"_
Billy had seized a heavy hose and was turning it on a central spot and
Jim Rafferty caught the idea and turned his stream that way, and into
the fire went the brave men, one and another, instantly, cheerfully,
devotedly, the men who loved the two men in there. Dead or alive they
should be got out if it killed them all. They would all die together.
The Fire Chief stood close to Billy, and shouted his directions, and
Billy worked with the tallest of them, black, hoarse and weary.
It seemed ages. It was hours. It was a miracle! But they got those two
men out alive! Blackened and bruised and broken, burned almost beyond
recognition, but they were alive. They found them lying close to the
front wall, their faces together, Mark's body covered by the
Tender hands brought them forth and carried them gently on stretchers
out from the circle of danger and noise and smoke. Eagerly they were
ministered to, with oil and old linen and stimulants. There were
doctors from Economy and one from Monopoly besides the Sabbath Valley
doctor, who was like a brother to the minister and had known Mark since
he was born. They worked as if their lives depended upon it, till all
that loving skill could do was done.
Billy, his eyelashes and brows gone, half his hair singed off, one eye
swollen shut and great blisters on his hands and arms, sat huddled and
shivering on the ground between the two stretchers. The fire was still
going on but he was "all in." The only thing left he could do was to
bow his bruised face on his trembling knees and pray:
_"Oh God_, Ain't You gonta let 'em live--_please!"_
They carried Mark to the Saxon cottage and laid him on Billy's bed.
There was no lack of nurses. Aunt Saxon and Christie McMertrie, the
Duncannons and Mary Rafferty, Jim too, and Tom. It seemed that
everybody claimed the honors. The minister was across the street in the
Little House. They dared not move him farther. Of the two the case of
the minister was the most hopeless. He had borne the burden of the
fall. He had been struck by the falling timbers, his body had been a
cover for the younger man. In every way the minister had not saved
The days that followed were full of anxiety. There were a few others
more or less injured in the fire, for there had been fearless work, and
no one had spared himself. But the two who hung at the point of death
for so long were laid on the hearts of the people, because they were
dear to almost every one.
Little neighborhood prayer meetings sprang up quietly here and there,
beginning at Duncannons. The neighbor on either side would come in and
they would just drop down and pray for the minister, and for "that
other dear brave brother." Then the Littles heard of it and called in a
few friends. One night when both sufferers were at the crisis and there
seemed little hope for the minister, Christie McMertrie called in the
Raffertys and they were just on the point of kneeling down when Mrs.
Harricutt came to the door. She had been crying. She said she and her
husband hadn't slept a wink the night before, they were so anxious for
the minister. Christie looked at her severely, but remembering the
commands about loving and forgiving, relented:
"Wull then, come on ben an' pray. Tom, you go call her husband! This is
na time fer holdin' grudges. But mind, wumman, if ye coom heer to pray
ye must pray with as _mooch fervor_ for the healin' o' _Mark
Carter_ as ye do fer the meenister! He's beloved of the Lord too,
an' the meenister nigh give his life for him."
And Mrs. Harricutt put up her apron to her eyes and entered the little
haircloth parlor, while Tom, with a wry face went after the elder. The
elder proved that underneath all his narrowness and prejudice he had a
grain of the real truth, for he prayed with fervor that the Lord would
cleanse their hearts from all prejudice and open their minds to see
with heavenly vision that they might have power in prayer for the
healing of the two men.
So, through the whole little village breaches were healed, and a more
loving feeling prevailed because the bond of anxiety and love held them
all together and drew them nearer to their God.
At last the day came when Mark, struggling up out of the fiery pit of
pain, was able to remember.
Pain, fire, flame, choking gases, smoke, remorse, despair! It was all
vague at first, but out of it came the memory slowly. There had been a
fire. He had gone back up the ladder after Mrs. Blimm's baby. He
remembered groping for the child in the smoke filled room, and bringing
it blindly through the hall and back to the window where the ladder
was, but that room had all been in flames. He had wished for a wet
cloth across his face. He could feel again the licking of the fire as
he passed the doorway. A great weight had been on his chest. His heart
seemed bursting. His head had reeled, and he had come to the window
just in time. Some one had taken the child--was it Billy?--or he would
have fallen. He _did_ fall. The memory pieced itself out bit by
bit. He remembered thinking that he had entered the City of Fire
literally at last, "the minarets" already he seemed to descry "gleaming
vermilion as if they from the fire had issued." It was curious how
those old words from Dante had clung in his memory. "Eternal fire that
inward burns." He thought he was feeling now in his body what his soul
had experienced for long months past. It was the natural ending, the
thing he had known he was coming to all along, the road of remorse and
despair. A fire that goes no more out! And this would last forever now!
Then, someone, some strong arm had lifted him--God's air swept in--and
for an instant there seemed hope. But only that little breath of
respite and there came a cry like myriads of lost souls. They were
falling, falling, down through fire, with fire above, below, around,
everywhere. Down, down,--an abysmal eternity of fire, till his seared
soul writhed from his tortured body, and stood aside looking on at
There, there he lay, the Mark Carter that had started with life so
fair, friends, prospects, so proud that he was a man, that he could
conquer and be brave--so blest with opening life, and heaven's high
call! And then--in one day--he had sinned and lost it all, and there he
lay, a white upturned face. That was himself, lying there with face
illumined by the fire, and men would call him dead! But he would not be
dead! He would be living on with that inward fire, gnawing at his
vitals, telling him continually what he might have been, and showing
him what high heaven was that he had had, and lost. He saw it now. He
had deliberately thrown away that heaven that had been his. He saw that
hell was hell because he made it so, it was not God that put him there,
but he had chosen there to go. And still the fire burned on and
scorched his poor soul back into the body to be tortured more. The long
weeks upon that bed seemed like an infinite space of burning rosy, oily
flames poured upward from a lake of fire, down through which he had
been falling in constant and increasing agony.
And now at last he seemed to be flung upon this peaceful shore where
things were cool and soothing for a brief respite, that he might look
off at where he had been floating on that molten lake of fire, and
understand it all before he was flung back. And it was all so very
real. With his eyes still closed he could hear the rushing of the
flames that still seemed ascending in columns out a little way from
shore, he could see through his eyelids the rosy hue of livid waters--
of course it was all a hallucination, and he was coming to himself, but
he had a feeling that when he was fully awake it would be even more
terrible than now. Two grim figures, Remorse and Despair, seemed
waiting at either hand above his bed to companion him again when he
could get more strength to recognize them. And so he lay thus between
life and death, and faced what he had done. Hours and hours he faced
it, when they knew not if he was conscious yet, going over and over
again those sins which he knew had been the beginning of all his walk
away from Hope. On through the night and into the next morning he lay
thus, sometimes drowsing, but most of the time alert and silent.
It was a bright and sparkling morning. There was a tang of winter in
the air. The leaves were gone from the apple trees at the window and
the bare branches tapped against the water spout like children playing
with a rattle. A dog barked joyously, and a boy on the street shouted
out to another--_Oh, to be a boy once more!_ And suddenly Mark
knew Billy was sitting there. He opened his eyes and smiled: There were
bandages around his face, but he smiled stiffly, and Billy knew he was
"Kid," he said hoarsely from out the bandages, "This is God's world."
It seemed to be a great thought that he had been all this time
grasping, and had to utter.
"Sure!" said Billy in a low happy growl.
A long time after this, it might have been the next day, he wasn't
sure, or perhaps only a few minutes, he came at another truth:
"Kid, you can't get away from God--even when you try."
"I'll say not," said Billy.
"But--when you've sinned--!" speculatively.
"You gotta get it off yer chest."
"Sure thing. Miss Lynn tells us in Sunday School about a fella in the
Bible got downta eatin' with the pigs in a far country, an' when he
come to himself he thought about his father's servants, an' he said
'I'll get up and beat it home an' say I'm sorry!'"
"I know," said Mark, and was still the rest of the day. But the next
morning he asked the doctor how soon he might get up. This was the
first real indication that Mark was on the mend, and the doctor smiled
with satisfaction. He meant to take off some of the bandages that
That afternoon with his head unswathed, Mark began to ask questions.
Before that he had seemed to take everything for granted:
"Billy, where's the minister?" For Billy have never left his idol's
side except when Aunt Saxon needed him to help.
"Oh, he's up to tha parsonage," responded Billy carelessly.
"But why hasn't he been to see me, Kid?"
"Why--he--hasn't been feelin' very good." Billy's voice was brisk as if
it wasn't a matter of much moment.
Mark turned his thoughtful gray eyes steadily on Billy:
"Now, look here, Kid, I'm well, and there's no further need to
camouflage. Billy, is the minister dead?"
"Not on yer tin type, he ain't dead!"
"Well, is he hurt?"
"Well, _some_," Billy admitted cheerfully.
"Kid, look me in the eye."
Billy raised a saucy eye as well masked as Mark's own could be on
"Kid, how much is he hurt! _Tell me the truth!_ If you don't I'll
get right up and go and see."
"I'll tell the world, you won't!" said Billy rising lazily and taking a
gentle menacing step toward the bed.
"Well--he's some hurt--but he's getting along fine now. He'll be
"How'd he get hurt?"
"Oh, the fire, same's you."
"How?" insisted Mark.
"Oh, he went up again after a fella when it was too late--"
"Billy, was it me?"
"Ugh huh!" nodded Billy.
Mark was so still that Billy was frightened. When he looked up worried
he saw that a great tear had escaped out from under the lashes which
were growing nicely now, and had rolled down Mark's cheek. _Mark
In consternation Billy knelt beside the bed:
"Aw Gee! Mark, now don't you feel like that. He's gettin' all right now
they hope, an' Gee! He was _great!_ You oughtta seen him!"
"Tell me about it," said Mark huskily.
"He just ran up that there ladder when it was shaking like a leaf, an'
the wall beginning to buckle under it, an' he picked you up. Fer a
minute there the flames kinda blew back, and we seen ya both, and then
the roof caved, an' you all went down. But when we gotcha out he was
layin' right atop of ya, 'ith his arms spread out, trying t'cover ya!
Gee, it was _great!_ Everybody was just as still, like he was
After a long time Mark said:
"Billy, did you ever hear the words, 'Greater love hath no man than
this, that a man lay down his life for his friend?'"
"Yep," said Billy, "That's in the Bible I think, if 'taint in
Shakespeare. Miss Lynn said it over last Sunday. She says a lot of
things from Shakespeare sometimes, and I kinda get'em mixed."
But Mark did not talk any more that day. He had a great deal to think
But so did Billy, for looking out the window in the direction of the
parsonage he had sighted the big Shafton car stopping before the door
that morning. "Aw Gee!" he said. "That sissy-guy again? Now, how'm I
gonta get rid of him this time? Gee! Just when Mark's gettin' well too!
If life ain't just _one thing after another!"_
It was a bright frosty morning in the edge of winter when at last they
let Mark go to see the minister, and Billy took care that no hint of
the Shafton car should reach his knowledge. Slowly, gravely he escorted
Mark down the street and up the parsonage steps.
The minister was lying on a couch in the living room and there was a
low chair drawn up near by with a book open at the place, and a bit of
fluffy sewing on the low table beside it. Mark looked hungrily about
for the owner of the gold thimble, but there was no sign of either Mrs.
Severn or Marilyn about.
There was a bandage over the minister's eyes. They hadn't told Mark
about that yet.
The minister held out a groping hand with his old sweet smile and
hearty welcoming voice:
"Well, son, you've come at last! Beat me to it, didn't you? I'm glad.
That was fair. Young blood you know."
Mark knelt down by the couch with his old friend's hand held fast:
Billy had faded into the landscape out on the front steps somewhere,
and was even now settling down for an extended wait. If this interview
went well he might hope to get a little rest and catch up on sports
sometime soon. It all depended on this.
Mark put up his other hand and touched the bandage:
"Father!" he said, "Father!" and broke down "Father, I have sinned--"
he said brokenly.
The minister's arm went lovingly up across the young man's shoulders:
"Son, have you told your heavenly Father that?" he asked gently.
"I've tried," said Mark, "I'm not sure that He heard."
"Oh, He _heard_," said the minister with a ring of joy in his
voice, "While you were a great way off He came to meet you, son."
"You don't know yet," said Mark lifting a white sad face--"
"If you've told Him I'll trust you son. It's up to you whether you tell
me or not."
"It is your right to know, sir. I want you to know. I cannot rest again
until you do."
"Then tell." The minister's hand folded down tenderly over the boy's,
and so kneeling beside the couch Mark told his story:
"I must begin by telling you that I have always loved Marilyn."
"I know," said the minister, with a pressure on the hand he covered.
"One day I heard someone telling Mrs. Severn that I was not good enough
"I know," said the minister again.
"You know?" said Mark in surprise.
"Yes, go on."
"I went away and thought it over. I felt as if I would die. I was mad
and hurt clear through, but after I thought it over I saw that all she
had said was true. I wasn't good enough. There was a great deal of
pride mixed with it all of course, I've seen that since, but I wasn't
good enough. Nobody was. Lynn is,--_wonderful--!_ But I was just a
common, insignificant nobody, not fit to be her mate. I knew it! I
could see just how things were going too. I saw you didn't realize it,
you nor Mrs. Severn. I knew Marilyn cared, but I thought she didn't
realize it either, and I saw it was up to me. If she wasn't to have to
suffer by being parted from me when she grew older, I must teach her
not to care before she knew she cared. For days I turned it over in my
mind. Many nights I lay awake all night or walked out on the hills,
threshing it all over again. And I saw another thing. I saw that if it
was so hard for me then when I was not much more than a kid it would be
harder for her if I let her grow up caring, and then we had to be
parted, so I decided to make the break. The day I made the decision I
went off in the hills and stayed all day thinking it out. And then I
looked up in the sky and told God I was done with Him. I had prayed and
prayed that He would make a way out of this trouble for me, and He
hadn't done anything about it, and I felt that He was against me too.
So when I had done that I felt utterly reckless. I didn't care what
happened to me, and I decided to go to the bad as fast as I could. I
felt it would be the best way too to make Marilyn get over being fond
of me. So I went down to Monopoly that night and looked up a fellow
that had been coaching the teams for a while and was put out by the
association because he was rotten. He had always made a fuss over me,
wanted to make a big player out of me, and I knew he would be glad to
"He was. He took me out to supper that night and gave me liquor to
drink. You know I had never touched a drop. Never had intended to as
long as I lived. But when he offered it to me I took it down as if I
had been used to it. I didn't care. I wanted to do all the wrong I
"I drank again and again, and I must have got pretty drunk. I remember
the crowd laughed at me a great deal. And they brought some girls
around. It makes me sick to think of it now. We went to a place and
danced. I didn't know how, but I danced anyway. And there was more
drinking. I don't remember things very distinctly. I did whatever the
coach said, and he had been going a pretty good pace himself.--That
night--!" His voice choked with shame and it seemed as though he could
not go on--but the minister's clasp was steady and the boy gathered
courage and went on--"That night--we--went--to a house of shame--!"
He dropped his head and groaned. The minister did not attempt to break
the pause that followed. He knew the struggle that was going on in the
bitterness of the young man's soul. He maintained that steady hand
"In the morning--when I came to myself--" he went on "I knew what I had
done. I had cut myself off forever from all that made life worth while.
I would never be worthy again to even speak to you all whom I loved so
much. I would never be able to look myself in the face again even. I
was ashamed. I had given up God and love, and everything worth while.
"That was when I went away to New York. Mother tried to stop me, but I
would go. I tried when I got to New York to plunge into a wild life,
but it didn't attract me. I had to force myself. Besides, I had
resolved that whatever came, wherever I went I would not drink and I
would _keep clean_. I thought that by so doing I might in time at
least win back my self respect. Later I conceived the idea of trying to
save others from a life of shame. I did succeed in helping some to
better ways I think, both men and girls. But I only won a worse
reputation at home for it, and I'm not sure I did much good. I only
know I walked in hell from morning to night, and in time I came to
dwell among lost souls. It seemed the only place that I belonged.
"You remember when you read us Dante 'Thou who through the City of Fire
alive art passing'? You used to preach in church about beginning the
eternal life now, and making a little heaven below, I'm sure that is as
true of hell. I began my eternal life five years ago, but it was in
hell, and I shall go on living in that fire of torture forever, apart
from all I love. I tried to get out by doing good to others, but it was
of no avail. I thought never to tell you this, but something made me,
after you--you gave your life for me--!"
"And had you forgotten," said the minister tenderly, "That the blood of
Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin? And that he said, 'Come
now and let us reason together, Though your sins be as scarlet they
shall be as white as snow?'"
"I gave up all right to that when I gave up God on the mountain."
"But God did not give up you," said the minister. "Do you think a true
father would cast out a child because it got angry and shook its fist
in his face? You will find Him again when you search for Him with all
your heart. You have told Him you were sorry, and He has promised to
forgive. You can't save yourself, but He can save you. Now, son, go and
tell Marilyn everything."
"Do you mean it,--_Father?"_
"I mean it--_Son_. The doctor is coming by and by to take off
these bandages, and I want the first thing that my eyes rest upon after
my dear wife's face, to be the faces of you two. My beloved children."
* * * * *
Sabbath Valley lay tucked warm and white beneath a blanket of snow. All
the week it had been coming down, down, in great white flakes of
especially sorted sizes, filling the air mightily with winter clean and
deep. Here in the fastnesses of the hills it seemed that the treasure
troves of the sky had been opened to make all beautiful and quiet while
winter passed that way. Lone Valley was almost obliterated, pierced
with sharp pine trees in bunches here and there, like a flock of pins
in a pincushion, and the hills rose gently on either side like a vast
amphitheatre done in white and peopled thick with trees in heavy white
The Highway was almost impassable for a day or two, but the state snow
plow passed over as soon as the snow stopped falling, and left a white
pavement with white walls either side. The tunnel through the mountains
was only a black dot in the vast whiteness, and Pleasant View Station
wore a heavy cap of snow dripping down in lavish fringes edged with
icicles. The agent's little shanty up the mountain was buried out of
sight behind a snow drift and had to be dug out from the back, and no
Lake Train ran any more. The express was five hours late. Stark
Mountain loomed white against the sky. And over in Sabbath Valley the
night it stopped snowing all the villagers were out shovelling their
walks and calling glad nothings back and forth as they flung the white
star dust from their shovels, and little children came out with rubber
boots and warm leggings and wallowed in the beauty. The milkman got out
an old sleigh and strung a line of bells around his horse. The boys and
girls hurried up the mountain to their slide with home made sleds and
laughing voices, and the moon came up looking sweetly from a sudden
Over in the church the windows shone with light, and the bells were
ringing out the old sweet songs the villagers loved. Marilyn was at the
organ and Mark by her side. In the body of the church willing hands
were working, setting up the tall hemlocks that Tom and Jim had brought
in from the mountain, till the little church was fragrant and literally
lined with lacey beauty, reminding one of ancient worship in the woods.
Holly wreaths were hanging in the windows everywhere, and ropes of
ground pine and laurel festooned from every pillar and corner and peak
Laurie Shafton had sent a great coffer of wonderful roses, and the
country girls were handling them with awe, banking them round the
pulpit, and trailing them over the rail of the little choir loft,
wonderful roses from another world, the world that Marilyn Severn might
have married into if she had chosen. And there sat Marilyn as
indifferent as if they were dandelions, praising the _trees_ that
had been set up, delighting in their slender tops that rose like
miniature spires all round the wall, drawing in the sweetness of their
winter spicy breath, and never saying a word about the roses. "Roses?
Oh, yes, they look all right, Girls, just put them wherever you fancy.
I'll be suited. But aren't those trees too beautiful for words?"
When the work was done they trooped out noisily into the moonlight,
bright like day only with a beauty that was almost unearthly in its
radiance. The others went on down the street calling gay words back and
forth, but Mark and Marilyn lingered, bearing a wreath of laurel, and
stepping deep into the whiteness went over to the white piled mound
where they had laid Mrs. Carter's body to rest and Mark stooped down
and pressed the wreath down into the snow upon the top:
"Dear little mother," he said brokenly, "She loved pretty things and I
meant to give her so many of them sometime to make up--"
"But she'll be glad--" said Marilyn softly, "We loved each other very
"Yes, she'll be glad!" he answered. "She often tried to find out why I
never went to the parsonage any more. Poor little mother! That was her
deepest disappointment--! Yes, she'll be glad--!"
* * * * *
When morning came it seemed as though the very glory of God was spread
forth on Sabbath Valley for display. There it lay, a shining gem of a
little white town, in the white velvet cup of the Valley, dazzling and
resplendent, the hills rising round about reflecting more brightness
and etched with fringes of fine branches each burdened with a line of
heavy furry white. Against the clear blue sky the bell tower rose, and
from its arches the bells rang forth a wedding song. Marilyn in her
white robes, with a long white veil of rare old lace handed down
through the generations, falling down the back and fastened about her
forehead, and with a slim little rope of pearls, also an heirloom, was
ringing her own wedding bells, with Mark by her side, while the
villagers gathered outside the door waiting for the wedding march to
begin before they came in.
The minister and his wife stood back in his little study behind the
pulpit, watching their two with loving eyes, and down by the front door
stood Billy in a new suit with his hair very wet and licked back from
an almost crimson countenance, waiting the word to fling open the door
and let the congregation in.
Dum--Dum--Dum!" began the organ and Billy flung the portals wide and
stood aside on the steps to let the throng pass in, his eyes shining as
if they would say, "Aw Gee! Ain't this great?"
And just at that moment, wallowing through the snow, with the air of
having come from the North Pole there arrived a great car and drew up
to the door, and Laurie Shafton jumped anxiously out and flung open the
door for his passengers.
"Aw Gee! That Fish! Whadde wantta come here for? The great
_chump_! Don't he know he ain't _in it?_"
Billy watched in lofty scorn from his high step and decided to hurry in
and not have to show any honors to that sissy-guy.
Then out from the car issued Opal, done in furs from brow to shoe and
looking eagerly about her, and following her a big handsome sporty man
almost twice her age, looking curiously interested, as if he had come
to a shrine to worship, Opal's husband. Billy stared, and then
remembering that the wedding march was almost over and that he might be
"Aw, Gee! Whadduw I care? He ain't little apples now, anyhow. He
couldn'ta bought her with _barrels_ of roses, an' he knows it too,
the poor stiff. He must be a pretty good scout after all, takin' his
Then Billy slid in and the quiet little ceremony began.
The organ hushed into nothing. Marilyn arose, took Mark's arm, and
together they stepped down and stood in front of the minister, who had
come down the steps of the pulpit and was awaiting them, with Marilyn's
mother sitting only a step away on the front seat.
It was all so quiet and homey, without fuss or marching or any such
thing, and when the ceremony was over the bride and groom turned about
in front of the bank of hemlock and roses and their friends swarmed up
to congratulate them. Then everybody went into the parsonage, where the
ladies of the church had prepared a real country wedding breakfast with
Christmas turkey and fixings for a foundation and going on from that.
It wasn't every day in the year that Sabbath Valley got its minister's
daughter married, and what if the parsonage _was_ small and only
fifty could sit down at once, everybody was patient, and it was all the
The three guests from out of town, self imposed, looked on with wonder
and interest. It was a revelation. Marilyn looked up and found big Ed
Verrons frankly staring at her, a puzzled pleased expression on his
large coarse face. She was half annoyed and wondered why they had come
to spoil this perfect day. Then suddenly the big man stepped across the
little living room and spoke:
"Mrs. Carter, we came over to-day because Opal said you had something
that would help us begin over again and make life more of a success. I
want to thank you for having this chance to see a little bit of heaven
on earth before I die."
Later, when the city guests were fed and comforted perhaps, and had
climbed back into the big car, Billy stood on the front porch with a
third helping of ice cream and watched them back, and turn, and wallow
away into the deep white world, and his heart was touched with pity:
"Aw, Gee! The poor fish! I'spose it is hard lines! And then it was
sorta my faultchu know," and he turned with a joyful sigh that they
were gone, and went in to look again at Mary Louise Little, and see
what it was about her in that new blue challis that made her look so
sorta nice to-day.
Back to Full Books